The Perfect Guide for the Wine Lover In Your Life
The season is upon us, and it’s time to think about giving back to the ones we love, the people we keep close, and those who add a little happiness to our lives. I for one try to always get a gift that provokes thought, guarantees enjoyment and adds a personalized touch for each person I know. In the day and age of gift cards galore, (one of the most boring gifts I can think of) I say to give the gift of wine.
The only problem with the average wine gift is that most people are unable to put enough thought into the selection process. I for one have received many bottles in my time that either didn’t fit my tastes or were obviously regifted (please don’t be that person) from a previous holiday. I’m sure you’ve experienced that exact same situation. However, I’m here to say that with just a little bit of thought, and my 2018 gift-giving guide at your side, you can break the mold and give a wine gift that will knock the socks off of your friends, family and co-workers.
To make things as easy as possible, I’ve broken my list down into categories that should cover nearly every situation, from the wine-curious, to the collector, and even that one gift that will impress across the board. What’s more, each and every one of these options were selected by meeting the producers, tasting the wines, and deciding that they were truly outstanding. I’ve included some of my favorite discoveries of the year, as well as regions that have truly wowed me with their progress in 2018. This has been an exciting year of tasting, and it makes me happy to now share those experiences with you.
Each and every one of these gift-giving suggestions is a wine that I love and would happily give or receive.
As a buyer, I’m always looking for wines that punch well above their price point. And in my opinion, the best gift you can give to the wine-curious is to show them that quality is not always commensurate with cost. If you can deliver an $100 experience for $50 or a $50 experience for $30, then you may have just opened someone’s eyes. Granted, this does require that you divulge what you spent, but that’s the moment that you also tell them the amazing story behind the wine, and how it will soon become their own secret weapon.
France — The Francophile
For the Francophile this year, my selection had to come from the Southern Rhone. I simply couldn’t help myself, as the 2016 vintage really did live up to all of the hype that critics have been heaping upon it. The value to be found is unreal, and the quality of wine has never been higher. The 2016 vintage brought me back to the Rhone after I had lost faith somewhere between 2007 and 2010. 2016 delivers verve, purity, primary fruit, minerality and balance. The fruit is ripe yet perfectly contrasted by structure and depth. It’s an easy vintage to like, and it’s perfect for gift-giving because the wines can be enjoyed now or be put in the cellar for the next ten to fifteen years. I’m sure that many people would expect me to recommend a Chateauneuf du Pape, but instead I’m going for the wine that over-delivers.
The producer I’m recommending is Janasse, famed for their production of Chateauneuf du Pape. However, the insider’s wine at this estate is actually a Cotes du Rhone that drinks like a Chateauneuf, the 2016 Janasse Les Garrigues. The reason is location, with vines just outside of the appellation, and the same level of attention and care as the top wines from start to finish in the vineyards and winery. The best part is the price, at $49 per bottle, which may sound expensive for Cotes du Rhone, but I kid you not, you’d never think this was anything short of a top-scoring Chateauneuf du Pape.
Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone Les Garrigues 2016 — $49 per bottle
“The nose was dark, sweet and wonderfully elegant, showing blackberry and blueberry fruit, with a dusting of crushed violet candies, confectionary spice, smoke, and a refreshing whiff of mint. On the palate, I found velvety textures supported by brisk acidity, as a wave of dark, plush purplish-black fruits swept across the senses, leaving notes of spiced orange, minerals, and peppery spice. The finish was medium-long, with hints of fine tannin, lingering dark fruits and a coating of crushed candied violets.” — Eric Guido
One of my top discoveries of the year is the portfolio of Dominio del Aguila. I’ve always believed that Spain’s potential to develop a region that speaks more of terroir than winemaking could be realized in either Ribera del Duero or Priorat. The funny part is that this decision was almost a toss-up with Familia Nin Ortiz (from Priorat). In the end, however, Dominio del Aguila wins for their ability to deliver one of my top picks for quality-price-ratio in Spain. I kid you not when I say that this $35 bottle drinks like it would cost over $50.
What Dominio del Aguila has accomplished here was the result of ten years’ of work acquiring high-elevation vineyards consisting of indigenous varieties and ancient vines. Today they are fully organic, crushed by foot, fermented whole-cluster and aged in neutral wood. The results are some of the best site-specific, terroir-stamped, and varietally expressive wines being made in Ribera del Duero today.
Dominio del Águila Pícaro del Águila 2016 — $35 per bottle
“Here I found a dark-fruited, spicy and floral bouquet, displaying crushed raspberry, stone dust and smoke, with hints of cinnamon, allspice and dried flowers. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by a mix of tart mineral-infused red fruits, spice and zesty acidity, with hints of lavender and violets amassing toward the finale. The finish was long, with cheek-puckering acidity and fine tannin saturating the senses, as a coating of spiced raspberry and tart cherry with a dried citrus twang slowly faded.” — Eric Guido
The Southern Hemisphere has always been known for value, but less so for wines of prestige, collectibility and longevity. However, they do exist; it’s just hard to add the term “value” into this mix. We’ve seen interests from Bordeaux and Burgundy produce some serious wines in South America, however, they tend to come with price tags that are hard to justify, at least from a region that has not yet proven itself to the general public.
Allow me to introduce Altos Las Hormigas, and yes, the wine I’m recommending is a Malbec, but not just any Malbec. The Altos Las Hormigas Gualtallary is made through a truly hands-off mentality, allowing the terroir of the Valle de Uco to speak. The fruit comes from two high-elevation parcels within Gualtallary, where the soils are rich in calcium carbonate and marls composed of chalky materials, iron and clay. This complex mix imparts a tannic backbone that adds grip in the wine’s youth, and also the ability to mature beautifully in the cellar. The result is a wide and long drinking window from a Malbec that’s already hard to resist in its youth.
I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially as a way to open the mind of the wine-curious to what Malbec and Argentina can accomplish.
Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Gualtallary 2016 — $39 per bottle
“The bouquet was beautiful, as a gorgeous display of violet florals, exotic spice, lavender, dried orange, cherry, pepper, and earth wafted up from the glass. On the palate, soft textures on a medium-weight frame caressed the senses with a mix of savory herbs, black cherry, blueberry, minerals and spice, as silty tannins dug in deep upon the senses. However, for all of its structure, the Gualtallary never felt angular or gruff; instead it was well-muscled and perfectly poised. The finish was long, resonating on minerals, wild herbs, blueberry skins and lingering tannin.” — Eric Guido
Italy — The Italophile
I always find the most difficulty in choosing a wine from Italy. For one thing, it’s my favorite region, and the one that I taste the most wines from. Each year, I travel there to spend time learning about current trends and meeting both new producers and old favorites. Last year, I recommended the 2013 Vietti Barolo Castiglione, and this year the 2014 is no slouch either, but in the spirit of variety, I had to keep looking, and I’m glad I did. This year’s perfect gift for the Italophile is from Tuscany. It’s not a Brunello or a Super Tuscan either; it’s a Chianti, which is a wine that no one should be afraid to proudly give as a gift. The days of Chianti Classico being a pizza parlor wine are over, as today the region has surpassed all expectations, with a new emphasis on terroir and a rise in quality production that is unparalleled. The best part is that, for the most part, prices have yet to catch up. However, that can’t last for long.
The Rocca di Montegrossi estate is located in Monti, a subzone of Gaiole, and their San Marcellino vineyard is considered a Grand Cru of the region. Owner Marco Ricasoli-Firidolfi has been pushing the limits of what Sangiovese can achieve here since the 1995 vintage, and today the results are showing. The San Marcellino is now one of the most consistently high-scoring wines of Tuscany, competing with the best of Brunello and beyond, and yet prices remain remarkably fair. It’s a wine that any lover of Chianti Classico, Italy, and age-worthy wine of pedigree should not be without, and it’s the perfect gift for the Italophile.
Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico San Marcellino 2013 — $45 per bottle
“The ’13 San Marcellino was gorgeous from the moment I tilted the glass. Here I found a wonderfully pretty and perfumed bouquet of ripe cherry and strawberry dusted in sweet spice, with dried florals and leather, as hints of plum and undergrowth developed in the glass. On the palate, I found silky textures excited by brisk acidity, as red and blueberry fruits swept across the senses, along with exotic spice, hints of wild herbs, and sweet tannins. The finish was long, resonating on notes of plum, lavender, minerals, and fine gripping tannins that promise many years of further evolution.” — Eric Guido
Domestic — New World Wine
For two years in a row, I found myself looking to the Santa Cruz Mountains for my highest recommended domestic wine gift. Last year, it was the Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, and this year I found myself looking to another stalwart of the appellation, Mount Eden.
Jeffrey Patterson of Mount Eden inspired a generation of winemakers to explore this rocky terrain–and today we are bombarded by new projects from the region. Through it all, Mount Eden maintains its status as one of the best. What makes the Mount Eden Cabernet so special is a combination of terroir and traditions. The vineyards are located high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, only 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean and above the fog line. The vines grow in poor soils of Franciscan shale and enjoy sunny long days, which are moderated by cooling ocean influences. The wine is aged in barrel for two years, then in bottle until its late release. This results in a throwback-styled mountain fruit Cabernet that is already gorgeous, but that will also enjoy a long and beautiful evolution in the cellar.
The 2013 Mount Eden Cabernet is sure to impress, and at $72 per bottle, it blows away the competition from Napa and Sonoma.
2013 Mount Eden Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon — $72 per bottle
“The nose was dark and intense with spicy red berries, wild herbs, minerals, and crushed stone. On the palate, I found silky textures, showing tart red fruits, sweet herbs, and saline-minerals with a gorgeous mix of brisk acidity and tannin. It finished long, zesty and intense, as its red fruits and tannin created a youthfully austere yet completely pleasurable finale.” — Eric Guido
For the Collector
Now that we’ve covered the bases for the wine-curious, it’s time to think about the collector. First and foremost, you have to keep in mind that there are two types of collectors, those who buy wine to drink and those who buy wine to put in their cellar. As a collector, I can be listed among the latter, looking more to the list above for the wines I’d like to drink sooner or mid-term. However, the collector often wants something that they can put away and watch mature over time. This makes for a tremendous gift-giving opportunity, because each time that collector goes into their cellar and looks at that bottle (or bottles), they will be thinking of you and how great you are at giving gifts.
France — The Francophile Collector
This may be the first year that I’ve found myself loving a young Bordeaux enough to include it in this list, but ever since tasting the 2015 Château Pichon Baron both at the annual UGC tasting, and then again in Bordeaux, I’m of the firm opinion that it’s worth the praise. Some people may think that Bordeaux has hit a ceiling on pricing, which I think may be true at some price points, yet at $159 a bottle, I believe that properties like Pichon Baron are just getting started.
A lot of what created this excitement for me was the balance that Pichon found in 2015, which is a vintage that in many cases comes across as ripe and forward. However, in this case, the house style contrasts the warmth of the vintage and creates a wine of remarkable balance. This is the Pauillac to own in 2015, with the power and structure to impress for decades to come.
Pichon Baron Pauillac 2015 — $159 per bottle
“The ‘15 Pichon Baron was drop-dead gorgeous, showing a seductive bouquet with a glossy mix of black cherry, blueberry, and plum, with hints of graphite adding depth. On the palate, I found silky, mouth-coating textures with saturating blackberry and currants which were washed clean by balanced acidity, revealing fine sweet tannins. It finished long on dark fruits with hints of lavender, inner floral tones and lingering tannin. This is already so beautiful, but there is still so much to look forward to.” — Eric Guido
Italy — The Italophile Collector
I knew what this wine would be from the second I tasted it. It’s not often that a wine receives a 100-point score from a critic and then lives up to the expectations. Granted, Castello dei Rampolla is one of my all-time favorites from Tuscany, and I’ve loved d’Alceo many times in the past, but I must admit that the 2013 has taken things to a whole new level.
Castello Dei Rampolla is one of the most forward-thinking and exciting properties in Tuscany today. Brother and Sister Luca and Maurizia di Napoli have been trendsetters in the Chianti region for quite some time. In their estate vineyards in Panzano, which line the famed Conca d’Oro (Chianti’s Golden Basin), Castello dei Rampolla practices an entirely biodynamic, almost spiritual approach, with minimal intervention in the cellar. The vines for Alceo were planted in 1990, and they have only ever been farmed biodynamically. Over the years, Luca and Maurizia have chosen to dial back on the time the wine spends in barrel, as well as the percentage of new wood. They have also increased the size of their barrels to 500-liter tonneaux. As a result, d’Alceo emerges as a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend that flaunts its Tuscan terroir in style yet with remarkable purity.
There really is nothing like gifting a 100-point wine to a collector that actually lives up to its score.
Castello dei Rampolla d’Alceo 2013 — $205 per bottle
“The nose was dark with haunting blue violet florals up front, giving way to crushed blackberry, black cherry, brown spice, licorice, sweet minerals, and hints of spiced-orange. On the palate, I found silky, enveloping textures, giving way to depths of dark red fruits, as acid-driven spices and minerality slowly gave way to fine young tannin. A twang of wild herbs added depth to the finish, segueing into a complex web of tannin, showing hints dried blackberry and cherry, with lingering minerals and spice tones. I can’t say for sure if this will be a 100-point wine one day, but tonight, it’s damn close.” — Eric Guido
Domestic – New World
After tasting the 2015 Robert Mondavi Reserve, I was inspired to write an entire blog about the vineyard and its history. The wine seriously made that kind of an impact on me. For decades, the Mondavi Reserve has been a great wine capable of maturing for decades, yet it lost momentum when the company changed hands. That has officially been remedied. Today, the Reserve has been reimagined, with all of its fruit coming from the renowned To-Kalon vineyard. When you consider the other producers who source fruit from this location and the prices they charge for their Cabernet, the Mondavi stands out as a value at $165. Add to this the 2015 vintage that has been wow’ing critics across the board, and what you have is a dueling 97-point Napa Valley Cabernet from one of the best vineyards and top names in the industry, for $165.
Get the picture?
P.S.: If you’re interested in my deep-dive on Mondavi and To-Kalon, click HERE.
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon 2015 — $165 per bottle
“The nose was intense, showing cassis, crushed cherry, plum, sweet minerals, haunting floral tones, and hints of dark chocolate. On the palate, I found velvety textures offset by zesty spice and acids, with ripe cherry and black currant cascading across the senses, along with sweet spices, as inner florals and a hint of savory herbs developed. The finish was long with saturating black and red currant fruits and fine young tannins, which coated the palate.” — Eric Guido
If You Really Don’t Want to Give a Gift of Wine
For the Beginner or Wine-Curious
Glassware is always my #1 recommendation for someone who is just getting into wine. Even if they already have glasses, they can never have enough, and today’s glasses offer a variety of features and function that makes each one unique. The easiest way to go is with a universal glass, which will make sure that every wine they pour into it will perform well. This is a great gift for someone with a large selection of high-end glasses, made for individual varietals. It gives them the option to have a glass that they can depend on when they don’t want to think too hard. For this purpose, my highest recommendation is the Gabriel Glass. They are durable, yet feel like a feather in your hand. Plus, I can tell you from personal experience (Since Gabriel Glasses are what we use to taste at Morrell) that they really do work for every occasion.
Gabriel Glas Standart Universal Wine Glass (2-pack) — $39.95 per set
For the Collector or Lover of Mature Wine
I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but the fact is that the Durand is simply one of the best gifts you can possibly get for someone who is truly serious about wine–especially mature wine. Every year, I find myself using mine more and more, on just about any bottle over ten years old.
Think about it; the thing that a collector fears most is spoiling the experience. The moment that a cork breaks and falls into the bottle, or crumbles altogether, can take all of the momentum, fascination and climax out of enjoying a great vintage. That’s where the Durand comes in. It may not be the prettiest gift, but it’s probably the best thing you can get for a collector of older wines, or someone with a deep cellar. The Durand works by not only securing the cork with a corkscrew, but then also inserting an Ah So, which connects with the screw to create the perfect tool for removing a fragile cork.
It takes a few uses before you really get the hang of it, but once you do, it becomes an irreplaceable tool in the wine collector’s toolbox.
The Durand — $125 each
The Gift That Never Fails
Lastly, it’s the gift that never fails. The gift that you can give to anyone and they will truly love you for it. That person can be a wine pro, collector, wine-curious or just looking to enjoy a good bottle. It’s so simple, yet most people take the path of least resistance. The funny part is that it doesn’t take much thought at all. That gift is Champagne, and before you roll your eyes, hear me out.
The problem with most gifts of Champagne is that people either go with the cheapest one they can find or the most recognizable. Giving a bottle of Veuve is great. People know the box, and they’re probably had it many times before. They know that they’re going to have a good Champagne. However, they also know that they will have this same experience many times over, as it’s one of the most widely distributed wines in the world. It’s not a bad gift, but why not give a great gift? Why not give a Champagne that outperforms the competition and at a price point below that of Veuve (or any number of the big house Champagnes)?
All its missing is a gift box, but any respectable retailer can add that on. The producer is Labruyere, owners of the highly-regarded Domaine Labruyere, as well as Château Rouget in Pomerol and the largest shareholders of Domaine Jacques Prieur in Meursault. The Champagne side of the business started with Edouard Labuyère, who began acquiring parcels in Verzenay in 2010, yet not just any parcels. His eye was set on Grand Cru vineyards, and in this case, fruit that was once being sold to Dom Perignon. The Prologue is an expression of Grand Cru Verzenay fruit, consisting of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, which is labeled as a non-vintage wine, yet which received 90% of its juice from the 2012 vintage. Edouard’s goal was to create a wine of place first, with the possibility of letting the vintages speak for themselves over time.
Here’s the best part; it’s only $39 per bottle.
Labruyere Grand Cru Brut Champagne Prologue NV — $39 per bottle
That wraps up (no pun intended) my gift-giving guide of 2018. I hope you found a lot to like and some great ideas for your holiday gifting. As I said before, I stand behind each and every one of them. Happy Holidays!