For many of us, money’s a bit tight right now — the credit cards are still quivering from holiday gift-buying, it’s tax time, there’s that little global pandemic, etc.
So opening the mailbox to the sight of a little red envelope that comes once a year was cause for a minor fist pump. That’s right — it’s Co-op rebate/equity cheque time.
The cheque that landed in my mailbox last year for 2019, was just north of $77 — about what I expected, given my driving habits and my daily commute to the Free Press in a fuel-efficient compact car.
The past year, however, was a different story. In early March, gas prices plummeted to 60-ish cents a litre, and stayed low for a couple of months. Around the same time, there was the increase in time spent working from home.
And, as the year went on, it was pretty much all home, all the time. All of which is to say the cheque for 2020 was for a whopping $32.97.
During the weekly Free Press Arts & Life department Zoom meeting, an idea emerged: spend that $32.97 on wines without suffering through extreme plonk, without lugging home a large-format, bag-in-a-box wine, etc.
Three bottles, $32.97, and try to get the absolute best bang for the buck.
With a price point of about $11 per bottle after tax, American and New Zealand wines were pretty much out of the question. While Germany makes some incredible wines, the cheap ones typically taste cheap, so that wasn’t a great option.
And at the price point, wines from Canadian producers are generally a blend of "domestic and international grapes," as they like to say on the back label. In other words, boring bulk juice that’s usually devoid of character. Hard pass.
Australia, Chile, Argentina and South Africa offer decent-value choices, although in perusing the Liquor Mart shelves it became clear the Co-op cheque wouldn’t cover three bottles. France and Italy have some decent, well-priced options, but figuring out the good from the bad for $11 a bottle can be a bit of a crapshoot.
It was in exploring the wines of Spain, Portugal, Greece and Eastern Europe where the deals were to be found. It also became evident that in that classic Manitoba stereotype, I’d have to sniff out some deals — products drastically marked down before being discontinued, or wines that have been deeply discounted for the month — what Liquor Marts have labelled "hot buys."
Having done the math in my head while scouring the shelves, I was fairly confident it was mission accomplished. But math was never my strong suit, which means, of course, that when the three winners were tallied up, the total was $33.30. Cue the sad trombone from The Price is Right.
But life ain’t The Price is Right, and I was in no mood to find something else just to knock 30-ish cents off the bill, so here we are.
Swampy swill or the sweet success? Read on to find out…
Wines of the week
Toro Branco 2018 Verdejo Sauvignon Blanc (La Mancha, Spain — $8.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A blend of Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc, this well-priced Spanish white offers primary pear, lemon zest and herbal aromas, with some underlying tropical fruit in there, as well. There’s just the slightest hint of sweetness on the light-bodied palate, which helps accentuate the ripe pear and citrus notes and brings the tropical component to the forefront. What it lacks in intensity it makes up in price, and would work with cheese plates, milder seafood dishes or salads. 3/5
Marqués de Cáceres 2019 rosé (Rioja, Spain - $10.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Made primarily from the red Tempranillo grape, this Spanish rosé regularly retails for $14.99, but is part of the Liquor Marts "hot buys" promotion until the end of February. It’s medium orange-ish pink in colour, bringing raspberry candy, cherry, floral and hints of spice on the nose. On the dry, light-plus bodied palate it’s brimming with red berry flavours, particularly raspberry, with some cherry in there, as well, and that lingering spice showing nicely. Solid at the regular price but very good for $10.99, especially with pork tenderloin, salmon dishes or pasta in a cream sauce. 4/5
Monte Da Cal 2018 "Cal" (Alentejano, Portugal - $9.75, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This Portuguese red, a blend of four indigenous grapes, regularly retails for $12.99, but has been de-listed by Liquor Marts, meaning they’re blowing it out until it’s gone — and then it’s gone for good. It’s brick-ish ruby red in colour, and brings blackcurrant, smoke, blackberry, licorice and slightly meaty notes on the nose. It’s dry and medium-bodied on the palate, with the dark berry notes (particularly blueberry) working nicely with the white pepper and black tea flavours that come with the modest tannins, and a splash of acidity keeps things vibrant. It’s great for the rock-bottom price, but would still be a decent value at $13; try with pizza or burgers. 3.5/5
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.