Anthony Gismondi on Wine

There are only three weekends left before Christmas and that means its time to get serious about picking up all those wines you will be entertaining with during the holidays.

There's no need for panic but there's work to be done and the sooner you get started, the better the selection. You may even find a place to park without circling the parking lot for half an hour.

This holiday season your choices can be wider than ever given the constant meanderings of wine consumers. Cheap is in, basic varietal wines like chardonnay (especially oaky ones) and merlot are out. Interestingly, the rush to spend less on wine will give you more room to manoeuvre at the check out counter.

I suggest you begin your journey in a government specialty wine store, or the store with the largest wine selection in your neighbourhood and start by grabbing a bottle of Taylor Fladgate Special White Port ($19.95).

This is your reward for shopping early, and it can double as a fabulous aperitif to be served to drop-in guests with a simply prepared dish of mixed olives and roasted almonds. Best of all, it will keep throughout the holiday season as long as you place its handy stopper back in the bottle and store the wine in the refrigerator. The adventurous serve it over ice with a twist of lemon.

My guess is most people will be arriving with a bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz or Farnese Sangiovese. So make a point to serve something different. White wine would be a good start and sauvignon blanc, viognier or riesling are just the grapes to let your guests know you are on top of the latest wine trends.

Viognier continues to capture the imagination of wine writers and restaurant chefs and is clearly the season's hippest white wine. Labels to look for include the incredible spicy, floral and perfumed Yalumba Y Series 2003, Australia ($17.95; UPC: 9311789475974), a slightly plusher, riper Cline Cellars 2000 California ($19.99; UPC: 98652180027) or the stylish and 100 per cent organic Bonterra Vineyards 2001, Mendocino ($21.99; UPC: 82896740437).

Rieslings are highly versatile food wines that also work well as stand-alone sippers and they come with the added bonus of relatively low alcohol. My picks in the fresh, mineral, racy style include: Gunderloch 2001 Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett ($19.95; UPC: 4022642000237) or the screwcap Wolf Blass Gold Label Riesling 2002 ($19.99; UPC: 87000310421).

In the softer, fruity peachy-fruit style try the Lingenfelder 2002 Bird Series Riesling ($15.99; UPC 4017974070003) or the Wynns 2000 Coonawarra Estate Riesling (14.95; UPC 12354052109). You can look for local riesling star Quails Gate Limited Release 2002 Dry Riesling ($14.99; UPC 778856100105) in many government stores and all VQA wine shops.

Sauvignon blanc that sees little or no wood ageing and that is grown in cool climate regions has become increasingly popular and deserves a regular spot at home parties where what you drink is more important than the amount.

Hip and delicious is the story of sauvignon blanc, especially if it comes with a screwcap. If you require several bottles and price is an issue stock up on the clean, fresh Kiwi-style Santa Rita 2003 120 Sauvignon Blanc, Chile ($10.99; UPC: 89419007091). Similar fresh styling can be found in the Deakin Estate 2002 Sauvignon Blanc, Australia ($12.49; UPC: 636662058921).

You won't find the following cutting edge sauvignon labels in any government store but a trip to any serious private wine shop should reveal the suave Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon 2001, Loire ($26.95; UPC: 3490960007138) or the tasty screwcap Palandri Sauvignon Blanc 2002, Western Australia ($23.99; UPC: 9327236000422).

Everyone is drinking shiraz or syrah and you can't go wrong with any of the following that boast soft, fleshy flavours with licorice, pepper, savoury meaty aromas and flavours: Porcupine Ridge 2001 Syrah, South Africa ($18.99; UPC: 746925000786), Trivento 2001 Syrah Reserve, Argentina ($12.95; UPC: 7798039590434), Wynns 2001 Coonawarra Estate Shiraz, Australia ($19.99; UPC: 12354051003), Spires 2002 Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia ($15.95; UPC: 9311043085864).

Life after shiraz includes blends with shiraz in them, or a mix of Rhone Valley grapes such as mourvèdre and grenache, its New World equivalent, zinfandel, or simply red wines from the south of France.

Some personal favourites at the bargain end begin with the 1.5 litre bottle of La Chamiza 2002 Shiraz Malbec ($13.98; UPC: 7798039590410). It's hard to beat this little red for value unless, of course, you are trying to find the wine but it is out there. The Stump Jump 2001 Red, Australia ($12.99; UPC: 9311832314007) is another fun sipper and it won't break your pocket book.

The wine with strangest name makes the list and its good value too: Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise 2001 Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot, Australia (16.99; UPC: 9315125901042).

If you are a cabernet fan entertaining with the Santa Rita 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (16.49; UPC: 089419007152) or the Finca Flichman 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Argentina ($10.99; UPC: 7790470006512) will make things easy. Both have a dark, smoky fruit character that entices and each has the tannin to stand up to the biggest, richest appetizer dishes.

Pinot noir has seldom made our entertaining list because well-made pinot can be prohibitively expensive to buy, but don't miss the opportunity to serve either of these Santa Barbara picks: Cambria 2000 Pinot Noir ($22.95; UPC: 26319000548) or the LinCourt Vineyards 2000 Pinot Noir (22.95; UPC: 086985000112. Both provide big flavours at an affordable price.

Now, off to the stores, and be prepared to sip the Taylor Fladgate Special White Port this weekend.

Written By: ag
Anthony Gismondi
Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi is a Canadian wine journalist and one of North America's most influential voices in wine. For over 30 years, he has been the wine columnist for The Vancouver Sun. The twice-weekly column is distributed across Canada through Postmedia Network to millions of readers. In addition, Anthony co-hosts the BC Food & Wine Radio Show, broadcast in 18 markets across B.C. and available as a podcast on Spotify, Apple and iHeart Radio and more. He launched Gismondionwine.com in 1997, attracting one million users a month from 114 countries. It continues to be a valuable resource of full tasting notes and intelligent wine stories and videos for the trade and consumers.