WITH the new year just a week old, the Hired Belly is favouring a slightly battered wallet. So, in the spirit of frugality, no time like the present to put forward some better quality drops that still deliver value.
One easy way to help a wine taste like more than you paid for it is to put it in decent stemware - especially when it comes to reds. Letting a wine breathe in a big bowl can work minor miracles for even the most humble bottle - nor will you need a decanter. Some glass geeks might insist that you buy a specific glass for each varietal.
However, a good Bordeaux glass for cabernet sauvignon, merlot and blends will also do quite nicely for most Rhone varieties. However, pinot noir is the one red that seems to benefit most from a dedicated burgundy glass.
? Undurraga Sibaris Pinot Noir 2011 (Maipo).
Bright cherry notes on top followed by some distinctive, dark savoury notes with good length and acidity. Solid varietal expression and good value. BCLS $15.99, 89 pts.
? Vina Chocalan Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (Maipo; 85 per cent cab plus with other Bordeaux varietals).
Here's a well-priced "starter" Cab that delivers lively up-front fruit and balanced tannins with strawberry, cherry and black fruit and a touch of mocha. Good value at BCLS $13.79, 88 pts.
? De Martino Legado Chardonnay 2011 (Limari).
This well-crafted Chardonnay comes from Limari Valley, one of the original wine growing regions that dates from the 16th century and is now being rediscovered. Limari's morning cloud and maritime fogs (combined with low rainfall) add up to classic cool climate conditions, while mineral rich soils yield more complex characteristics. Look for tropical and citrus notes with an elegant mouthfeel and distinctly mineral undertones with lingering zesty notes and a touch of oak (from large barriques) that leans more towards old world than new. Everything Wine/BCLS $17.99, 90 pts.
? Emiliana Adobe 2011 Syrah (Rapel).
Black fruit, cherry and some spice on the nose followed by a plush, mouth-filling palate with easy tannins and fantastic fruit with great length and spice before a plush and persistent close. Good organic value to boot. BCLS/Everything Wine $14.99, 89 pts.
? Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2009 (Luyan de Cuyo).
Malbec is synonymous with Argentina. But it's not only about budget wines. Spend a few more dollars and you'll often be well-rewarded with a bottle that punches above its weight.
Case in point, this plush and plummy, black cherry-toned, mouth filling drop wrapped in easy tannins with a lingering end. Drink it with braised meats or a rich stew. BCLS $22.90, 89 pts.
. . . Oysters and stout are a classic combination that should prove a potent lure, particularly at this time of year. You can get a taste of both, plus a whole lot more, when filmmaker Craig Noble (who made trail-blazing Tableland) joins forces with Cortes Island's The Oysterman, bivalve guru Brent Petkau for a screening of Noble's latest short, The Perfect Oyster.
"Watch, slurp and learn," suggests Craig, a Cicerone in training, who promises to match Petkau's oysters with a 'proper flight of stout,' likely to include Guinness Draft (Dublin), Old Yale Sasquatch Stout (Chilliwack), Rogue Shakespeare (Newport), The Porterhouse Oyster Stout (Dublin), Deschutes Obsidian Stout (Oregon) - not to mention an Umami Stout Cocktail from Mr. Noble.
Proceeds from the $65 invested in what promises to be a highly educational but also entertaining evening goes to raise funds for Noble's next full length documentary, CRAFT. The event will be held Jan. 22, 7 p.m., at Legacy Liquor Store. Tickets: legacyliquorstore. com/events.
Tim Pawsey covers food and wine for numerous publications and online as the Hired Belly at hiredbelly.com. Contact: rebelmouse.com/hiredbelly, on Twitter @hiredbelly or email firstname.lastname@example.org.