As if the Christmas shopping hoo-ha isn't bad enough without having to purchase wine for the busiest social slab of the year. We gave three wine heads the same brief and the same amount of pretend money to go shopping for us. Sure beats Kris Kringle.
I have $500 to spend on wines which need to cover me for December and January. As well as all the usual special occasions during that time, I also eat a lot of take-away which I quite like to team up with a glass of wine. I mainly have Thai and Japanese for dinner when I take away and when I make my pitiful attempts to cook, it's usually just pasta of some sort. My boyfriend's dad is a wine nut and I'd quite like to shove one up the old geezer and turn up on Christmas day with something a little special. I don't know what they're eating but it's usually everything - you know, chicken, ham, pudding - the full kit. I like both red and white wines. Oh, and can you include something that I can put away for a while? I just might be getting into this wine-collecting hobby. I don't have anywhere special to store it, just a wine rack in my loungeroom.
WINE REP NELSON WINES
Stobbsy, as he is affectionately known, is a suit at a wine company that specialises in selling boutique wines to restaurants. His passion for wine started when he was just a grommet growing up in England where, every summer, he was dragged through the vineyards of Europe. Poor kid. Jonathon has lived in Australia for the last 12 years.
I'd rather offer some suggestions of which styles to buy and drink rather than specific wines. This way, it's easier for you to go into any wine shop and ask for them.
December and January are certainly hot so I would recommend mainly white wines with a small selection of reds for those specific occasions such as Christmas lunch with the olds.
Seeing you have a penchant for Asian cuisine, you should be looking for the more delicate and aromatic whites to complement the finer flavours of these styles of food and keep a wide berth of the heavier oaked wines that will overpower.
These are essential for this season and the more you spend the better they get. Try a Blanc de Blanc (made from all chardonnay grapes) for something different and finer. Look to the cooler climate wine regions like Tasmania and the Yarra Valley in Victoria.
96 Deautz Blanc de Blanc $29.40
NV Orlando Trilogy $12.50
For their clean fresh citrus fruits and citrus aromatics also good for handling a bit of heat.
99 Delatite VS Riesling $21.99
If there was a match made in wine heaven it would be gewurztraminer and Asian food, the spicy characters in the wine work so well with a wide variety of Asian dishes.
99 Springvale Gewurztraminer $23.95
This wine lends itself very well to the contemporary styles of food we eat now and is very good as a wine to drink on it's own. The best way to describe it is it has similar tropical fruit characters to chardonnay with the clean and fresh structure of a sauvignon blanc.
99 Fox Creek Verdelho $17.99
ROSE (LIKE OLAY NOT THE FLOWER)
Try to find a drier style made from pinot noir or malbec, chill it right down and serve it with some salmon steaks straight off the barbecue. You'll be amazed.
99 Bannockburn Saignee Rose $19.95
Almost as popular as chardy, sauvignon blanc is a great drink in summer and very easy to drink. Green salads, asparagus and any other green vegies pick up on the freshly cut grass aromas and if you are going to venture into sauvignon blancs then you should be trying wines from Marlborough in New Zealand as they've got some of the best.
00 Seresin Sauvignon Blanc $21.95
When you mix semillon with sauvignon blanc, such as the classic dry white style from Margaret River in WA you have another classic wine for summer. The semillon helps the sauvignon blanc lengthen the palate and gives the wine an extra dimension of flavour that they never seem to obtain on their own.
00 Pierro Semillon Sauvignon Blanc $22.95
By far the most popular of all the whites and the styles you can make range from the cleaner unoaked to the rich buttery oaky wines that can sometimes be a meal in itself. Try to look for wines that have a balanced palate so that the oak doesn't dominate and the wine complements food rather than overpowers it.
99 Ninth Island Chardonnay $23.00
With out a doubt the best wine to have at Christmas. To impress the old geezer try to find a Magnum (a double bottle). The wines are generally big and rich with soft palate and the bubbles make it more attractive to a wider range of palates. It is a great match to a great deal of the dishes generally served up at the Season of Fabulous Excess.
98 Cofield Sparkling Shiraz $27.50
The hotter months make it harder to enjoy the big blockbusters as the heat makes the wine seem a little disjointed and doesn't do it the justice it deserves.
Pinot noir though is a great wine to put up against many of the summer dishes and is a great drink on its own too.
99 Diamond Valley Blue Label Pinot Noir $23.15
SOMETHING TO LIE DOWN
Try a Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon from the 98 vintage or a Shiraz from the High Country in Victoria from 98 as well.
98 Penley Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon $23.20
98 Knights Granite Hills Shiraz $27.40
PRINCE WINE STORE
Matt's been sniffing and hucking wine since he started in wine retail five years ago ... and he only did that because noone in a bar would employ him. He now manages the Prince Wine store in St Kilda and blows in as a Wine X tasting panel member. Here's his pick.
Make sure you consider a number of things before shopping, such as your daily drinking habits, the big special occasions like Christmas Day and New Years Eve, something special for yourself and of course, the budget. With $500 and the needs in the profile, here's what you should do.
These wines are great value for money. Good quality varietal examples are drinkable, affordable and perfect for the thirsty masses that tend to invade over December and January.
One dozen Prince Wine Store Sauvignon Blanc 1999 $78
One dozen Prince Wine Store Dry Red 1999 $78
EVERYDAY DRINKING WHEN IT'S JUST YOU (AND MAYBE SOMEONE SPECIAL)
You don't have to break the bank in order to drink well from day to day. Consider what type of foods you like and employ the skills of your local wine store.
Rieslings make great partners to most Asian influenced dishes and south Oz's Clare Valley is home to some of my favourites. Sixteen of the Clare's top riesling producers will for the first time release wines from the 2000 vintage with a stelvin closure (screw top metal lid) instead of a cork. This allows them to remain fresher and obviously eliminates the chance of cork tainted wine (for an explanation of cork taint, flick to page 86). Snap 'em up.
Two bottles of Mitchell Riesling 2000 $15 each
Two bottles of Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 2000 $15 each
Marlborough on New Zealand's South Island Coast makes some great examples of sauvignon blanc that are affordable and very food friendly. Great with fish and seafood dishes or just to drink on their own with not too much to think about.
Lawsons Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2000 $18
Italy had an awesome vintage in 1998. Apart from representing incredibly good value for money, most of Tuscany's sangiovese (native red grape of Tuscany) based wines are delicious and ready to drink now. Due to their characteristic chalky, drying tannins, most sangiovese-based wines are best suited to oilier foods like pizza or pasta.
Two bottles of A Mano Primotivo 1998 $16 each
Antinori Santa Christina Chianti Classico 1998 $15
Like Tuscany, the Southern Rhone Region of France had a tip top vintage in 1998 and most examples I've seen so far are ready to drink now. The wines tend to be a mix of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre and have a spicy edge that makes them great matches to most meat dishes. Once again they are very good value.
Two Perrin Cotes du Rhone reserve 1998 $19 each
Guigal Cotes du Rhone 1998 $21
I've included a bottle of dry sherry from Sanlucar de Barrameda in Spain. This is something a little bit different and makes a refreshing alternative to beer or spirits. Great pre-dinner with olives or nuts and another one of those great wine bargains.
Hidalgo 'La Gitana' Manzanilla Sherry $18
SOMETHING TO STICK IN THE CELLAR
Pat Carmody of Craiglee vineyards north of Melbourne produces super small quantities of this high quality Rhone-like shiraz. The 1998 is dare I say it, special. Packed with ripe fruit and spice, the wine is balanced by firm acidity and gentle fine grained tannins. Do yourself a flavour, put it away and have another look in 2005.
Craiglee Shiraz 1998 $35
FOR CHRISTMAS DAY
Recently named the Qantas winemaker of the year, Vanya Cullen produces one of Australia's greatest cabernet based wines. The 1998 Cullen Cabernet Merlot, which has not long been released, should prove to be one of the greats. Perfect for Christmas Day with the family, the old guy and worth every cent.
Cullen Cabernet Merlot 1998 $70
FOR NEW YEAR'S EVE
For NYE just buy one great bottle. French Champagne is always a great way to celebrate and Louis Roederer is one of my favourite producers. The basic non-vintage wine from Roederer is called Brut Premier and should set you back around $55-$60. Well made, not mass produced and packed with style.
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV
WOOLAHRA HOTEL AND BISTRO MONCUR
Lynette's the wine buyer for Bistro Moncur and the Woollahra Hotel in Sydney's east. On top of selecting and buying all the wine, spirit and beer for the hotel and bistro, Lynette also writes the wine lists, educates the staff, runs wine tastings and seminars and writes a wine newsletter. And if that's not qualification enough, Lynette completed, as Dux of Course, Roseworthy's Wine Production and Marketing Course. You know you're in safe hands here.
As many of us have holidays or at least a 'low key attitude' to work over December/January, there are usually lots of occasions requiring wines of varying calibres. So our female wine buyer will need to plan her wine needs, at least roughly, in order to fit within her $500.00 budget.
The emphasis, entertainment wise, is usually on casual dinners, picnics, barbeques and parties over this period. However, some higher profile bottles of wine will be required for presents and more formal events.
For the family Christmas meal of traditional ham and roast turkey as well as the more recent additions of prawns and salads a good sparkling shiraz is a great accompaniment.
1995 Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz around $17.00-$18.00 each.
FOR THE OLD GUY
For your boyfriend's father, and again considering your budget, an outstanding buy is from Bowen Estate. Doug Bowen has a wonderful reputation for the quality of his wine and its cellaring potential. His wines are still very accessible price wise when compared to other highly regarded cellaring wines.
Bowen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Coonawarra, SA $28.00 - $30.00 each
NEW YEAR'S EVE
Leave some space in the budget for a special New Year's Eve bottle of Champagne. What to choose? He loves Bollinger Special Cuvee and of the few Champagnes you've tried, you just love Louis Roederer Brut Premier. At very different ends of the style spectrum in Champagnes the Bollinger is meaty, rich and showing its wood influence. While the Roederer is more delicate creamy, appley and yet every bit as complex. What to choose? Toss a coin!
NV Louis Roederer Brut Premier at $79.99 & NV Bollinger Special Cuvee at $79.99
THE REST OF THE FESTIVE SEASON
Okay, we've catered for the formal events, what about all the picnics, dinner parties and casual entertaining, and not to forget the take away Thai or Japanese meals at least twice a week? For these occasions we need good quality but budget minded wines which are approachable and ready to drink now. Our wine choice needs to accommodate a mix of cuisines, not only Asian dishes but also pastas and modern Australian dishes.
Given your wine needs I suggest two mixed dozens, reasonably priced, with greater emphasis on white because of the season and the food styles you'll probably be eating. We'll also add some red wines which are ready to consume now with excellent fruit and soft velvety tannins. They'll compliment our summer pasta dishes and barbeques wonderfully.
Our Summer Season Mixed Dozens
3 bottles 2000 Tollana Eden Valley Riesling at $10.99 each
3 bottles 2000 Cape Mentelle Georgiana Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Margaret River, WA at $16.99 each
3 bottles 2000 Burge Barossa Vines Semillon at $10.99 each
3 bottles 1999 Charlotte Street Chardonnay Semillon, Margaret River, WA at $15.99 each
3 bottles 1998 Yarra Burn Sparkling Pinot Noir/Chardonnay/Pinot Meunieur, Yarra Valley, Victoria at $18.99 each
2 bottles 2000 Charles Melton Rose of Virginia (Rose style), Barossa Valley, SA at $17.99 each
3 bottles 1998 Mt Langhi Ghiran Billi Billi Creek (Shiraz/Grenache), Grampians, Victoria at $16.99 each
3 bottles Primo Estate Il Briccone (Shiraz/Sangiovese), Adelaide Plains, SA at $18.99 each
Ten for ten
Richard Peters is a wine expert through experience. He doesn't work in the wine industry and probably never will. He doesn't claim any wine expertise except that he reckons he could hook us up with a list of ten wines for ten bucks a pop. We agreed to the challenge and hereby present you with a list of top wines, for the people, by the people.
The wines are available through the usual retail suspects - supermarket liquor stores, bulk wine chains and the corner pub. Richard targets the $8 - $12 bottle so these wines have a median of $10 each.
St Hallet Gamekeepers Reserve 99
Mildara Church Hill Shiraz Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon 97
Taltarni Reserve de Pyrenees 98
Rosemount Estate Shiraz Cabernet 99
Brown Brothers Everton 99
Bimbadgen Estate Grand Ridge Shiraz 98
Taylors Clare Riesling 99
Wynns Coonawarra Riesling 2000
Santa Carolina Cabernet Sauvignon 98 (Chile)
Masi Modello Della Venezie Rosso 98 (Italy)