Big-grape romance at bargain prices
Go all out for Valentine’s Day celebrations without stressing your budget
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When you write a weekly drinks column, there’s a certain sense of obligation around Valentine’s Day to offer up suggestions for wines to pop open with your sweetie. (There are only so many times you can write about wine and chocolate… trust me.)
But folks are still feeling the pinch of post-holiday expenses, the impending terror of tax time and a heaping helping of inflation desperation, meaning there’s not much appetite to shell out big bucks on booze.
Thankfully, there are some really great deals in the way of markdowns, sales and discontinued products out there right now for you and your Valentine — read on for some killer values and hot tips to get the best bang for your buck.
The Oyster Bay NV Sparkling Cuvée Brut (New Zealand — $17.24, Liquor Marts and beyond) is a bubbly made from Chardonnay grapes sourced from both the Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay regions; it’s pale gold in colour with fine bubbles, and on the nose brings bread dough, ripe green apple, lemon-lime and subtle honeyed notes. It’s light-bodied and dry, with ripe citrus and green apple flavours leading the charge, hints of chalkiness and peach, a touch of doughiness and a short finish. Retails regularly for $22.99 a bottle, which is a touch high for the quality in the bottle; its current sale price seems just about right and puts it in line with many proseccos and other similar-quality bubblies. 3/5
Hot tip: If you want to shell out for real-deal Champagne, Manitoba Liquor Marts have a few on sale now including Pommery, Piper Heidsieck (in 375ml bottles) and Canard-Duchêne. There are also plenty of proseccos and a couple of cavas marked down as well.
In terms of pink wines (a Valentine’s favourite), the Benjamin Bridge 2020 Cabernet Franc Rosé (Annapolis Valley, N.S. — $16.79, De Nardi Wines) is very pale pink in colour, bringing ripe orange, citrus rind, white pear, floral and melon aromas. It’s light-bodied and barely off-dry, (10.5 per cent alcohol), with juicy citrus (ripe lemon and orange) flavours, some chalky minerality, plus hints of saline and pear before the crisp, clean finish. There’s great verve/energy here; it’s on sale at De Nardi Wines from its regular retail price of $27.99, which is a mammoth markdown (while supplies last). 4/5
Hot tip: Lovebirds looking for something a bit sweeter might also consider the slightly fizzy, medium-sweet and totally delicious Benjamin Bridge Nova 7, which is available in 250ml cans (for those spending Valentine’s Day alone) at most private wine stores, and currently on sale at De Nardi Wines and Kenaston Wine Market (the 750ml bottle is also available at Liquor Marts).
Sticking with pink wines, the Cono Sur 2021 Bicicleta Pinot Noir Rosé (Bio Bio Valley, Chile — $12.49/1 litre bottle, Liquor Marts and beyond) is made from Pinot Noir sourced from Chile’s southernmost (read: coolest) region. It’s deeper in colour than the Benjamin Bridge and delivers riper strawberry and floral notes that show well with raspberry, watermelon and peach aromas. Light-plus bodied and mainly dry, there’s good concentration of ripe berry flavours here without getting bogged down by sweetness, with lovely strawberry and raspberry flavours leading the way followed by mandarin orange and peach. It retails regularly for $13.99 per one-litre bottle — even at that price, it’s a killer value. 4/5
Prefer a red? The Lavau 2018 Côtes du Rhône Villages (Rhône Valley, France — $12.60, Liquor Marts and beyond) is a 50-50 blend of Grenache and Syrah grapes, and brings a lovely peppery aroma along with ripe cherry, blackberry, red licorice and leather notes. It’s medium-plus bodied and dry, with cherry, raspberry and blackberry flavours still holding up and coming with hints of red licorice before the white pepper and black tea notes kick in with the modest tannins. Half of this wine was aged in vats and the other in used, larger-format barrels for 12 months, meaning the oak is subtle and well-integrated, while there’s some warmth to the finish thanks to 14.5 per cent alcohol. It was a decent price at $17.99 before it was marked down to be discontinued by Liquor Marts, although should probably be drunk in the next six to nine months. Stock up while you can. 3/5
Hot tip: Discontinued products aren’t as widely available at all Liquor Marts. All discontinued products can be found on the Liquor Marts website under the “Promotions” tab in the “Last Chance” section. Find a product that sounds interesting? Click on it, then select “store inventory” for a drop-down menu of all locations that have the item in stock.
There’s a subtle earthy aroma brought by the Fontanafredda 2019 Organic Barbera (Piedmont, Italy — $14.99, Liquor Marts and beyond) that arrives with raspberry, cranberry, floral, wild blueberry and leafy notes. It’s medium-plus bodied and dry, with tart red and black fruit flavours arriving with a splash of acidity, a subtle herbal note, tannins that aren’t aggressive and a medium-length finish. Chill this down for 15 minutes and enjoy with a Neapolitan-style pizza. The regular price is $19.99, making this quite a good deal right now. 3.5/5
Last but certainly not least is the Amalaya 2020 Malbec (Mendoza, Orgentina — $16.99, Liquor Marts and beyond). Previous vintages of this Argentine red have been in heavy rotation at Uncorked headquarters, and the 2020 continues the tradition. Inky purple in colour, there’s all manner of wild blackberry and plum as well as dark chocolate, black olive and eucalyptus notes aromatically. It’s dry and full-bodied, with great intensity and ripeness to the brambly dark berry flavours, a dark chocolate note that delivers the medium tannins and a slightly meaty, savoury edge that adds complexity before the modestly warm finish (13.9 per cent alcohol). Would work with anything from chocolate to charcuterie boards to steak. Regular retail price is $21.99 a bottle, making this an absolute steal right now. 4.5/5
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.