Louis Jadot — I didn’t drink much French wine until after I met Hubby; it was at one of his family gatherings where I first tried Louis Jadot (with subsequent in-class tastings). I’m of the “Anything But Chardonnay” camp, but I really liked the way the Burgundy refreshed my palate – more fruit than oak, less manipulated than the big Californian versions of Chardonnay.
Gabbiano Chianti — A simple, straightforward version of sangiovese that makes for a great pizza and burger wine. I save the high-end Brolio Chianti for guests, but the Gabbiano is worth stocking for mid-week spaghetti nights. Same goes for the Gabbiano Pinot Grigio – nice aromas, balance and acid, for a good price: $12.95.
Cave Spring Riesling simply can’t be beat. This is their signature varietal, and it’s stellar every year. I don’t have nearly enough of the stuff in my own cellar; it’s high time I remedied that.
So that inevitably led to the creation of my own fave under-$20 selections. Here they are, in no particular order, and unless otherwise noted, all items are available at the LCBO.
Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Estate Chardonnay (BC VQA, $19.95) - Creamy texture and weight, lots of tropical fruit, without the overpowering oak. Perfect for turkey with all the trimmings. Or next-day croissant-wiches with turkey leftovers, Brie and cranberry.
Peninsula Ridge Inox Chardonnay (Niagara VQA, $12.95) - "Inox" meaning fermented in stainless steel tanks. You get all of the fruit and none of the wood. Good with creamy pasta, beer-can chicken, and the aforementioned turkey dinner.
Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, $18.95) - Crisp, sharp, bordering on lemon-fresh pucker-worthy. Versatile with a lot of dishes, especially seafood.
Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand, $16.95) - This one is over-the-top citrus, racy and tantalizing. I find it's best on its own, but with raw oysters it's divine.
Creekside Estates Sauvignon Blanc (Niagara VQA, $13.95, or $18.95 for the reserve) - On our first trip to Niagara, this was the best find. More mineral and acidic than citrusy. We learned (the hard way) about the effects of different vintages from Creekside, when we returned the next year and found the wine wasn't anything like the previous year's. Still good, though.
Giovello Pinot Grigio (Italy, $12.95) - I'll be honest, it's the bottle that first caught my eye: deep, sapphire blue, with a delicate dragonfly gracing the front. Lovely, fragrant balance of floral and fruit, easy-drinking sipper.
Gabbiano Pinot Grigio (Italy, $12.95) - Same boat as the maker's Chianti: pleasant, unfettered, no fuss-no muss kind of wine.
Other whites and blends
Ruffino Orvieto Classico (Italy, $11.95) - This would be the one I brought all the way home from Orvieto itself, only to find the LCBO stocked the exact same thing. D'OH! Best summertime wine for poolside lounging at Grammy's house. (She's been a big fan of the Orvieto since my trip to Italy.)
Ironstone Vineyards Obsession Symphony (California, $14.95) - It's a fast seller at the liquor store, so jump all over it if you find some in stock. Kinduv like a viognier, with its heady perfume and fruity sweetness, but with plenty of solid acidity. Works with a variety of foods, from creamy pasta to grilled chicken; faboo with seafood.Strewn Gewurztraminer-Riesling (Niagara VQA, $11.95) - Easily the best choice EVER for spicy foods. All the best parts of both varietals stand up beautifully to Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Szechuan and other dishes of the same ilk.
Dopff & Irion Gewurztraminer (France, $15.95) - Classic Alsatian Gewurz, rating a 2 on the sugar scale. intense, pungent aromas of orange blossom, followed by sweet honey with mint, perhaps a bit of cilantro; apricots on the long, acidic finish.
Malivoire Ladybug Rosé (Niagara VQA, $15.95) - Despite the irony of having a ladybug as its mascot (since the critter gives off a nasty taste when crushed with the grapes) this has got to be one of the *the* best rosés I've ever had. Slightly sweet, hints of rosewater and strawberries, refreshing for summertime and tapas on the deck.
Sileni Cellar Selection Pinot Noir (New Zealand, $16.95) - None of the mushroom/earthy musk of typical p. noirs, this one is all about delicate fruit and a soft, velvety texture.
Chateau des Charmes Gamay Noir ‘Droit’ (Niagara VQA, $16.95) - For the dark-meat eaters at Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is *the* wine to drink.
Maleta Grape Brain Cabernets (Niagara VQA, $15.95 at winery) - Shame the LCBO decided to stop carrying this all-purpose crowd pleaser. Another good pizza-or-burgers wine that also stands well on its own.
Henry of Pelham Baco Noir (Niagara VQA, $13.95) - This multi-award-winning baco is pure Canadian pride in a bottle. Berry and plum with stiff tannins and a strong thread of tobacco and coffee. Delicious with a wide variety of meat-based dishes.
Argento Malbec (Argentina, $9.95, or $12.95 for the reserve) - For Fuzion fans going into withdrawal as you wait for the next cases to arrive, give this a try. The sweetness is a little toned down in comparison, but ripe aromas of plums, cherries and an undercurrent of tobacco make it a winner.
Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile, $17.95) - Big, bold, tannic, chewy, full of fruit that explodes in your mouth. Great with all manner of steaks, roasts and other beefy bits.
Sweets n' Sparklers
Poema Cava Brut (Spain, $15.95) - Pale straw sparkler with yeast, apple, pear and floral notes on the nose. Light acid, medium weight, with a creamy, dry mouthfeel and a balanced finish.
Huff Estates First Frost Vidal (Prince Edward County VQA, $19.95) - Fantastic after-dinner sipper, or mix it with a bit of club soda or sparkling mineral water for a spritzer. Better match with foie gras than Sauternes.
(Editor's note: Special thanks to Hubby for helping me compile this list; I don't think I would have made it past five, the way my memory's been lately. Chalk it up to pregnancy brain.)