Anthony Gismondi: Around the world for less than $20 a bottle


Anthony Gismondi takes readers on a virtual trip with wines under $20 a bottle

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The COVID-19 pandemic has confined us to home for almost a year now, leaving many with a thirst to travel as soon as possible.

Today we try to fill the gap by taking you to Europe for less than $20 a day, sort of. The idea is to take you there via a bottle of wine selling for less than $20.

The wine world has long been carved into two parts: the Old World and the New World. Europe is considered Old World while North and South America, Australia, and South Africa fall under the New World moniker. The New World is catching up to the Old World at light speed, and there is even some evidence the Old World is already pursuing new paths suggesting there is a third world of wine at play we could term the Next World.

That said, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany, to name but a few Old World producers, have been growing grapes, making wine and exporting it for centuries. In the Old World, much is made of the wine’s origin. Despite many wines being made with well-known grapes, the European tendency is to associate the wine with its appellation or origin rather than any single grape variety. Hence varietal wines like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot give way to names such as Bordeaux, Rioja, Burgundy, Barolo and many more. So, where does one begin to explore Europe?


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White wines can be particularly rewarding given their ability to pair with B.C.’s great mix of seafood and South Asian dishes. Riesling (German or Austrian) is a great place to start. You can add Albariño (Spain) to the list, as well as Viognier (France) and Grüner Veltliner (Austria). Northern Italian white wine or Verdelho from Spain’s Rueda region can be equally charming and easy to appreciate with light seafood dishes, grilled chicken and pasta, and few will break your budget.

The red wines of Europe are plentiful, and for the bored-out-of-your-mind Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon drinker, they can be a much-needed tonic. Portugal’s Douro Valley is a great place to start. Dry Douro reds are often a blend of five or six grapes, and in some cases, the wine is made from a field blend of 50 or 60 different grapes. Names like Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Vallado, Ramos Pintos Duas Quintas, and Quinta de Chocapalha are easy to find. Each is a rich, savoury introduction into dry Douro reds, and many are among the best barbecue reds you won’t soon forget.

From Spain, the soft, easy-sipping Monastrell (Mourvèdre) is all the rage with young people and why not. The price is right, and the fruit is even better. Grenache from the south of France (Languedoc) has been on a roll since the late 1990s, fuelled by a string of excellent harvests most regions can only envy. Couple that with affordable prices, and you have a winning appellation. Italy is a treasure trove of red wine, especially for the adventurous drinker who heads south to Apulia and Sicily.


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Now to the best part — a shortlist of tasty wines that will take you on a tour of Europe for less than $20 a bottle.

Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila Haut Blanc ($15.99) is a tasty white from Côtes du Roussillon, France, to serve with chicken or fish. From northern Italy, the Di Leonardo Monovitigna Pinot Grigio ($15.99) from Fruili is a fresh, dependable sushi or pasta and pesto choice.

Reds we like include Tormaresca Castel del Monte Trentangeli Organic ($19.99), a healthy blend of Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from Apulia, Italy. Soft, affordable and mouth-filling best describe this trio of French reds: Louis Bernard Cotes du Rhone ($16.49), the Pesquie Ventoux ($19.99) and Boutinot Cotes du Rhone Villages ($19.99), all from the southern Rhone Valley.

Sturdy winter reds for stews or sausages include Boutari Naoussa Xynomavro ($18.99) from Greece, Pedra Cancela Selecção do Enólogo ($17.99) from, Dão, Portugal and finally from Spain, Anciano Old Vines Garnacha ($19.99).

That’s a slice of Europe for $20 a bottle or less and no airfare or hotel fees. Who knows, you might save enough to get to Europe when it is safe to do so.

Weekend wine picks

CedarCreek Home Block Sparkling Brut N/V, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$19 I 87/100

UPC: 778913800528

CedarCreek has a fizz. It’s another charmat method (Prosecco-like style), but this one is made from a native ferment muscat ottonel that spent about 60 days on its lees. The nose is aromatic and floral with orange, licorice, and bitter almond notes on the palate. Soft and ready to sip, and I think this will be better with food than serving solo. Not quite the elegance we see from the Italian version of Moscato d’Asti, but there is time to get there.


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Hillside Heritage Series Pinot Gris 2019, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$28 I 89/100

UPC: 626990019176

The Heritage Gris is all Naramata fruit grown at Umoya and Davies Vineyards. The nose is floral and full of orchard fruit with orange blossoms and vanilla for support. Winemaker Kathy Malone says the “Vineyard blocks were chosen for tropical characters to complement the spicy, floral oak flavours of the Tokay (Hungarian) wood.” I like the wine and the twist of richness that suggests this would be a fine wine for the dinner table. Think creamy pesto dishes, most vegetarian casseroles, and a B.C. favourite, grilled halibut. Winery direct, private wine shops

Wolf Blass Maker’s Project Pinot Three Reserve Project 2018, Adelaide Hills, Australia

$17.99 I 88/100

UPC: 9312088008733

The project range is exploratory, a what’s new, or do something different from Wolf Blass’s wines. The focus is on wines people like to drink, and that’s pretty much what you get with the Makers’ Project Pinot Three. The play is Pinot Noir, fermented with a percentage of whole berries and blended with Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier. The result is a mid-weight, pure fruited raspberry and cherry red with just a hint of spice. It was a fun wine we drank with a Margherita pizza. It’s bottled under a screwcap and showing a hint of reduction, so splash-decant, or get it into your glass for a few moments before drinking — back up the truck.


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Sea Change Malbec 2019, Vin de Pays d’Oc, Languedoc, South of France, France

$19.49 I 87/100

UPC: 5060137516671

Not all wines are created equal. Sea Change is a brand dedicated to sharing its profit to protect the oceans, the Earth’s key life support system. The folks at Chateau Canet make this Malbec from the Languedoc region and the toney appellation of Minervois. The style is soft and round, the fruit juicy and spicy with just a light riff of tannin. It’s ready to drink and easy to sip, and affordable.

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon High Mountain Vines 2017, Mendoza, Argentina

$23.99 I 90/100

UPC: 7794450002570

Pure Cabernet with a cedary nose, spicy plums, cherries and a savoury aftertaste, it is well-balanced with enough tannin to age gracefully for three to five years in bottle. Dependable and affordable, “High Mountain Vines” is a blend of four vineyards picked at a different time to reflect each unique site and story. The mix is 90/7/3/ Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Drink or hold.

Florentine cannelloni created by Umberto Menghi of Giardino Restaurant.
Florentine cannelloni created by Umberto Menghi of Giardino Restaurant. Photo by Luis Valdizon /Handout

Recipe match: Florentine cannelloni

Vancouver chef and restaurateur Umberto Menghi is an expert on Italian cuisine. In fact, the Giardino Restaurant creator was awarded the Order of the Star of Italy in December for his “contribution to the promotion and preservation of Italy heritage abroad” through his dishes, according to a news release.

In this recipe, Menghi celebrates spinach, a “much loved” ingredient that grows in abundance near Florence. “You will find it a rich and gratifying dish, successful as a first course or main dish,” Menghi says. “It also freezes well, so you can cook the whole thing and freeze half.”


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Florentine cannelloni 

12 fresh pasta sheets, 4 x 8 inches (dry pasta can also be used)

Spinach and cheese filling

6 bunches spinach, washed and stemmed

1 tbsp (15 mL) unsalted butter

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

2 large onions, finely diced

1 large carrot, finely diced

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1 cup (250 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup (250 mL) ricotta cheese

1 1/2 cup (375 mL) fine fresh breadcrumbs

1 tsp (5 mL) freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup (60 mL) dry white wine

Zest of 2 lemons

Course salt (to taste)

Freshly ground white pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

4 eggs

Thick white sauce

4 tbsp (60 mL) butter

1/2 cup (125 mL) flour

2 cups (500 mL) milk, hot

1/4 cup (60 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

4 sprigs parsley, chopped

Freshly ground white pepper (to taste)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta sheets, one at a time, for about two to three minutes, or until al dente. Lay the cooked sheets individually on towels to dry for a couple of minutes.

For the filling, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the spinach until it is just wilted. Drain it well, then chop it and put in a large bowl.

Heat the butter and oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions until they are soft. Then, add the carrots and garlic and sauté for about five minutes or until the carrots are soft. Add the mixture to the spinach and combine well.

Now, add the Parmesan, ricotta, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, wine, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Mix well, taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Add the eggs and mix well.


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Divide the filling among the pasta sheets. Roll the pasta around the filling, leaving enough of the border for the pasta to overlap and form a seam when it is rolled into a tube.

To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the flour. Don’t let it brown. When the roux turns shiny and softens a bit, it is ready. Whisk in 1/4 of the hot milk at a time. Simmer, stirring or whisking until the sauce thickens. It will almost be a paste at this point, but the liquids in the dish will thin the sauce somewhat during baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).


Spread 1/3 of the white sauce over the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold all the cannelloni in one layer. (If you find the white sauce too solid to spread, add a bit of whipping cream.)

Place the cannelloni in the baking dish with seam side down and cover with the remaining white sauce. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top.

Bake the cannelloni for about 30 minutes, or until the white sauce is golden brown and bubbling. Before serving, sprinkle with some chopped parsley and a bit of freshly ground white pepper.

Makes 12.

Recipe Match

A white sauce cannelloni calls for some acidity, so northern Italy or a B.C. equivalent white wine would be a good match.

Elio Grasso Educato Langhe Chardonnay 2017, Langhe, Cuneo, Piedmont, Italy ($55)

A super fresh, mineral, green apple style with a twist of lees makes it a cannelloni slayer. Private wine shops only.

Burrowing Owl Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($28.70)

Lightly scented with gooseberry and desert scrub notes, the dry palate is a mix of citrus and lees well suited to cutting into the cannelloni.


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