The Holidays are here, and who wouldn’t like to get a bottle of great wine as a gift?
The fact is, wine lovers want wine as gifts (I know I do), but giving wine as a gift can be a minefield full of letdowns. So I hope to take a lot of the guesswork out of it for you. When the time came to create this list, I wanted to make sure that I could touch on a gift for every kind of wine lover. You can find something here for the beginner, the adventurer, the enthusiast, The Francophile, the hedonist and the collector. I also wanted to focus on value versus relative value. I love bargains on great wines, but I also love wines that drink great but cost less than what I’d expect to pay.
I spend my entire year tasting and evaluated each wine’s quality and value, and it has been an epic year for tasting, with almost 700 notes cataloged. I’m happy now to share those findings with you. All of the wines below are available now, and this list can help you find that perfect bottle, just in time for the Holidays.
And so, on to the wines:
The Beginner (Just getting started and brimming with anticipation)
There is no better place to start exploring France than with a Cotes du Rhone. The fact is that this vast region boasts some of the oldest vines and most complex terroir in the country. The best producers often find themselves with more material to work with than they need to fill their prestige bottles. So where does this juice go? It goes right into their Cotes du Rhone. The 2012 Tardieu-Laurent Cotes du Rhone Guy Louis ($34) is brimming over with undeniable Rhone character. It’s a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah aged in older casks. You may want to consider putting a few of these in your own cellar as well.
Chianti Classico has come a long way, and it’s an easy bridge wine for the beginner because of its name recognition. However, there’s a big difference between the pizza pallor wine of yesteryear and this recommendation. The Fontodi Chianti Classico 2012 ($37) is a serious of a Chianti as you can find anywhere. It easily competes with the top wines of other estates, yet at the $37 price point. It drinks beautifully now yet can go for over a decade in the cellar.
The Enthusiast (Just can’t get enough and loves the details)
There’s no better way to please the enthusiasts than with a wine steeped in details, and Riesling is a great grape to get lost in. Hands down, one of my favorite producers is Keller, who has shown us that he is not only the king of single vineyard GGs of stunning complexity but also able to produce an exciting lineup of more affordable bottlings that show off the Keller style in spades. The Keller Riesling Von der Fels Rheinhessen 2013 ($36) is an incredible wine of tension and poise that blossoms over the course of hours. Open them now for their intensity, or put them in the cellar and watch them mature; you won’t be disappointed either way.
There’s nothing like reading one of the back labels on a Ridge Zinfandel. This winery has been a favorite of mine for years now, with some of the best Zins coming out of California. Don’t look for over-the-top here; these are about elegance and details. They also do great in the cellar. Show someone what Zinfandel is truly capable of with the 2013 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Geyserville ($39).
The Adventurer (Walking the wild side and often misunderstood)
If obscurity is their thing, then the 2010 Domaine Troullier Boreal should do the trick. Many of the world’s top critics have talked about the potential of wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon; now Gilles Troullier is giving us proof positive that they were correct. Having cut his teeth at Chapoutier for over ten years, Gillies set out to define the terroir of the region and take advantage of its extensive resource of older vines. The 100% Syrah, 2010 Domaine Troullier Boreal ($64) is the result, and it is stunning!
If you know someone who is willing to really take the plunge, then the 2011 Comte Abbatucci General de la Revolution Blanc ($105) is sure to do the trick. Comte Abbatucci is the premier winemaker of Corsica, who works with a number of ancient varieties and creates a unique blend that’s almost impossible to describe. It also happens to boast a 95-point score from the Wine Advocate, making this one of the most highly-rated yet esoteric wines in the market today.
Probably the most popular and highly sought-after vintage Champagne of 2015 is the 2006 Louis Roederer Brut Nature ($85). When Chef de cave Jean-Baptiste and managing director Frederic Rouzaud set out to define a new vintage cuvee, it was apparent that 2006 was the perfect place to start. The goal was to create an exciting and unique expression from their family-owned vineyards, using 60% Pinot Noir from Cumieres and 40% Chardonnay from Hautvillers. This was a champagne that was not extremely dry but rather would express the vineyards and vintage together without the traditionally-added dosage, which the region is known for. The results are spectacular.
The Hedonist (There’s nothing wrong with a little liquid pleasure)
I must admit that even though my palate swings toward acid and structure, a bottle of silky, rich and completely irresistible juice can easily sway me temporarily to the dark side. That’s the 2012 Herman Story Syrah White Hawk ($53) in a nutshell. The fruit here is so pure, yet so ripe, and not a single bit of this wine’s formidable Alc. % feels out of place. I could drink this any night of the week on its intensity of dark Syrah fruit alone. At $53, this is also a tremendous deal in New World Syrah.
The Collector (Put them in the cellar; this wine lover is in it for the long haul)
One of the best young Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that I’ve tasted in a long time is the 2012 The Vineyardist ($225). This relatively new property is taking mountain fruit and creating a wine of intensity and balance. Its finely-sculpted fruit is wrapped in a tight knit of saline-minerality and spice, complemented by fine tannin. It’s a gorgeous wine from a producer who is just now getting noticed, and it’s sure to not only get better with maturity, but also increase in value.
You can chase after the 100-point Vietti Ravera (and pay upwards of $250). Or you can look to the 2010 Elvio Cogno Barolo Bricco Pernice ($98) at a fraction of the price. Bricco Pernice hails from what is considered the most prestigious parcel of the Ravera vineyard, and Elivo Cogno is one of Barolo’s under-the-radar traditional producers. Do the math and you’ll quick see my point; this is a wine that is sure to be noticed and elevated in the near future. Did I mention its 96+ point score from Antonio Galloni? Get it while you can.
I’ve been lucky enough to taste a good deal of 2005 Bordeaux this year, and of all of them, one that truly stuck out for its upward aging potential is the 2005 Calon Segur ($110). It may not have been the absolutely best ‘05 I’ve tasted, but for $105, this wine is a sure bet. It’s a classically-structured Bordeaux from one of the best vintages of our age. Sourced from perfect storage since release, this is a wine that you simply can’t go wrong with.
The Francophile (Some people say it all ends with Burgundy; why not skip ahead?)
It’s very easy to spend a lot of money to please the Burgundy lover, but this one delivers a grand cru experience without breaking the bank. The 2013 Louis Jadot Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St. Jacques ($205) is one of the best examples of relative value in Burgundy. It is widely accepted throughout Gevrey-Chambertin that the Premier Cru, Clos Saint-Jaques, rivals and in some cases surpasses the quality of the surrounding Grands Crus. With the same elevation as Chambertin and similar soil composition of white marl, Clos Saint-Jaques is capable of producing rich and distinctive Burgundy with lush yet beautifully delineated Pinot fruit.
The short list of producers bottling a Clos Saint Jacques reads like a who’s who of Burgundy’s elite, and on that list, you find Louis Jadot. The big difference is the price tag, where at $205, this is actually a steal.
Then there’s white Burgundy. There is simply something about white Burgundy that once it has you, there’s no going back. Possibly it’s the depth and layers found in the bouquet and how you can spend minutes simply admiring and working your way through each and every detail. Or maybe it’s how they convey such a presence on the palate, being one of the few white wines that can be both rich, yet lithe—intense, yet finessed.
One of my greatest discoveries in 2015 is my newfound love of Dauvissat La Forest. The Grand Crus of Les Clos and Les Preuses receive the most attention from collectors, yet the Burgundy insider knows better, and that it is that the Premier Cru La Forest is the real gem of this collection. In a great vintage, such as 2008, Dauvissat La Forest ($99) is an overachiever, performing neck-and-neck with its Grand Cru brethren—and at half the price.
This list would not be complete without a 2010 Brunello di Montalcino. I’ll save you the rhetoric regarding how amazing the vintage was, and I’ll also skip right to the chase—this is not one of the top-scoring wines of the vintage, but that shouldn’t matter. I say that because what it lacks in 97-100 point scores, it makes up for as being an incredible Brunello that’s very easy to like. The traditionalist, the modernist, and the progressive will all find a lot of pleasure from the 2010 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino ($54). If you must know the scores, they are AG93, WA95 and JS96—but I’d like to think you’d buy it because it’s simply a great bottle of wine.
I know it may be hard to believe, but before 2010 there were other great vintages in Barolo. I joke, and I apologize for that, but the sad thing is that so many people have been focused on the great 2010s that they are forgetting about a lot of late-release Barolo from other amazing vintages. Dark, brooding, built for the cellar, but happy to come out and play, the 2008 Elio Grasso Barolo Riserva Runcot ($139) is a great example. Another treat is the highly-anticipated 2006 Alessandro E Gian Natale Fantino Barolo Riserva ($65), which is a true under-the-radar gem that’s guaranteed to rise in popularity and value in the coming years.
Too afraid to buy wine for your wine lover?
Don’t worry; you’re not alone. I understand that it can be intimidating to buy a bottle of wine for someone who spends most of their free time obsessing over it. However, the perfect gift may be right under your nose. Zalto glasses have gained tremendous popularity over the last couple of years, and I myself have joined its following of devotees. Zalto is one of the most elegant glasses you will ever hold in your hand. Each one seems as light as a feather, yet the real attraction is how perfectly they allow the bouquet of each wine sing true. If you’re really unsure, go for the Zalto Universal Glass ($60). However, if you know your gift recipient well, the Bordeaux ($62), Burgundy ($64) or White wine ($58) glasses may be the best way to go.
Enjoy and Happy Holidays!