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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Cheap, cheery, charming whites super for summer sipping

So it seems to be summer.

And in summer, I drink a lot more white wine.

In fact, year-round, really, I’ve started to almost always have a glass of white as my aperitif regardless of what the main course might be. I never used to like the idea of mixing reds and whites — that is, if I knew I was having red wine with steak for supper, for instance, I’d insist on red as the before-dinner drink, too. But now, most of the time — emphasis on "most" — I like a white to wake up my palate and ease into whatever beverage might come next.

While I certainly do have my favourite whites — Chardonnay is always my go-to varietal of choice — I like others for a change of taste. And I was very surprised by a few new-to-me wines recently, both because of their flavour AND because of their affordable price tags.

I was given a bottle of the 2011 Zuccardi (Serie A) Chardonnay Viognier recently, and while I thought this might be an OK wine — it’s a blend of two of my fave white grapes — I figured I wasn’t likely to be overly impressed. The wine was from Argentina’s Mendoza region, so it had that going for it. But I wasn’t sure how enamoured I’d be with an Argentinian white. To be truthful, I haven’t had many of them, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But my expectations weren’t terribly high.

And as much as I like to be right (I used to believe "I love you" were the three most beautiful words in the English language. But while that trio still means a lot to me, the words "You were right!" or "You are right!" ring even more pleasantly in my ears. But I digress.), I was, in this instance, very, very happy to be wrong.

With a blend of citrus, papaya, peach in the bouquet, the Zuccardi Serie A had my attention right away. When those same flavours continued on the palate, I was delighted. And rather than being crisp, this wine was ... let’s call it fresh. What I liked especially was the mouth-feel — it was rounded and smooth and viscous (thanks to the Viognier, I think) and, well, just lovely!

Despite the fact the wine was chilled, there was a warmth on the finish — not a pepperiness or anything like that, but just a sensation of heat that I found perplexing, invigouring and charming. In my wine notebook, I wrote, "I’m pleasantly surprised by this!"

And there was another surprise to come. I checked the price of the wine, fully expecting it to be $16 to $18. It was $14.14! Yay!

I think I particularly liked this wine because while it provided, as I mentioned earlier, a change for me — it wasn’t just my usual Chardonnay — it wasn’t as much of a departure as, say, a Sauvignon Blanc would be. So I could still have something semi-familiar that I enjoyed, but that was not my regular beverage. I’d buy the Zuccardi (Serie A) Chard Viognier again in a heartbeat.

Another Argentinian white, the 2011 Santa Julia Pinot Grigio, provided yet another pleasant surprise. When I sniffed it at first, I thought, "What is this? Floral? No. It can’t be." (I don’t know about you, but I second-guess — and often third- and fourth-guess myself on aromas all the time. I don’t have the courage to follow my nose, I suppose.)

But once I’d made up my mind about the flavours (these I’m usually a bit more confident about), I checked the back label and did a fist-pump in the air. It DID say floral aromas! All right!

Anyway, this unassuming little Pinot Grigio tastes of tropical fruit, and is just a bit woodsy on the finish. That hint of flavour is faint, but it’s there. And it helps make the Santa Julia PG a more-than-agreeable beverage for a hot, or not-so-hot, summer day.

The other bit of good news is that it sells for $11.17 a bottle.

Finally, I know there’ll be some readers who are appalled by this next suggestion, and others who are delighted. I was recently at a waterfront wine and cheese reception where the red on offer was the Tocornal Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, which, for my money, is the best boxed wine in our market. A Cono Sur product, it comes from Chile, and at $28.99 for a three-litre cask, I think it delivers the most bang for the buck, as does its counterpart, the Tocornal Chardonnay, which is the same price for the same amount. Sure, these are edgy products with not a ton of finesse. But they’re both big on flavour and deliver a pretty powerful taste sensation for less than $10 a litre.

Which this next wine doesn’t. But I liked it because while it certainly wasn’t bone dry, neither was it terribly sweet. It wasn’t complicated, but it also wasn’t bland. It wasn’t gutsy, but there was a certain laid-back appeal to its delicacy.

It might help that I’d had a glass of really terrific Chardonnay before I had it. But the Peller Wines Franciscan White cask from California really amazed me for a boxed white, especially for $30.65 for four litres!

While it’s undeniably light, it’s not watery — that is, it’s not thin on flavour. So if you’re throwing a reception and you know your guests aren’t terribly picky, this would definitely be a white to try. Folks sure seemed to like it at this party.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 14, 2012

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So it seems to be summer.

And in summer, I drink a lot more white wine.

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So it seems to be summer.

And in summer, I drink a lot more white wine.

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