Bill’s Best Bets – May 2016

Light reds and big whites
by Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

Bill Zacharkiw

One of the questions I am often asked when I am speaking at tastings for regular folk, and by that I mean non-industry people, is what are my favourite wines. After years of hemming and hawing – I like lots of wine – I finally looked at what I tend to drink most often. And what did I find? Well, it turns out that I like light reds and big whites.

I know that this is counter to current consumer tastes, which tend to lean towards light whites and big reds. If you look at popular white wine styles, from New Zealand sauvignon blanc to pinot grigio, the accent is on acidity. Most people still look at white wine as limited to aperitif time, which I agree is when you want to be drinking lighter, higher acid whites. I drink them too.

Although white wine is on the rise in Quebec, while red wine sales actually dropped last year, it’s still a 70-30 split in favour of red. And when it comes to red, the comment I hear most often from consumers is “I like wines that ‘taste’.” No wonder cabernet sauvignon is still the king of grapes, and “sugar bomb” wines like Menage A Trois and Apothic, with their profuse flavourings of chocolate, vanilla and coffee, alongside the powerful jammy and sweet fruit, are so popular.

My wine choices are more a result of my food choices. I have greatly reduced the amount of red meat I eat. I am not dogmatic about it, and I still grill up a T-bone or lamb chop from time to time. I am more than happy to open a “bigger” red at those occasions, but for most of the time, whether it be seafood, Indian vegetarian meals or white meats, white just seems right. And white with might is usually what I go for.

If I’m drinking a bigger, more powerful white, than what is my aperitif of choice? I like to drink a red with fruit, good acidity, delicate tannins and wines are best served slightly chilled at 14-15C. And when I do drink red with my “lighter” meals, then these more delicate reds support but don’t overpower, my key to a great food and wine pairing. And best of all, many of these lighter reds are equally easy on the wallet.

So in honour of those who don’t believe might equals right when talking red wine, and who love richer textured whites with structure and flavour, here are a few suggestions of wines recently drunk. Let’s start with red…

While stocks are getting low, one wine which sells out almost as fast as the bottles are put on the shelves is the Austrian Pitti from Weingut Pittnauer. At well under $20, this blend of zweigelt and blaufrankisch works great as an aperitif, and rocked my hamburgers the other night.

Pinot noir is a classic “keep it cool and pack it back” wine. If you are looking for an inexpensive pinot, try the Pinot noir from Mezzacorna. Slight herbal note on the finish adds some depth to this northern Italian pinot and the texture is right on. At under $16, an easy purchase. A touch more powerful, but with that Marlborough signature brightness is Spy Valley’s 2013 Pinot noir. Super tasty and with crunchy, just ripe fruit.

Weingut Pittnauer Pitti 2013Mezzacorona Pinot Noir 2013 Spy Valley Pinot Noir 2013 Domaine Sauger Cheverny 2013Georges Descombes Brouilly 2014Jean Foillard Morgon 2014

It’s rare to find pinot noir in a blend, but the 2013 Cheverny from Domaine Sauger is just that. Pinot alongside gamay and malbec, this is Loire drinkability at its finest, and all for under $17.

No discussion of light reds is complete without talking Beaujolais, and especially Cru Beaujolais. Both the Brouilly from George Descombes and the Morgon from Jean Foillard show crunchy fresh fruit, minerality and delicate tannins. Stock a few away for a few years as well if you can afford it.

In terms of whites, southern France is a haven for richer whites. While most think red when they hear Minervois, the white from Chateau Coupe Roses is wonderfully rich and elegant. On a similar theme, but with a Condrieu-esque feel to it, the Cotes-du Rhone from Perrin’s Coudoulet de Beaucastel will accompany any lobster or richer seafood dish perfectly.

Château Coupe Roses 2014 Château De Beaucastel Coudoulet De Beaucastel Blanc 2014 Domaine Du Grand Tinel Châteauneuf Du Pape Blanc 2012 Michel Gassier Nostre Pais Blanc 2013Lagarde Viognier 2015 Clos Du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2013

While in the Rhone, if you want to spend some cash, try the white Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine du Grand Tinel. I love great grenache blanc and along with a touch of clairette and bourbelenc for freshness, this is a beautifully rich and if you want to go there, thought-provoking wine. Staying in the Rhone, but moving to Costieres de Nimes, Michel Gassier’s 2013 Nostre Pais is a similar blend and while doesn’t have the same finesse, it is half the price and a great example of grenache blanc.

Another Rhone grape, viognier, absolutely shines in Argentina. The 2015 Viognier from Henry Lagarde is a ripe, yet very faithful representation of the grape. Try this with scallops or lobster.

Chardonnay in California can be a touchy proposition, but the 2013 Calcaire from Clos du Bois is an excellent representation of the grape in Russian River. Lemon and orange rinds, a touch of butter and a mineral, edgy finish. Really impressive, especially for the price.

Spring is here folks!


“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial

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Castello di Gabbiano Riserva Chianti Classico 2012