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Easter provides good wine-pairing opportunities

Like many oenophiles, I embrace just about any reason to raid the wine cellar. Dinner parties, birthdays and writing a column for the Times Colonist all provide welcome licence.
Libations columnist Garth Eichel.

Like many oenophiles, I embrace just about any reason to raid the wine cellar. Dinner parties, birthdays and writing a column for the Times Colonist all provide welcome licence. Still, few things give me better excuse to deplete the modest collection beneath my basement stairs than a festive holiday meal. With Easter almost upon us, I've already dusted off a few favourites.

Notwithstanding the legitimacy of Easter dinner, any intrusion into the wine cellar warrants some justification, so I've selected wines that pair well with traditional and non-traditional Easter meals alike.

Segura Viudas Reserva Brut Sparkling

Spain, $16

Few wine-producing countries can compete with Spain when it comes to value. Especially so with Cava, sparkling wine made in the traditional method.

This Spanish Cava is crisp, clean and full of rich yeastiness, red apple and stony minerality. And at $16 you don't need to wait for the holidays. What's more, it's easy to find at most liquor stores.

Marqués De Riscal Rioja Reserva 2005

Spain, $28

This red is another bargain from Spain that punches well above its weight. Aged in American oak for more than two years, it is full of savoury and herbaceous aromas, as well as notes of black pepper and cedar. Red and black berry fruit are present on the palate, along with soft tannins and balanced acidity. To be sure, this Rioja would be a fantastic partner for a succulent Easter lamb. Moreover, it's available at B.C. Liquor Stores and several private retailers.

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2008

Kelowna, $37

Tantalus's $27 Riesling is good; their $37 old vines Riesling is crazy good. In fact, the latter was one of my favourite discoveries at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival last month. The intense concentration of citrus aromas and tropical fruit flavour, combined with racy acidity and overall complexity makes this wine an experience by itself, or a versatile companion for a range of holiday meals, such as salmon, halibut, turkey, pork and ham, or even spicy Asian cuisine. Unfortunately, it's not available in B.C. Liquour Stores, so seek it out at Everything Wine in Langford if your local private retailer doesn't carry it.

Cloudline Pinot Noir 2008

Oregon, $29

It used to be that Pinot Noir was defined by Burgundy, France. Not so much anymore. To be sure, Burgundy will always hold a place of reverence, but places like New Zealand's Central Otago and Oregon's Willamette Valley are increasingly synonymous with high quality Pinot Noir, which might explain why a number of Burgundian producers are investing in both regions. Cloudline's 2008 Pinot Noir might have something to do with that trend. Full of classic cherry flavour, soft tannins and a dash of spice, this is a voluptuous ruby red that would be a sublime pairing with salmon. Cascadia Liquor Stores is a reliable retailer for this product.

Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2009

California, $25

Adherents of the ABC ("anything but Chardon-nay") movement really need to reconsider their disdain for this truly great variety.

Granted, overly oaked products in recent years put many people off Chardonnay, but producers the world over have improved their game significantly, reducing excessive oak and tightening up the overall balance.

This Sonoma Chardonnay is an excellent example of the new and improved "New World" style taking hold: there is lots of pear, honeysuckle and grapefruit aroma, combined with fruit forward tropical flavours, with just a hint of oak that won't leave you pulling splinters out of your teeth. It pairs well with ham or turkey, but can be enjoyed as a treat in its own right. The downside is that B.C. Liquor Stores don't carry it, and distribution is spotty with private stores.

The best place to track it down is Everything Wine in Langford, which still had stock this week.

Stift Goettweig Grüner Veltliner Messwein 2008

Austria, $22

I'll admit that I'm a shameless bandwagoner: I cheer for the Canucks (only in the playoffs), I adopt rescue dogs, I'm for sustainability in all its various guises, and I'm all about Grüner Veltliner (a.k.a.

"Gru-Ve" for those in the know).

More obscure -and easier to pronounce -than Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner is the signature grape variety of Austria. This Gru-Ve is crisp, clean and full of honeysuckle aroma and citrus and apple notes on the palate, as well as a pleasing hint of white pepper and "Old World" minerality.

It's versatile, too, pairing well with pork, ham, turkey and halibut.

Although it is carried by B.C. Liquor Stores, try the larger outlets, as not many small stores carry Austrian selections.