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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Vine Lines: Cheap wines an extra bonus on low-budget vacations

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It’s amazing, really.

I mean, I’ve written several times about how circumstances can and do affect one’s perception of a wine. If the situation a person finds him — or herself is dark, gloomy and sad, even the world’s best wine is not likely to taste like much of anything.

And conversely, if you’re surrounded by people whose company you enjoy, if you’re in a beautiful environment, and feel safe, relaxed and comfortable, a wine you might otherwise turn your nose up at can taste like the nectar of the gods.

Well, OK, maybe not quite that good, but pretty darn good. Fairly respectable. And exceedingly drinkable. (Perhaps even in substantial quantities!)

That was certainly the case for me over the holiday season, when my husband, Ken, and I made what has become our yearly sojourn to the sunny shores of Jamaica.

Having returned now from our fifth trip to that island nation — we stay on 7 Mile Beach in Negril, which is on the northern tip — we’ve pretty much got things figured out. We know what the going rate should be for a cab to get us from Point A to Point B, we know which restaurants we want to patronize, we know where to find the best deals on wine.

And we know to make sure to check the vintages on the bottles we find on store shelves, thanks to a nasty incident two years ago that could have been prevented if we’d been using our heads. Bottles are all stored upright in Jamaica, and it’s hot there (which is why we go), so if the wine is more than a year or two old, the cork is likely to have dried out and the wine spoiled.

So I keep my eyes peeled for screw-cap wines, because that problem is easily circumvented if the seal is plastic and/or metal as opposed to cork. But some of the wines I like the best don’t come with screw-caps, so a certain amount of label scrutinizing is required.

Anyway, I know there are tons of places all over the world where people can and do go for getaway vacations. But since I know lots of Western Manitobans head to Jamaica in the dead of winter each year, I figured it was appropriate to talk a bit about what’s on offer there, especially because what can be found on that island is much the same as in other Caribbean tropical paradises.

So if you travel to points south, if you like wine, and if you like to save money, read on.

Consistently over the last several years, in Jamaica, Barbados, Aruba and other spots, I’ve turned time and again to Sunrise Chardonnay. A Chilean product made by the mighty Concha y Toro, this Chard is always reliable. It’s full-bodied enough to make me happy, with a hint of citrus and some buttery tropical fruit, yet the price is always reasonable. This year, at the Hi-Lo, the grocery store we patronize in Negril, the Sunrise was about C $12 a bottle. At most restaurants, it sells for about $23. It’s a lovely sunset sipper (more on that in an upcoming column) and is superb with finny fish and shellfish alike.

Vintages came into play again this year, with me being a bit concerned, having really enjoyed the 2011 version of Sunrise, to find only the 2010 at another establishment. But while I uncorked the 2010 with some trepidation, the colour was fine (generally, if a Chard is REALLY golden-toned, the chances it’s corked are pretty high) and the wine, while a fair bit oakier than the 2011, was pleasant as well.

I had very pleasant surprise, too, when I ordered a bottle of the 2011 GatoNegro Chardonnay at Alfred’s Ocean Palace (more on Alfred’s to come, too) our first night there. This Chard, also Chilean, sold for about C $9.60 at the Hi-Lo, but Alfred’s charged only $12 for a well-chilled bottle (and $3 for a VERY generous glass). The ‘Palace’ didn’t have wineglasses, but much as I abhor stemless glasses, the tumblers (also iced) the staff proffered were just fine with this wine in this setting — about 10 yards (sorry, Metric System — I’m old school) from the gently lapping waves of the Caribbean Sea. I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

The GatoNegro Merlot, too, was a palatable red that complemented the chicken and mushroom linguine in a brown sauce served at Gino’s Italian Restaurant. At that establishment, the per-glass price was $4.90, but the glasses were once again generous, and the Merlot sold for the same price as the Chard at the grocery store — $9.60 a bottle.

None of these wines is what I’d usually drink at home, but while I know they’re not stellar, they were more than acceptable on vacation. Again, as is often the case, the setting, the food — fabulous fresh fish — and the company had a lot to do with these somewhat lesser wines being more than enjoyable. And since they’re widely available throughout the Caribbean, they’re something to seek out if you find yourselves in a tropical paradise this winter.

Next week, some info about a bubbly Caribbean bargain and Jamaica’s only local wine. The former I recommend. The latter, not so much. But when in Rome…

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 12, 2013

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It’s amazing, really.

I mean, I’ve written several times about how circumstances can and do affect one’s perception of a wine. If the situation a person finds him — or herself is dark, gloomy and sad, even the world’s best wine is not likely to taste like much of anything.

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It’s amazing, really.

I mean, I’ve written several times about how circumstances can and do affect one’s perception of a wine. If the situation a person finds him — or herself is dark, gloomy and sad, even the world’s best wine is not likely to taste like much of anything.

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