Food & WineThirst Impressions: To Give and/or Receive

Thirst Impressions: To Give and/or Receive

Thirst Impressions: To Give and/or Receive

It's holiday season and I've sipped and slurped on quite a few more (than usual) drinks to give you the low down on good holiday packs, gift ideas and other goodies that help make the holidays joyful. I can definitely tell you that there's not a lot of innovation or imagination this year in the gift packs department at the LCBO, unless you count the Whiskey in a skate-shaped bottle. That to me was the best and most original packaging - but then I (and a few others) tried it and came to the conclusion that the gift is not about the packaging, it's what's inside that truly counts.

The holidays always seem to start with a little pop-pop fizz-fizz, and I'm not talking about Alka-Seltzer here (that usually comes later), I’m talking bubbly or sparkling or whatever you wish to call it. If you’re a Champagne or nothing kind of person, then I'm probably not going to change your mind to try Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or German Sekt (all sparklers), but if you're looking for value in your bubbly, then listen up.

Starting it off with the serious stuff, there's a Crémant de Loire from France that gives all the benefits of French bubbly without the inflated pricetag: Chateau de Montgueret ($18.95- #621896) this is pretty tasty stuff with fine long-lasting bubbles. Staying European might mean putting some Cava on the table (the name for Spanish sparkling) and a good choice is the Freixnet Cordon Negro ($13.95 - #216945), simple yet classic - I'm sure you've had this at some point in your lifetime. Try it again and stick with the classic black. It’s your best Freixnet option. If you have folks over that consider themselves purists and want a French name on their bottle of bubbly, try the Mumm Napa Brut Prestige, it’s the best of both worlds. Mumm is a French company, but the Napa version is pure Americana. This is a great substitute for the French stuff ($28.95 - #217273). It has all the smells and flavours but still stays below the $30 threshold.

If it’s time to go new world, you’ll like these inexpensive selections, especially because they add a little bit of a different flair to any gathering. Cono Sur, out of Chile adds Riesling to the standard Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend for bubbles and gives you an easy drinking fizz that’s pleasant to sip on for not a lot of dough ($13.95 - #215079). And let’s not leave the Aussies out of the party. Sure you can grab any number of Aussie bubbles, but here's one that will shock and amaze as you pour it into your guests’ glasses. The Jip Jip Rocks Sparkling Shiraz is one of the better versions of bubbling Shiraz I have tasted in a long time. It seems to be layered with pepper and spice along with dark fruits and the right amount of fizz ($17.15 - #212472)

There are also some interesting bubbles being produced in our own backyard, starting with the Jackson-Triggs 2008 Entourage Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc ($NA - Winery Only). It has those grassy and grapefruit notes that you expect from Savvy B. with some candied lemon drop notes on the finish. Out on the West Coast you’re looking at wines from Sumac Ridge whose 2006 Steller’s Jay has been at the top of many Canadian bubbly lists ($24.95 - #264879). Then there’s the 100% Chardonnay 30th Anniversary Non Vintage Tribute ($29.95 - #169508) which seems to take BC bubbly to a whole new level with its fruity, toasty and hazelnut notes, a special wine indeed.

Finally for those who like their bubbly with a shot of darkness, check out the newest release in the LCBO bubbles section: Kir Royal ($16.95 - #263582) the classic blend of cassis and sparkling already pre-mixed and ready to drink - great for the morning, afternoon or as an aperitif before dinner.

From the outset, I promised to help you wade through the gift packs and specialty products to find the gems amongst the lumps of Christmas coal ... here is my list of special stuff coming to an LCBO location near you.

I want to return quickly to bubblies and mention the Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial ($65.85 - #509695). This is truly something altogether different with ripe apple and floral notes and a sweet fruit finish, this one is gulpably good and has the right to be called Nectar without overexaggeration. It is a perfect host’s gift.

Going local does not seem to be the problem, though finding a good pre-packaged Ontario pack might prove to be a bit of a minefield, as some wines have ended up paired with some rather odd bedfellows. But you won’t go wrong with the Inniskillin Pinot/Chardonnay pack ($23.45 - #8623) probably the best of a messy lot.

Those looking to put a little Italy in their feast have the choice of two interesting couplings. The Ruffino Chianti /Pinot Grigio collection ($27.90 - #188078) is a pack with with two of Italy’s most recognizable wines; and/or the Mezzomondo Negreomaro/Pinto Grigio-Chardonnay pack ($18.95 - #128868) - so the choice is yours: traditional (Ruffino) or modern (Mezzo), but either way Italian wine lovers will be in heaven.

One of the best all-round packs is the duo from Chile’s Casillero del Diablo, the 2010 Carmenere and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25.95 - #128728) - this might be the best $25 you’ll spend on a pre-assembled
2 pack of wine.

If you are looking to introduce somebody to the joys of port you could do much worse than the Taylor Fladgate LBV with glassware set ($24.95 - #127852). The port is what it should be: spicy, cherry and chocolaty and the box it comes in is rather handsome, if not elegant - the glasses are standard ISO with the Fladgate crest emblazoned on them.

Beer drinkers always get the good glassware this time of year as the producers pair their brew with the right vessel. One of the best sets is the Erdinger Bavaria collection with its curvaceous glass and two beers: golden wheat and dark wheat ($10.95 - #612119). The LCBO also brings in odd-sized and interesting brews for the season. Take the 2L ceramic jug of Christoffel Winterbier ($30.25 - #925800) and the St. Ambroise Pumpkin Ale in a four pack ($9.95 - #90738), perfect for after the turkey but before the fresh fruit tray.

I'm not much of a whisky man but there are three interesting releases. First there is the Jameson Irish Whiskey and flask pack for those on the go ($34.95 - #600130). Then there is the tri-assortment of Talisker 200ml bottles ($74.95 - #3111) and the Classic Malts collection with a 10, 12 and 16 year old from different producers ($90.40 - #11809).

This brings us to the fun drinks, like the Dooley’s Toffee Six Appeal (6x50ml bottles - $13.95 - #601393) and a Bailey’s sampler 4-pack for the “corrected coffee” lover in your life ($11.95 - #84197).

But the best thing I have put in my mouth this holiday season has got to be the Giandula Fior Di Latte E. Grappa ($29.95 - #604181). Even if you don't like grappa (like me) this is for you. It’s creamy smooth like a white chocolate-vanilla shake. Whatever you do, drink well, be well and have a holiday season.

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