Pandemic Wine: My 5 Most Memorable Bottles Since This Whole Thing Started


I estimate that I've partaken in the consumption, and general enjoyment, of more than 250 bottles of wine since late March when this virus, that I personally believe deserves our caution & respect, came in hot in my part of the world. Though Jessie & I adopted the use of tissue paper for our heinies given the unceremonious hoarding of toilet paper that dubiously occurred, if not amongst ourselves, then at least amongst our neighbours, we had no problem stocking up on the boozes. I recall the very trip to the liquor store where I secured a couple cases of the decent stuff alongside a flat of Pilsner Urquell.


Donald Fagen said it best:


We've got provisions, and lots of beer...


I began my own annoying journey as one of those people who was fortunate enough and determined to make quarantine my best friend and produce something. Not only did I produce a hefty amount of intellectual material, but I also produced a larger version of myself, primarily through my indulgence and further immersion in the alcoholic arts.


The key word is survival on the new frontier...


Imbibe we did. And imbibing we still are doing. I don't take notes the way I used to, but I am sure to record every bottle that I do consume in the form of a quick snap of both the front and back label of each. If every bottle is given adequate attention during consumption, a picture should be enough to recall its essence and the context within which it was consumed. This is my loosely organized current system.


And so, after some scrolling through my thousands of iPhone photos, I'm fondly recalling my top 5 bottles from the spring, summer and fall of covid-19, in honour of Canadian lockdown #2. I look forward to re-working this list for you in the springtime.


Here we go:


5) 2015 Fontanafredda Barolo, Piemonte, Italy - $40


Much has been made of the turn around in quality of this house since changing hands a number of years ago. I am here to say that as an entry into the marvellous, if not heady, category of Barolo & Barbaresco, this sub-$50 option made it move for me on a couple of occasions, notably with a braised lamb shank and rich risotto, fresh herbs from the garden, and special company. If you ever need a way to open a newbie's tender eyelids without taking out a second mortgage, I think this would be a great way to do it. There is an undeniable depth of aroma and flavour in this wine, and a great degree of accessible, powerful deliciousness. My expectations were low the first time I purchased it, which always helps a wine taste better. They were very high on the second purchase, and it delivered as a special-occasion tipple for my father and a close friend of ours during a special isolated getaway. The boys were impressed. The table fell silent as we pulled tender chunks of lamb off of the bone and used it to scoop up mouthfuls of risotto, washing it down with sloshes of Fontanafredda Barolo. Only the odd moan and expletive were uttered. Sublime.


4) 2017 40 Knots Pinot Noir '115 Amphora', Comox Valley, British Columbia, Canada - $42


I encountered this particular bottle on jaunt to a Gabriola Island to a quaint, colourful cabin. I've been horny for Vancouver Island wines for some time now, however hard to come by they occasionally are when not shopping on the rock. I took advantage of the excellent liquor store on Gabriola and nabbed this bottle. I cooked rack of lamb on an open fire that Jessie built as we whacked away at the mosquitos and took in the coastal woods and stars in peace and quiet. The wine was dense, complex, nuanced, all while being relatively low in alcohol (11.5%). It felt like going back in time. I know that makes me sound like a romantic fool. Don't worry. I am.


3) N/V Segura Viudas Cava Reserva, Spain - $15


I threw a hunk of mackerel on toast and spontaneously opened this up one morning.


I do it all the time now.


It's the best $20 you can spend. And that includes the mackerel & toast.



2) 2017 Liber Farm 'REBIL', Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, Canada - $65


I'd heard only smatterings of chit-chat about this 7-acre, family-run farm outside of Cawston. While on a local vacay in Okanagan-Similkameen wine country, I had made a point of trying to stop in at this winery. I called, and they said they were only available for pickups for online purchases. Well, on our last night in Naramata before heading back that way, I got a little tipsy and ordered 18 bottles of their top-tier package. We met Nicole, the proprietor, who laughed with us about me 'drunk-dialing' the order the night before. I took a bottle of REBIL, their Meritage-style offering and top red wine. Fuck. Me. It instantly reminded me of some great vintages of Pacific Northwest reds I'd tasted in the past. Oculus, Osoyoos Larose, Page, etc. It was obvious to me that not only was the fruit sourced from a premium site, but that the wine was made with great care and for the long-haul. I ordered 6 more bottles immediately and left a silly, drunken review on their contact form. It's been the wine we've used all year for special gifts or thank-you's. And there's plenty more left in the basement of our collection for careful viewing over the coming decade.


1) Vicente Faria 'Animus' Red, Douro Valley, Portugal - $13 (Multiple vintages enjoyed)


I hate those lists where every wine is so expensive. It's counterintuitive to the education process, and it gets annoying. It's a little tone deaf, to boot. I found an old bottle of this from the 2012 vintage in my first run to the liquor store to collect lockdown rations. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy it as a nicely-matured, inexpensive, and delicious red wine on an early Zoom™ happy hour call. I then noticed that the more recent vintages had hit the shelves. I've been buying it every since. It's extremely versatile: ripe, round, warm, spicy, but still with enough structure and earthiness to capture some of that European, table-friendly charm. This is the gift wine to bring to your boss' house if she hasn't been kind to you in the bonus department and you want to make a good impression without looking stingy. Good wine is good wine. This is really good wine. Especially on a quarantine budget. Because some of us need a lot to drink.


Cheers, and stay safe!


-Steven

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