Last: Warming reds for hearty winter fare

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I’m hoping by the time this column runs the deep freeze will have moved on but, let’s face it, while global warming is undoubtedly real, Calgary in February is perhaps not the best place to demonstrate that phenomena. At the very least it gives us something else to complain about other than the plague and Donald Trump. I’ve always tried to eat seasonally which, for me at this time of year, means things like Shepherd’s Pie (try the curried version from Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, created in 1984, you can find it on Epicurious and NYT Cooks), roast chicken and any kind of braised meat. As much as I frequently crave a glass of lightly chilled riesling, it’s not what calls out to me for deep freeze fare (unless, of course, you’re starting the meal with some curried prawns, for example). As such here’s a selection of reds from the Okanagan and Spain to get you through the cold nights while keeping those stews and roasts company.

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Sola Fred Celler Masroig 2018, Montsant, Spain – $17

Here is another great example of the sort of value you can find from a European co-op, a concept that I would like to see more of in our part of the world. This one heralds from Spain’s Montsant region situated in the northeastern part of the country and part of Catalonia, a fiercely independent autonomous community. It surrounds the famous Priorat region, a DO known for some of Spain’s most collectable, and expensive wines. Like Priorat, it’s a rugged, mountainous area and, like Priorat, there’s a lot of old-vine carignan and garnacha planted. This one is 100 percent carignan (cariñena in Spain) offering up blackberry fruit with a little tannin and a kiss of balsamic and minerals. It’s a great weeknight wine for casual fare, such as grilled sausages with mashed potatoes or a roast chicken.

Moraine Winery Cliffhanger Red 2019, Okanagan Valley, B.C. – $25

Moraine is a family-run winery owned and operated by Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov, former Albertans who left the province for the allure of wine country life, a not so uncommon scenario in the Okanagan. They are situated just outside of Penticton on the leading edge of the Naramata Bench, one of the most desirable places in the valley to grow and make wine. 2019 was a challenging vintage in the valley (there are no bad vintages anymore, just “challenging” ones), with more than double the annual rainfall for September. This is a juicy red blended from merlot and malbec anchored in a core of raspberry fruit. It’s the lightest of the reds reviewed in this column, a good choice for things like baked salmon or a hearty soup.

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Moraine Meritage 2017 Naramata Bench red 2017 $33

This is the flagship red from Moraine and from a much hotter, drier vintage than 2019, which is reflected in its fairly heady 14.6 per cent alcohol. It’s a Bordeaux blend of merlot, cabernet franc and malbec (malbec was once common in Bordeaux), a plush red with a plummy core followed by pleasant herbaceous notes of Herbs du Provence. That particular blend of herbs always makes me think of lamb, and the wine has a nice gamey note to it that would make it a nice match with that gamey meat.

Bardos Romantica Ribera del Duero Crianza 2017 – $25

The Ribera del Duero region is home to some of Spain’s most collectable and expensive wines but there are some bargains to be found and this one is a standout. The region is not particularly glamourous, it’s situated on a massive, somewhat barren plateau in northern Spain that bears the brunt of some of the countries worst weather but the old vines that populate many of the vineyards deliver some remarkable fruit. It is made entirely from tempranillo, Spain’s most noble grape, and a lot is going on in this bottle with a core of dark cherry fruit, spices and cigar box. It’s classy enough to stand up to a pricy cut of red meat, such as prime rib.

Vina Tondonia Reserva 2008 Rioja – $65

This wine, from Spain’s revered Lopez de Heredia wine group, is one of my favourite splurges in the wine world. This is old school Rioja, and nobody does that style better than this 143-year-old producer. They adhere to the regional tradition of releasing their wines when they feel they are ready to drink and as such 2008 is the current release. They produce wines from four different sites within the Rioja with the Tondonia vineyard serving as the most prestigious of the group. It’s remarkable stuff, like slipping into an old, well-worn and over-stuffed leather chair in front of a crackling fire. Subtle notes of cherry pie, smoke, leather, vanilla and spice come together to deliver a red wine that is almost light in body but packed with flavour.

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New arrival: Padro & Co. Blanco Reserva Vermouth – $26

While I’m on the subject of Spain I thought I should mention a great new vermouth that has just arrived. The Spanish are mad for gin and vermouth, on my last visit to Madrid I spent an entire evening just visiting vermut (vermouth) bars, and the selection is mind-boggling. The classic dry gin martini is my all-time favourite cocktail and to make it great, it requires high-quality white vermouth and this one delivers. It is slightly herbaceous with citrus and star anise notes. It would make a nice aperitif all on its own, over ice or with a splash of tonic.

Looking for wine, spirits and beer in Alberta? Go to www.liquorconnect.com

Geoff Last is a longtime Calgary wine merchant, writer, broadcaster and cooking instructor.

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