Annual Gift Guide December 2019

Gift Guide 2019

By Sara d’Amato with notes from David Lawrason, Steve Thurlow, Michael Godel and John Szabo M.S.

Bells are ringing and so it is time for us at WineAlign to round up our top gift-giving picks. Recommendations are listed by individual critic as some of us took specific thematic approaches. I take on global values and coveted labels, David recommends local, Steve highlights gift-packs, John confesses a craving, and Michael recommends wines from premium agents.  Keeping in mind that your recipients are as varied as we are, I anticipate that you’ll be able to find something for just about every wine lover on your list. But let’s face it, you’ll likely to be just as motivated to find deals for yourself herein. Because we know that supply is an issue at this time of year, we assure that these selections were all readily available in market at time of publication for last-minute shopping ease.

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Sara’s Picks

César Florido Chipiona Dorado Moscatel, (375ml), Jerez, Spain ($17.95)
Sara d’Amato – For the sherry lover on your list, this is a sweet find from an independent house that specializes in this lesser known style from Moscatel grapes. Lightly floral with delicious bottle-aged character and ample complexity. An impressive value. If you decide it is something you’d like to keep, it makes for a great dessert wine or even better served with soft, unctuous, pungent, gooey cheeses.

HJ Fabre 2016 Reserva Malbec/Cabernet Franc, Mendoza, Argentina ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – For fans of more refined, new world styles, this malbec cut with aromatic cabernet franc is a class act. Fabre Montmayou winery was established almost 30 years ago by Bordelaise winemaker Hervé Joyaux whose wines continue to be inspired by the classic, benchmark region. Excellent value.

Mirabeau 2018 Etoile Rosé, Côtes de Provence, Provence, France ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – Among a plethora of big reds over the holidays, make your gift stand out by offering a premium rosé that works well in just about every holiday setting. Mirabeau was established by a British family who fell in love with Provence and its dry, ethereal rosés. A picture-perfect pale, direct-pressed style, salty with notable purity. Worthy of the premium price.

César Florido Chipiona Dorado Moscatel  HJ Fabre 2016 Reserva Malbec/Cabernet Franc  Mirabeau Etoile Rosé 2018

Château Clarke 2015, Listrac Médoc, Bordeaux, France ($51.95)
Sara d’Amato – A very safe bet for just about any collector on your list. Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s Château Clarke offers the complexity and structure of more recognized left bank appellations at a relatively moderate price. In the excellent vintage of 2015, this stunner shows its Cru Bourgeois pedigree. Decant if enjoying over the holidays or hold another 3-4 years for best expression.

Quintarelli 2011 Rosso Ca’ Del Merlo, Veneto, Italy ($114.95)
Sara d’Amato – This is one of Quintarelli’s more accessible priced wines offering generosity and wide appeal. This plush merlot is wildly expressive, not shying away from a slightly more aromatic, lightly underripe character with an herbal note of tomato leaf. Savory, juicy, not too tannic and although ready for immediate enjoyment, it could easily hold on for another 4 years+.

Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2015, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy $59.95
Sara d’Amato – Marcenasco is produced by a historic vineyard in La Morra whose name proprietary to Renato Ratti. The estate has been making Marcenasco since 1965 making this edition the 50th anniversary bottling. Showcasing a considerable amount of youthful pleasure and authentic swagger, it will prove a highlight to the collection of any northern Italian wine buff.

Château Clarke 2015  Quintarelli Rosso Ca' Del Merlo 2011  Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2015

David’s Picks

I thought I would shake up the annual recommendations for the Holidays by encouraging you to select “big” Canadian reds for your wintertime meals, or to spread the word on their increasing excellence by giving them as gifts. With prices between $23 and $60, they are relatively affordable, so consider buying more than one, or splurging on a complete six-pack as a special gift that might help launch a Canadian collection cellar. All selections showed good availability at Vintages as of December 10. If serving them soon I suggest aeration, either in a decanter for an hour, or via an aerating device. All will also age nicely for a decade, a latent talent of Canadian reds.

Burrowing Owl 2016 Meritage, Okanagan Valley, B.C.  ($57.95)
David Lawrason – B.C.’s south Okanagan is becoming internationally acclaimed for big cabernet, merlot-based reds, and Burrowing Owl has been helping build that reputation for the past two decades. Here’s a nicely intense, complex, quite savoury Meritage from a hot year – and it is hanging together very well. It is full bodied, fairly dense and almost racy.

Hidden Bench 2016 Terroir Caché, Beamsville Bench, Niagara ($44.95)
David Lawrason – Owner Harald Thiel’s quality aspirations across the spectrum, has combined with an excellent, warm 2016 vintage to create one of the best big red blends of Niagara.  This very fine blend of merlot, malbec and cabernet franc that is very well made, refined, subtle and complex. It is medium full bodied, fairly dense, quite elegant yet firm. Best 2023 to 2030.

Stratus 2016 Cabernet Franc, Niagara Lakeshore ($38.20)
David Lawrason – Winemaker JL.Groux is Ontario’s most experienced craftsmen when it comes reds based on the Bordeaux varieties. Cabernet Franc is a mainstay at Stratus and this a textbook example of Ontario’s number one red variety. It is medium-full bodied, rich yet elegant with dusty tannin. Best 2021 to 2027.

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2016  Hidden Bench Terroir Caché 2016  Stratus Cabernet Franc 2016

ICellars Estate 2016 Cabernet Franc Wismer Foxcroft Vineyard, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario ($29.95)
David Lawrason – Relative newcomer Adnan Icel set up shop in purposely to make big reds. This elegant, ripe and complex cabernet franc that shows this grape’s potential in Niagara. I found a St. Emilion (Bordeaux) nuance here. It is medium-full, elegant, warm and a touch green with excellent focus and length. Best 2021 to 2027.

Henry of Pelham 2017 Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir, Ontario ($22.95)
David Lawrason – From vines planted late 1980s this highly, drinkable and rich baco always is a full bodied, highly toasted, chocolaty and plummy/cranberry and even floral red with spice (cumin). Very flavourful, complex and just a bit off the grid. The length is excellent. If stocks are low it is re-appearing at VINTAGES January 11th.

Trius Red (The Icon) 2017, Niagara Peninsula ($22.95)
David Lawrason – Trius Red has been around for over 20 years, but this is perhaps the best vintage to date, and one of the lower priced examples ($2 off until early Jan). This is a nicely balanced, lively and energetic Bordeaux blend with well-integrated red raspberry, fresh herbs and cedar. Complete if not dramatic, and I expect it will age well for a decade, although drinking quite well now.

Icellars Estate Cabernet Franc 2016   Henry Of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2017  Trius Red (The Icon) 2017

And by the way, you could also share Canadian wine this season by purchasing tickets to events surrounding the gala January 10th, and other events on-going through January 16th. See you there!

Santa Steve

Steve’s Picks

The stores are now full of specially packaged gift items for the holiday giving. Most are overpriced and many are of dubious quality. I tasted a room full last week and among the cheesy and over packaged LCBO gift items presented I chose four items which comprise high scoring beverages that are good value and have classy packaging.

Here they are in my order of preference…. on the remote possibility that someone out there was considering giving me a gift this season.

Bowmore 12YO with 2 Glasses Gift Pack Islay Single Malt
#1.  Bowmore 12YO with 2 Glasses Gift Pack Islay Single Malt, Scotland $67.95
Steve Thurlow – Not only is Bowmore 12-Years-Old  a lovely single malt the gift pack comes with two elegant whisky glasses; great value since the whisky alone costs $57.95.

Masi Classic Holiday Pack

#2. Masi Classic Holiday Pack Veneto Italy ($54.95)
Steve Thurlow – This gift pack in a nice wooden box comprises three classic Veneto wines. Masi Bonacosta Valpolicella Classico 2018 is a food friendly mid-weight red wine good with pizza and meaty pasta sauces. Masi Frescaripa Bardolino Classico 2018 is a lightweight red that could go with grilled salmon or white meats and mild cheeses and Masi Levarie Soave Classico 2018, a classic white wine delicately flavoured and good with seafood. All are well made and good value and when you price the three wines the box only adds around $6.

Cesari Amarone & Mara Ripasso Olive Oil Gift Set

#3.  Cesari Amarone & Mara Ripasso Olive Oil Gift Set Veneto, Italy ($69.95)
Steve Thurlow – This gift box comprises Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella 2015 and Cesari Mara Valpolicella Ripasso 2017, plus a half litre bottle of olive oil. I tasted all three and the oil was deliciously fresh and pure. Considering that the wines and the olive oil would cost you around $70 you get the wooden box for free.

Taylor Fladgate LBV Gift#4. Taylor Fladgate LBV Gift Pack Douro Superior, Portugal ($25.95)
Steve Thurlow – Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port 2014  is a rich powerful Port with a fragrant nose and finely balanced palate. However, considering you can buy this lovely wine for $15.95 the gift pack seems a little overpriced for the simple cardboard box and couple of glasses in addition. Maybe gift convenience will help it sell.

Steve’s LCBO/Vintages Selections for Gifting

I have tasted many very special wines this year. Most are now sadly not available. Nevertheless, I have selected some of my top wines tasted recently and one single malt scotch, of which there is some stock at LCBO and they will all probably be available for next two weeks. So these are my four gift selections:

Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or Highland Scotch Single Malt ($121.60)
Steve Thurlow – I was at the distillery a few weeks ago and this was my favourite among the reasonably priced scotches that they produce. This rich reserve whisky is 46%ABV and was initially matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks and then finished in casks from Bordeaux that were used for maturing the sweet Sauternes wine. This makes it very mellow with sweet golden raisin tones to the vanilla, pineapple and orange marmalade. It is a slightly sweet with some nutty flavours and is very delicate with excellent length. 254 bottles in stock.

Le Clos Jordanne 2017 Le Grand Clos Chardonnay, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($44.95)
Steve Thurlow – This is a beautiful elegant chardonnay whose reappearance has been eagerly awaited. The grapes from the Grand Clos vineyard have been going elsewhere since it was last made in 2012. We should be grateful that the new owners Arterra Wines decided to make this wine once more….and wow it is probably the best vintage ever. It is sleek, refined, fresh and so pure with super lemony acidity giving a firm palate with a little fruit sweetness and oh so subtle oak influence. Aromas and flavours are minerally toned with ripe apple and pear fruit with lemon citrus and vanilla. Excellent to outstanding length with great focus. Try with rich seafood or mildly flavoured veal or chicken dishes. 679 bottles in stock.

Lavau 2014 Vacqueyras, Rhône Valley, France ($25.95)
Steve Thurlow – This is a lovely well-balanced Southern Rhône red that is 50% grenache, 40% syrah with mourvedre in addition. It is very smooth with seamless integration and good focus. The nose shows raspberry, red cherry and blackberry fruit with mild well integrated oak spice. It is full bodied and graceful with some elegance and very good length. Drinking well now it will gain in complexity with a few more years in the cellar if you wish. Good value. Over 1,600 bottles in stock.

Muga Reserva 2015, Rioja, Spain ($22.95 , Save $4.00 on LTO was $26.95) Vintages Essential
Steve Thurlow – 2015 is another excellent vintage of this classic Rioja. It is a lovely graceful wine with complex lifted aromas of blackberry, prune, fragrant cedar with coconut, leather and vanilla notes. It is midweight and well balanced with very good focus, soft tannin and vibrant acidity. Very good to excellent length. Over 6,000 bottles in stock.

Glenmorangie Nectar D'or Highland Scotch Single Malt  Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017  Lavau Vacqueyras 2014  Muga Reserva 2015

All John Wants for Christmas

Chartreuse Green Liqueur (375ml) Rhône, France ($34.90)
John Szabo – I’m hoping to find a bottle of this elixir in my stocking this December, one of the most magical herbal liqueurs ever made. It’s also one of the oldest spirits brand in the world, owned by the Pères Chartreuse of Grenoble, France, since 1605, though the monastic order was founded back in 1084. Don’t bother with the yellow version; Chartreuse Verte (green) is the choice of sommeliers, and it’s enjoying a renaissance of late. At 55% alcohol, the Verte is, believe it or not, a milder version of the original Elixir Vegetal (69% alcohol, taken by the drop as a cure all). 130 herbs are pressed into service, steeped in alcohol made from beetroot and distilled over 20 times. The green colouring is natural, derived from the maceration of specific herbs. It’s then aged in giant 50,000l oak vats for a few weeks, before racking into smaller barrels of various capacities for at least 3 years. It’s recommended to drink it chilled or on the rocks as an aperitif, though I prefer it at the end of the meal. It’s also essential in the Last Word cocktail, a mix of gin, maraschino cherry, and green chartreuse. For a twist, substitute mescal for the gin.

Chartreuse Green Liqueur

Michael’s Top Three Red Gifts

Punset 2014 Barbaresco Basarin, Barbaresco, Piedmont ($69.95)
Michael Godel – Verv traditional nebbiolo coming from the southeast part of maestra Marina Marcarino’s vineyards in Neive. Marcarino is Italy’s first organic wine producer, dating back to 1982. Tasted with Marina at the estate, December, 2019. Available through Nicholas Pearce Wines.

Hall 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, USA ($75.99)
Michael Godel – Hall is based in St. Helena and in a Napa Valley tasting of 24 diverse options of great and elevated quality it is unequivocally the most forward and naturally understood wine in the room. If perhaps it presents as simple on the outside it is confidently complex on the inside. This was tasted at the California Wine Fair speed dating event in November. Available through Noble Estates Wines and Spirits.

Fontodi 2016 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo, Tuscany, Italy ($97.95)
Michael Godel – Vigna del Sorbo sits in the Conca d’Oro at the southeastern end of the vineyards in clay soils dominated by Galestro and away from the Alberese of the Flaccianello sites. It’s always a refreshing meeting meaty wine but then along comes 2016. With acidity nearing eight on the tA scale there is every reason to believe 2016 Vigna del Sorbo will go 25 years easy, with or without the shedding on tears. Tasted with Giovanni Manetti at the estate in September 2019. Available through Rogers and Company Wines.

Punset Barbaresco Docg Basarin 2014   Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2016  Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Docg Vigna Del Sorbo 2016

All the best from ours to yours this holiday season! Stay tuned for John Szabo’s annual fizz guide featuring vivacious global finds from top, cool-climate growing regions.