FOOD AND DRINK
Bottle Shop: Big Value Wines for a Budget-conscious New Year
December’s splurge-fest is finally over, and your credit card bill just landed with a big thud. It’s time to start imbibing on the cheap. But that doesn’t mean you can’t drink the good stuff. Here are three bottles under $20 that punch well above their weight.
Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2014
Riesling from Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment is a gateway white wine. Even the most obnoxious Big Red drinker will usually succumb to its charms. “I don’t normally like white, but this is damn delicious!” Named after the sheep that help prune the vines, this bottle from Featherstone is a textbook example of why. Smelling of fresh pressed apple juice and wet rocks, it has a fair amount of residual sugar, yet tastes barely off-dry due to a lightsaber of acidity that brings balance to the equation. It’s this lip-smacking, mouth-watering, sweet-sour tension that makes Niagara Riesling so appealing, not to mention one of the most food-friendly wines on the planet. Try with smoked salmon, baked ham or Chinese take-out.
Penthouse Pinot Noir 2013
If the name and logo look familiar, it means you weren’t sleeping under a rock in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when Penthouse magazine ruled the top shelf of newsstands all over North America. Yes, this winery is partnered with that Penthouse, so you might want to slip the bottle into a brown paper bag at the store. It’s worth any embarrassment, as there is an excellent Pinot behind the lascivious label. Produced in Adelaide Hills, South Australia, expect a light, earthy wine with sour cherry flavours and a pleasantly tart finish. Open two hours before sitting down to roast chicken, baked salmon, or mushroom risotto.
Tenuta Rocca Barbera d’Alba 2012
While Italy’s Piedmont region is best known for expensive, age-worthy reds like Barolo and Barbaresco, it produces another “B” wine that’s affordable and ready to rock: Barbera d’Alba. This one from Tenuta Rocca immediately draws you in with a heady fragrance of just-picked strawberries and wild flowers. It’s ripe and fruity, yet tight and focused with ripping acidity – a trademark of Barbera – and an almost salty finish. It has the structure to stand up to tomato sauce, making it the perfect match to a gloriously greasy pepperoni pizza or a big bowl of spaghetti Bolognese. Chill 30 minutes for maximum enjoyment.
Eric Vellend was a professional cook for more than a decade before trading in his knives for a laptop. Since then he's been a restaurant critic at Toronto Life, the wine columnist at The Grid, and the food editor at Canadian House & Home. You can follow his eating and drinking exploits @ericvellend.