Food & Drink

Reasonable reds to warm up winter

Even if the economy is down, there's no need to give up on the spirit of the season

What with the terrible economic climate and those cold winds blowing down from Siberia, it makes sense to weather out this winter snuggled up in a warm blanket with a nice bottle of red wine and a good novel. In this spirit, we’ve made the rounds of the stores searching for bargain reds that will raise your spirits but won’t ruin your finances. So dust off your copy of “War and Peace” and hunker down with our guide to reasonably priced reds.

First something for the claret fans who must be feeling the pinch: Despite a poor vintage in 2007, prices for the wines of top chateaux continue to rise to dizzying heights. Wines from the legendary balmy summer of 2005, which produced some stupendous reds, must seem impossibly far out of reach for many right now, especially those from sought-after regions such as St. Emilion and Margaux. This is all the more reason to seek out new producers in the Bordeaux area, for example, Chateau Fongrave in the less popular (for reds) Entre-Deux- Mers region. Now in its sixth vintage, this relatively unknown chateau is producing some very elegant wines. The 2005 can be bought for a mere ¥1,350 at Cave de Relax (1-6-11 Nishi-Shinbashi, Tokyo; [03] 3595-3697; ) and is a lovely deep wine with chewy tannins and flavors of raspberry and cherry.

Alternatively, a little further south from the borders of Bordeaux lies Chateau Bouscasse in Madiran. The fabulous 2005 vintage is excellent value for money at ¥2,520 and is available from Wine Market Party in Yebisu Garden Palace (4-20-7 Ebisu, Tokyo; [03] 5424-2582; ). Scents of cherries and violets are followed up by a dark berry taste and meaty tannins.

For those Bordeaux aficionados who have their sights set on buying wines from top chateaux but can’t quite afford it, it’s worth noting that the online wine store Enoteca is offering a mixed case of five bottles of second label of Premier Cru Chateaux (the highest ranking in the region) of the excellent 2005 Bordeaux vintage for just ¥59,800. The second label are those wines that didn’t quite make the cut to Premier Cru wine, be it because the grapes were picked a little too early or the vine they were picked from was a little too young. Although these wines don’t have the same aging potential, they are made in the same style as their more elegant siblings and are excellent value.

Staying within France but traveling over to the Rhône valley, Domaine Roche-Audran Pere Mayeux 2005 is available from online retailer Rakuten and is a mouth- watering chocolate and blackberry confection. The wine won a bronze medal in this year’s prestigious Decanter world wine awards and, at ¥2,455, is well worth the price. If you are looking to give wine for a Christmas present, this might well be a good option; make sure you point out that it’s one for the cellar as it is bound to mature well over the next three or four years.

If you’re on the lookout for a wine that would go well with Christmas dinner, a creative and cost-effective option might be to go for an Italian red. The full, fruity flavors produced in this country go exceptionally well with turkey. Recommended is Raboso Veneto, available from Cave de Relax for ¥1,150. It’s a rustic heavy wine with scents of wet earth and autumnal forests and is rich and full-bodied, with a hint of truffles and pinecones on the palate. Decorated with a real grape twig from the vineyard that’s tied on by hand with a red ribbon, the bottle even has a seasonal look. Although the vineyard has not been certified as organic yet — which might account for the ridiculously cheap price — its grapes were grown with organic methods.

The spiciness of Zinfandel will also complement a Christmas turkey well, and if you’d like to invest a little more in your seasonal plonk, you could nip down to Nissin World Supermarket (2-34-2 Higashi-Azabu, Tokyo; [03] 3583-4586; ) for a ¥3,800 bottle of Dashe Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley 2006. California is rightly gaining heaps of praise for its superior wines, and this is no exception, with soft licorice and cherry flavors — it’s overall a subtle and velvety wine. Another Californian wine to try is Cline Cool Climate Syrah 2005 from the Sonoma Coast. Also available at Nissin World, it retails at ¥2,400. It goes down very smoothly, with a slight spiciness and intriguing scent of dark wood lingering afterward on your palate.

My final red comes all the way from Australia and weighs in at a rather more hefty price of ¥3,150 (again at Nissin World), but this blockbuster of a wine is worth its price. Penfolds Bin 28 2005 is 100 percent Shiraz and has a lovely deep oakyness that would make it the perfect companion to a succulent steak and a hard-hitting thriller.

Cheap and cheerful bubbly options for

If you are dragged out to the odd Christmas party or two, to ensure you won’t be labeled a Scrooge, we’ve rustled up a few bottles of very reasonable fizz for you to take along.

Vazart-Coquart Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Reserve Grand Cru
¥4,800 at Cave de Relax in Shinbashi

It can be very dear and, let’s face it, boring to choose a well-known champagne brand such as Moet et Chandon, so why not break outside that box? Vazart-Coquart is very elegant and delicate in style, with subtle fruit flavors and an impressive complexity.

Roger Goulart 2004, extra Brut Cava
¥3,150 at Seibu in Ikebukuro, Tokyo

If you are willing to look beyond the Champagne region, then go for a cava or prosecco. Roger Goulart comes highly recommended, with melon and fizzy sherbet flavors that whoosh up your nose and an overall sweet and fresh finish.

Gruet Methode Champenoise Brut NV
¥2,200 at Nissin World in Higashi-Azabu

The New York Daily News voted Gruet the Best International Sparkler for under $20. Made by a brother-and-sister team in Mexico who come from a French champagne-making family, this is the closest and cheapest you’ll get to the champagne taste outside of Champagne. A lovely biscuity confection that you’d do well to stock up on.

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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