As we get further immersed in the holiday season, it becomes quite common for our levels of hedonism and voraciousness to spike in the food-and-drink department. Christmas is barely in sight, yet I’ve already polished off more than my fair share of hors d’oeuvres here and there, and said things like “Well, we may as well just finish this bottle” more than a few times.
Being married to an Australian, I’ve always been fascinated with the contrast between my Christmas memories and those of my wife, which centre on picnics on the beach involving fresh seafood, lively salads, and other light fare. While, granted, the holiday season in much of the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t lend itself to beach-going and slapping on another layer of sunscreen, that doesn’t mean we have to consume heavier food and boozier drinks. I know, this sounds almost irrational.
I was thinking about this recently as I was tasting through a quartet of wines from Racine Wine Imports, all hailing from France’s Loire Valley. They share a buoyancy, being relatively low in alcohol, are crafted honestly with minimal intervention, and sing with the terroir characteristics of a cool climate and limestone-rich soils. All of them are delightful wines that will keep your season both merry and bright, and I present them below.
Catherine & Pierre Breton Vouvray Dilettante NV Méthode-Traditionnelle Brut
(Vouvray, Loire; $32 and up, private liquor stores)
In June, I wrote about this bubble in these pages, but I’m opting to re-up not only due to its seasonal suitability, but because the fresh shipment that’s just hit our shores has a lighter weight and flavour profile than the previous batch. Sparkling Chenin Blanc is what’s in the bottle; it’s zippy and spry with lemon and nutmeg, and a lovely little licorice-y fennel note. It’s made in the traditional Champagne method, so it has that great fresh-baked-bread character on the nose and a touch of extra weight from extra contact with the lees. A charmer that’s not only good for welcoming guests and kicking off your evening, but a wine to carry you all the way through. Great with mini quiches, pastries, and anything found on a cheese board.
Domaine de la Pépière 2014 Muscadet
(Nantes, Loire; $23 and up, private liquor stores)
There are plenty of local oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops to be had this time of year, and an easy match can be found in crisp and flinty Muscadets. The limestone part of this wine’s minerality comes from Kimmeridgian soils found along the Loire River, chock-full of fossilized sea life. At 12 percent alcohol, it’s light and lively but harbours only a touch of the searing, austere intensity that many Muscadets carry. After aromas of salty sea air and lemon balm, a wild ferment coupled with aging on the lees allows a softness, lending the smallest hint of graham wafer on the palate. The rest of it is vibrant with citrus-y components like grapefruit pith, lime leaf, muddled lemon, and that mineral note coming through with distinction.
Domaine de la Pépière 2014 La Pépiè Cabernet Franc
(Nantes, Loire; $22 and up, private liquor stores)
First off, don’t think of this wine as something akin to rich, juicy, and occasionally gloopy Cabernet Francs out of California. Nor should you even entertain it as something more like well-structured but still bold-and-opulent B.C. versions. If you ponder a wine somewhere between a heartier rosé and a classic, Burgundian Pinot Noir, perhaps served with a very light chill, you’re way more likely to be in the zone. This one also checks in at 12 percent alcohol, so a few glasses over the course of an evening shouldn’t leave you anywhere near lampshade-on-your-head territory. This wine is fresh, fresh, fresh! Made simply with free-run juice, which flows naturally from grapes after they’ve been crushed but not pressed, the wine’s red plums, smashed cherries, and red-apple skin components mingle merrily with a streak of gravelly minerality arcing through from beginning to end. Bring on the pâtés, terrines, and charcuterie!
Clos du Tue-Boeuf 2013 Cheverny Rouillon
(Touraine, Loire; $27 and up, private liquor stores)
Half Pinot Noir, half Gamay, and wholly delicious, this wine pretty much tastes like Christmas. While it’s indeed a lighter red, there’s a cavalcade of festive flavours going on, including dark chocolate, peppermint, cranberry, cloves, and a brilliant lashing of cinnamon spice. It’s the kind of wine you want to enjoy while Bing Crosby is crooning from your speakers, gifts are being wrapped, you’re decorating the tree, or you’re just lazing on the couch, watching Love Actually for the umpteenth time. As an extra gift to you, the wine’s a mere 11 percent alcohol, so feel free to merrily top up that glass.
In Vancouver, Kitsilano Wine Cellar on West 4th and Marquis Wine Cellars on Davie are the best places to nab these bottles, but feel free to contact Racine Wine Imports to ensure you get your hands on them.