Our Annual Gift Guide – December 14th, 2018

Wine Gifts for the Stocking, the Hosts & Someone Special

By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo, Sara d’Amato, Michael Godel & Steve Thurlow

Last year we rolled out what proved to be a very popular gift guide wherein we five critics  picked wines for three gifting scenarios named above. This year however we add a fourth “I Wish Someone Would Give This Wine to Me”.

The tricky aspect to this concept is that wine needs to be available at Vintages on publication (Friday December 14th), so that you have half a chance of finding it on shelf. Thankfully WineAlign is designed to track inventories simultaneously with the LCBO’s database (in case you were not aware of that). You can further drill down to see how many bottles are in the store where you plan to shop.

For the Stocking

Wine bottles actually don’t fit into stockings very well, and take up too much space – unless you go for double-legged leotards or long johns. Half bottles would be good, but the selection of 375mls at Vintages is virtually non-existent.  The idea of a stocking stuffer is that it be amusing and not too expensive, or something totally random and unexpected, or maybe, as familiar and comfy as a pair of your favourite socks.

Wynns 2016 Coonawarra Estate Shiraz, South Australia ($23.95)
David Lawrason -This stocking stuffer is all about winter warmth and comfort. It has a rich yet vibrant ambiance with a lifted, almost piquant nose of blackcurrant, mint/menthol, pepper, cordite and vanilla. Love the Coonawarra definition which nods to cabernet lovers as well. It is dense, bright, firm and polished – love the edge and tension. Tannins remain firm so give it a year or two. The length and focus are excellent.

Feudo Montoni 2016 Nero D’avola Lagnusa, Sicily, Italy ($23.95)
Michael Godel – Any gift should be a thoughtful one and it should look like you know what you’re doing. This is from a special property in Sicily. It’s nero d’avola grown by grafts taken from proprietor Fabio Sireci’s ancient Vrucara vines. It’s a wine of sapidity, grit, grip, strength and understanding. A double rainbow might just appear after a sip of this regional nero d’avola from the Montoni property.

Cesari Mara Valpolicella Ripasso 2016, Veneto, Italy $16.95 was $19.95
Steve Thurlow: This fine well made ripasso is $3 off, so you can impress for less money. It is lighter than most ripasso with a fine balance and some elegance. Expect aromas of red and black cherry fruit with some spice and floral notes. It is full bodied but feels lighter. Very good length. Mild tannin and soft balancing acidity make it very drinkable. Try with boldly flavoured cheese or roast meats.

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2016   Feudo Montoni Nero D'avola Sicilia Doc Lagnusa 2016  Cesari Mara Valpolicella Ripasso 2016

Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Combes Aux Jacques 2017 ($17.95)
John Szabo – Stocking stuffers are supposed to be fun, whimsical, disposable or consumable little gifts, thoughtfully chosen. Well, Beaujolais is eminently consumable, unbridled fun, made here by one of the most reliable (and readily available) names in Ontario: Louis Jadot. This arch-classic from one of the best in a string of excellent vintages
may be a tad more serious than whimsical, but that’s ok too.

Charles Baker 2017 B-Side Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada ($21.95)
Sara d’Amato – What was stylistically incongruous with Baker’s two single vineyard rieslings made it into this “B-side” assemblage. Less taught and austere, more immediately drinkable and crowd-pleasing, this well-crafted offering is also substantially less expensive than the Ivan or Picone bottlings. Zesty and aromatic with generous notes of wildflower, lime and sour apple.

Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages Combes Aux Jacques 2017  Charles Baker B Side Riesling 2017

For The Host

The host gift is a tricky one. If you are deemed to be “the wine person” in your circles, there is some pressure to perform – to have an inside track on quality and value yet present something not too esoteric that the host might enjoy as well. On price, you don’t want to skimp, but nor do you want to be ostentatious. Remember the etiquette is that the host is not obliged to open your gift bottle in the moment, as they may have already carefully planned the types and quantity of beverages to be served. But if they do it has to be approachable.

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario $25.15
Steve Thurlow – Most folks bring reds but hosts are often lacking in whites and riesling is the most versatile of whites, so it’s sure to fit somewhere into the menu. The 2016 vintage is the best I can remember of this elegant nervy riesling. There is just enough sweetness to balance the racy acidity while leaving the finish almost dry. Expect aromas of apple fruit with lime and mineral chalk with a hint of petrol. The palate is lively and juicy with a lemony tone. This is a complex classy riesling that will be versatile with a wide variety of mildly flavoured seafood, cheese and white meat dishes. Very good length.

Tenuta San Guido 2016 Le Difese, Toscana 147876 ($34.95)
David Lawrason – Tuscany is hot at the moment. So much fine, nervy wine being made, and it may be the best represented wine region at Vintages in 2018. So no stranger to the giftee. This is the “third” wine from Tenuta San Guido, home of Sassicaia, one of Italy’s most famous reds. It is a slim, tidy, well balanced and fresh cabernet-based red that doesn’t require a lot of ageing – maybe two years. It shows pretty currant/raspberry fruit nicely inlaid with grassy/hay notes and very subtle oak. It’s medium weight at best, firm, even tart-edged, nicely layered and even elegant. The length is very good to excellent, trailing some minerality.

La Bohème Act Four 2017 Syrah/Gamay, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia ($20.95)
Michael Godel – Bringing a wine gift is tough because you want it to be opened but you never know what food is going to be served. And you don’t want to bring something so serious that it won’t be used. Gamay is the versatile answer and this whimsical wine is even better. As is the reduced price (from $24.95) and there are still a case or two available in dozens of stores.    Pairing gamay and syrah makes absolute sense, bringing cranberry, currants and creative direction together for a seamless and joyous affair. The drink-ability is really good and everyone would appreciate this because well, it’s damn delicious.

Château Haut Brisson 2015 AC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France ($41.95)
John Szabo –  My strategy for bringing wine to the party is to bring two bottles. The first I intend to drink with the host (I want to taste it, too!), the other is a gift that I don’t expect to be opened. I make this very clear up front so there’s no ambiguity. For the gift, I’ll bring a blue chip bottle – a name brand appellation – that’s guaranteed to impress, like this Saint Emilion Grand Cru, which is worth about as much as an entrée in a fine restaurant – what I’d be paying if I hadn’t been invited to dinner. This bottle has the bonus of being ageworthy, indeed in need of a few more years in the cellar to reach its zenith of taste. Tell her to drink crack it sometime in the mid-twenties – it’ll seem that much more special and thoughtful. And let’s hope your host has a decent cellar, and that you’ll still be friends in a decade.

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2016 Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2016 La Bohème Act Four Syrah/Gamay 2017 Château Haut Brisson 2015

For Someone Special (Who Loves Wine)

If you are still casting about for a fine wine gift for someone you know well, you should know what they like. Or perhaps you know they will be pleased by something off-beat. In any case you want to go premium, showing how much you care. And it should be a wine that demonstrates your finer instincts.

Donne Fittipaldi 2015, Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy ($45.95)
Michael Godel – Here is a gift for all the people you love, regardless of gender. The winery happens to be run by five women and the aromatics dance their way out of the glass from this cabernet-dominated Bolgheri, with roses and violets but also varietal Cassis. The tones are at once warm and advancing but just when you think it will settle in the aromatics begin to get savoury, cool and receding. It’s this hard to get nature that makes it so intriguing. Should drink really well 15 years from vintage.

Klipfel 2010 Clos Zisser Kirchberg De Barr Grand Cru Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France ($34.95)
David Lawrason –Great Alsatian gewurz is rare at Vintages, so grab hold. This went under the radar in Vintages lab tastings but I poured it in the Fine Vintage Ltd Sensory Course, and was stunned by quality. Thinking that excellent 2010 vintage may be the reason, along with obviously good winemaking. At eight years the colour remains deep lemon-gold. The nose is a classic melange of lychee, lemon blossom, apricot, subtle spice, lavender and honey. It is full bodied, dry, rich yet firmly structured. The flavours power to excellent length finishing with lemon, spice and florals. It’s so rare to see gewurz of this calibre pass through, so grab a bottle or three while you can.

Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro Valley Portugal $69.95
Steve Thurlow: I believe that every wine lover is sure to appreciate a tawny Port. This is a classic 20 year old tawny from one of the top Port producers. I like drinking my port at this 20 age point since for me it usually represents the best value in tawny port, longer aging adds considerably to the price often without a corresponding augmentation in quality, so it seems 20 years is just about right. Still youthful, still fruity, but with the nutty aromas that come with age. It is round, smooth and rich with just enough sweetness to accompany the raisined fruit with stewed pear, some baked lemon, toffee and floral hints. The palate is lively and finely balanced with excellent length and the finish is gracefully balanced. Enjoy on its own or with strong mature cheese, dried figs and walnuts.

Donne Fittipaldi 2015   Klipfel Clos Zisser Kirchberg De Barr Grand Cru Gewurztraminer 2010  Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port

Nativ Bicento 2013 DOC Campi Taurasini, Campania, Italy ($41.95)
John Szabo – For wine serious lovers, reach beyond the tried and true and seek out something exotic, hopefully introducing your giftee to a future favorite new grape or region along the way, something true winos love more than anything. One of the great discoveries of the year for me was this extraordinary southern Italian red, made from vines claimed to be over two hundred years old, which isn’t as much a stretch of reality in this part of the world where I have personally seen many bi and tri-century-old vines. It’s an absolute excellent essence of aglianico, leathery-herbal and especially floral, dripping with extract and firmly cosseted by abundant, mouth puckering tannins. Warn the recipient that to drink it now would require a serious piece of protein; my suggestion would be to forget it in the cellar for another 4-5 years to let the tannins loosen up and the fully savoury character to take the fore. Best 2023-2033.

Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir 2016, Marlborough, New Zealand ($32.95)
Sara d’Amato – Every self-respecting oenophile has a soft spot for pinot noir and although Burgundy may be considered the “wine mecca” for this grape variety, New Zealand has firmly established itself as a nation of premium production, a new benchmark for the grape. Within New Zealand, Marcel Giesen of Geisen wines deserves a place on your pinot radar. A German born and trained enologist, Marcel Geisen was seduced by New Zealand in the early 80s and joined his brothers Theo and Alex in founding the Giesen winery and more recently, Bell Hill. The fruit is sourced from the gentle climate of Marlborough’s Southern Valleys. A low interventionist style that showcases purity, complexity and class as well as the ethereal nature of the region’s pinot noir.

Nativ Bicento 2013   Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir 2016

The Wine I Wish Someone Would Give to Me

So this is our moment to telegraph what wine we really, really liked. We reveal our inner hankerings and prejudices, and perhaps get to explain what really turns us on.

Luce Della Vite Luce 2015, IGT Tuscany, Italy $114.95
Steve Thurlow: This is a fabulous example of Italian winemaking at its finest. Finesse, balance and purity excel. It is acid driven with grace and discrete power. It is a super Tuscan blend that is consistently made 50% from merlot and an equal proportion of sangiovese. It has a fine elegant discrete nose of red and black berry fruit with some lovely well integrated oak tones, mineral and lemon with fine dried herbs. The palate is well balanced with some lovely fine tannin that will melt into the wine with some further ageing adding to complexity. Though drinking well now, it will surely gain complexity with another 2-3 years in the bottle and should be fine probably until 2030 in a good cellar. Excellent length.

Foxen 2015 John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, California ($55.95)
David Lawrason – When I tasted this in Vintages lab in November I went nuts – and scored it 95. I did a gut check days later in a Fine Vintage Ltd Sensory course and doubled down. This has a gorgeous nose – such lift and complexity with lovely red cherry fruit, vanilla, cedar and nutmeg spice. A bit of smoke as well – all seamlessly integrated. It is mid-weight, creamy, delicate and so refined, with great flavour depth and focus. This is stunningly good pinot with excellent to outstanding length. California pinot often gets the thumbs down from cool climatologists, but throughout my career I have had a secret lover affair with California’s best pinots – the new confected and sweetened Meiomi-fied generation totally excluded.

Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Montmains Premier Cru 2015, Burgundy, France ($52.00)
Michael Godel – Hint, hint, wink, wink. I really love Chablis. Montmains is deserving of its reputation and Fèvre is a large part of that classification. In the realm of the Premier Cru this is one of the most mineral (along with two others, that being Montée De Tonnerre and Vaulorent) and one of the most in Chablis. In this prized Climat there is the essential aspects of what it is to be called Chablis. Looking for a wine to explain why Chablis is Chablis and not just chardonnay? Look no further.

Luce Della Vite Luce 2015   Foxen John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Montmains Premier Cru 2015

Sassicaia 2015, Doc Bolgheri Sassicaia ($225.95)
John Szabo – Well, that’s obvious – give me a great wine that I either don’t yet know (see gift wines, above), or can’t find in Ontario, or one that can’t afford to buy myself! Since I’m recommending it, I’ve obviously found it, and it’s in Ontario. So my benevolent benefactor should focus on a wine I’d love to tuck in the cellar but can’t afford to. Sassicaia is such a wine. And while such iconic wines like can often underdeliver relative to the hype they generate, the 2015 does not disappoint, a monumental bottle that will generously repay a long sojourn in the cellar. Buy me a bottle and I’ll ring you in 2030 to enjoy it together. Deal?

Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016, Rhône, France ($93.95)
Sara d’Amato – Château de Beaucastel is synonymous with Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Although founder Jacques Perrin was an innovator and influencer of the producers in the appellation, the majority of this wine is now sold in export and has a great following in Ontario. The downside is that it is pricey, so I would prefer if someone else where to foot the bill. Is it worth it? In most vintages, yes! And in this vintage, decidedly. A highly seductive incarnation with lavish aromatics and a finely chiseled palate. Drink it now or, if you are into delayed gratification, stash away for another decade.

Sassicaia 2015  Château De Beaucastel Châteauneuf Du Pape 2016

And that’s it for this week. We will back next week with our annual Fizz Guide, then later this month with a preview of the first release of 2019 on January 6th.  We wish you all a most peaceful and delicious Holiday Season.