8 wine treats for the holiday season

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      If there's any pliancy remaining in your seasonal budget, come along and look at a few new treats and treasures. They're wine delights to share, sure, but what's wrong with savouring them all by yourself as well?

      Availability is, as always with these special arrivals, hit-and-miss. Prices were correct at the time the wines were acquired, and don't reflect any of the recent capriciousness of the loonie.

      Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2006 ($17.98) This is the first German Pinot Gris of my acquaintance, and if it's indicative of how they do it, I hope there will be more. A grassy, fleshy, and robust white, meant for hearty dinners, it drinks fuller and "wetter" than the North Italians and even many of the B.C. versions. The taste is quite unusual–lots of ripe apricot and honey–making it not so much for oysters as for poached blue trout, the German dish called Schusterpastete (herring, cream, and potatoes), a good seafood choucroute, salmon in a rich sauce, or Janssen's Temptation.

      Pacific Breeze Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($49.95) They only made 275 cases of this world-beater, but I happen to know there's still some left at the New Westminster–based "garage winery" (it redefines the term) in the shadow of the Queensborough Bridge. Pacific Breeze opened quietly here some months ago, and immediately went on to win international awards. For me, it's been one of the major discoveries of the year. B.C. winery, yes, but in this case, such good California grapes out of Lake County: 91 percent cabernet sauvignon, eight percent syrah, half a percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot is the winning formula. Massive mocha and ripe, red berries coat the tongue with anise and even a hint of mace; tightly knit tannins remain, and will easily hold it together for the 10 years they advise. This reminded me of some legendary vintage Mayacamas Cabernets.

      Laughing Stock Pinot Pinot 2006 ($21.90) Supplies will be scant, but the winery should be able to dig up a box of this all–Naramata Bench meld of 75 percent Pinot Gris and 25 percent Pinot Blanc, the Gris fermented in oak, the Blanc in stainless steel. You'll get carsick trying to read the ticker-tape label, but it's a small price to pay for a beautiful wine that's big and bold, with a hearty bite that just wants to keep your butter chicken company, along with some greens with fleur de sel, cracked black pepper, some ilove–a just-arrived New Zealand olive oil–and tarragon vinegar. It's exactly this type of experimentation that makes B.C. just about the best place to be drinking wine right now.

      Evans & Tate Margaret River Chardonnay 2006 ($21.99) We don't know the fine wines of Western Australia all that well here, but here's a worthy get-to-know project for next year. If you love your Chardonnay green and honeydew melon–y, on the grassy side, and with gentle oak, chewy fruit that coats the mouth, and plenty of fresh, breezy fragrance, here's your wine. It has all the style you could ask for and all the substance to keep a multitude of different dinners company–start with spicy-creamed pasta, chicken all ways, roast eggplant with salsa, or broiled halibut with pancetta and porcini.

      Camaraderie Cellars Merlot 2005 ($35) This welcome Washington-state red is closer to us, geographically, than the fabled Walla Walla Merlots. It's cheaper, too, and just as generous on the palate. It starts with a rich and mellow, fresh-coffee aroma with light chocolate influences, and then slides, all silk and satin, along the palate. Big and chewy, meaty and super-round, this is an unabashedly lovely, romantic dinner wine. Get a rich pal to open a bottle of Petrus, stand this alongside it, and be surprised–maybe amazed. Camaraderie wines are available in very limited supply at Liberty South Point in Surrey and Tapastree Restaurant (1829 Robson Street).

      Twenty Bench Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($37.99) Very fruity and a little leafy, especially for a Cabernet from California, this has plenty of pucker: those tannins will hang around for a while. There's a big, green-olive edge and some poblano-pepper bite, but a good, long, whistle-clean finish. This is fresh-style Cab, so serving it with something from the marinated-meat cookbook would be a good way to go, or with bread and Brie and crunchy MacIntosh apples.

      Cave de Tain Cornas Arenes Sauvages 2003 ($55.99) This is a state-of-the-art southern Rhone, rarely made from anything other than 100 percent Syrah. It's a stunning wine, all wild blackberries and fresh prune plums, glorious round fruit with a wonderful sweet edge, bursting on the tongue and starting what is an almost endless finish. Your tongue will feel like the one on that seven-hour Fido dog in the bus ads! I know it's late in the year, but this has to go in the best-of-the-year box.

      Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose n/v ($63.99) Bubble to end, as always; this is festive, pink, fragrant, full, and simply delicious. You can buy the same marque's big Palme d'Or for nearly $200–a sublime treat–but why would you, unless you've got unlimited cash, when this one delivers nearly as much palate pleasure? Tastewise, it sits high atop the case of 12 or so pink Champagnes in the book right now. Can't beat it, and can't keep it around, either; everybody wants a taste. It's a good thing the dog doesn't have opposable thumbs.




      Jul 17, 2008 at 6:27am

      A friend brought some Pacific Breeze Cab 2005 to party the other week in Toronto. I do practise garage wine whenever I can. I liked it: firm and grippy. I am not sure it is good for 10 years but enjoy a case over the decade to be sure. Is the website is a little pretentious or is that just me? Jefe de Bodega GWCo. http://www.garagewineco.cl