2007 Villa Pillo Borgoforte ($11.99) A super Super Tuscan and change back from a $20! This gorgeous wine is a blend of almost equal parts Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that are aged for one year in French oak. The quality of the super 2007 vintage comes through in a wine full of fruit, yet balanced and flavorful. It is more internationally-styled but seriously rich, complex and full-bodied. This is an unbelievable bottle of wine for the price.
2007 San Francesco Cirò ($12.99) Calabria isn’t well known as an important winemaking region, but if there are more wines like this one from the toe of the boot, it will rocket to stardom! The Ciro, made from the almost unknown Gaglioppo grape, is supple in the mouth and elegant, with layers of delicate, complex fruit. It feels more like a supple California Pinot Noir but without the higher alcohol. Wonderfully balanced, fragrant and a pleasure to drink.
The Iconoclast Aurora (Inquire) is a "Wine Barrel-Aged Altbier" chiming in at 4.9% ABV. It pours an amber, tiger's eye-colored beer with a smattering of white foam that quickly disappears after pouring. The nose is super interesting; first and foremost one is likely to smell the barrels, with tones of caramel, treacle, vanilla bean and an ever-so-slight charred quality. But the oak quickly subsides and pleasing stone fruit qualities of dried apricot and peach are layered over spicy notes of clove and a sweeter plantain note. The flavors here are superb, and while I'm not the most familiar with the Altbier style (the exact reason John made this wine, because it is so oft overlooked by beer fans and makers alike) this seems to be an interesting modern interpretation of the style. The flavors here are somewhat yeasty with a sort of toasty richness that hits on the finish. Round on its entry with broad creamy strokes, mild hop spice and a medium weight nature, the carbonation is mousse-like and the flavors are completely seamless. The Aurora builds dimension as it goes, kind of like one of those snowballs rolling downhill in an old cartoon.
The Iconoclast Éclat (Inquire) is an "American Oak Wine Barrel-Aged IPA" that was finished in Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. The Éclat pours burnt orange with a cap of rocky parchment-colored head that ends up lacing the glass in a spotty configuration. This looks classy and it is. The nose is full rustic Amarillo hop, sort of coppery and vegetal, also notes of dried grapefruit and fresh alfalfa with a mild backing from some caramel malt. This is not an overt hop bomb, much to the contrary, this is something that builds bitterness with every sip and is with you long after it is gone. I seriously could still taste the hops even after I ate an unglazed old-fashioned doughnut. This beer will haunt you.
2007 Frédéric Mabileau “Racines” Bourgueil* ($19.99) Sweet and round in body with moderate tannins, this is a lovely bottle of Bourgueil to throw into the holiday mix. The fruit is accentuated by spice, leather and tobacco flavors, and it is already strutting its stuff. The grace on display here means many pairing possibilities beyond the usual red meat plus Cab equation, though it has character enough to handle that, too.
2006 Gazin, Pomerol* ($59.99) Have a warm heart for someone with a cold cellar? This is destined for a long evolution and will be a real winner, with some patience. At present, it is intense yet well proportioned, giving off heady aromatics and showing impressive concentration on the palate while never losing its sense of equilibrium. The tannins are fine but firm, and there is a plump, plummy depth to the palate that is set off nicely by judicious oak shadings.
2007 Gemtree “Bloodstone” Shiraz-Viognier McLaren Vale South Australia ($14.99) Gemtree continues to impress for quality and value. The 2007 “Bloodstone” Shiraz, which is co-fermented with 5% Viognier, has lifted aromatics of subtle peach and nectarine fruit, floral notes that mingle with blue and blackberry fruit, and a hint of chocolate and mocha. On the palate, the wine is juicy and supported by good acidity, with fine-grained soft tannins that give a sense of structure to the wine and leads to a long finish. This really sings of McLaren Vale fruit.
2006 Massena “11th Hour” Shiraz Barossa Valley South Australia ($39.99) I visited the winemakers,Dan Standish and Jaysen Collins, in February ’08 and I can tell you: these guys are producing some serious wines reflective of the land they work, presented with precision and grace. The aromatics are bright and lifted, with notes of boysenberry, blackberry, grilled meat, Earl Grey tea, spice, a hint of graphite and Provençal herbs. On the palate, the wine is lush and silky with seamless balance and an incredibly long finish. This is very polished and elegant. Something special.
Bruno Michel Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut* ($44.99) One of my favorite Bruno Michel Champagnes! It is hard for me to share this bottle with anybody, but, when having to pick a wine for special gatherings, it tops my list. The nose shows wonderful chalky minerality while the palate is filled with clean, crisp, fruit and a light helping of brioche. A top pick for any lover of Champagne!
Ariston Aspasie Cepages d'Antan Champagne* ($99.00) This is the gift I will be asking for from anybody who wants to make my holiday season the best! This Champagne, made from the “varietals of yore,” is one of the best I have had the pleasure of drinking. The nose is filled with minerals, slight spice, toast and cream. On the palate the chalky minerality continues along with hints of brioche, white peach, and a wonderful texture all around. This is a super-special bottle and an amazing gift to give, or receive!
2006 Anderson's Conn Valley “Reserve” Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) You will ooh and ahh over this beautifully structured, organic Napa Cab! Its bouquet is reminiscent of mature Bordeaux, and it has a velvety, layered mouthfeel, full of concentrated fruit and focus—it offers the best of both worlds! Drinking absolutely perfect now, it will evolve well over the next 20+ years.
2007 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Pinot Noir ($19.99) How Exciting! Finally a California Pinot Noir that’s beautifully balanced and made in a Burgundian style. Not overly extracted or overripe, but rather feminine and spicy, with a touch of earthy floral notes as well. Vibrant fresh fruit on the nose, medium-bodied and silky smooth with subtle tannins on the finish. My absolute favorite Central Coast Pinot for a price that’s affordable!
Tarlant “Cuvée Louis” Brut Prestige Champagne* ($54.99) This Champagne is full-bodied, very dry and has plenty of depth and layers of complexity. It is a blend of the 1996 and 1997 vintages and is aged in large oak barrels. This is one of the winery’s top cuvées; it tastes so good, it is easily worth twice the price.
2005 La Couronne, Montagne St-Emilion* ($17.99) The first thing that I noticed about this wine was the expressive and inviting aromas coming from the glass. It has a dark, deep ruby red color, and it is full-bodied with dark berry flavors and a touch of earth. It tastes good now, but will be much better in a few years. A budget-friendly wine for the Bordeaux lover.
2006 Storybook “Eastern Exposures” Napa Zinfandel ($39.99) With its richly-expressive profile of cracked pepper, ripe blackberries, dense plums, wild brambles, tarry spice and sweet earth, this incomparable Napa Zinfandel achieves near-perfect pitch and rewrites all the rules for this popular California varietal. If you cherish great Zin, do yourself the rare pleasure of savoring and experiencing this stunning wine over the next decade.
2008 Benaza Mencía Monterrei ($12.99) In your endless quest for the perfect red to open this holiday season, look no further! Made from the versatile Mencía grape native to northwest Spain, this is a vibrantly alive, festive red with a nose to outshine Rudolph. Bursting with bright cherry-cranberry flavors wreathed by suave tannins and precise acidity, it will complement a wide array of dishes from turkey to appetizers.
The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book ($74.99) For those who want to know more (and then some) about Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Recently published and exhaustively researched, this book provides in-depth analysis of the appellation’s history, terroir, grapes and winemaking techniques. Beautiful photographs of the region, domaines and people make sitting down with this book and a glass of CdP the next best thing to being there in person. It is a superb resource for new fans as well as more seasoned connoisseurs of the appellation.
NV Caveau du Mont July Bugey Cerdon Rosé* ($15.99) This pink, semi-dry and very festive bubbly made from Poulsard and Gamay acquires its pétillance via a process known as méthode ancestrale. Hand-picked grapes from mountainous slopes in the shadow of the Alps are fermented in chilled vats just reaching 5 or 6 degrees alcohol. The young and light wine is then bottled, along with its active yeast and considerable unfermented sugars. Under pressure of the cork, the wine continues to ferment, gaining a few degrees of alcohol but retaining a nice amount of sweetness. Bugey Cerdon is so delicious and fun to drink, with a distinctly grapey aroma and a fruitiness that calls out for celebration and jubilation. It makes for a great housewarming gift or aperitif this holiday season. 8.25% ABV.
2006 Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Red ($34.99) This comes from the same vineyard and barrel as Ridge’s fabled “Monte Bello” Cab, but sells for a fraction of the price. A bit softer and more approachable than the winery’s flagship, its pedigree shows through its minerality and structure. Dark, brooding fruits are backed by cedar spices and lush tannins. An ageable wine with a serious structure unlike many domestic wines in this price range.
2007 Château de Montfaucon “Vin de Monsieur Le Baron de Montfaucon” Vin de Pays du Gard* ($39.99) A steal at $40. This wine’s depth and complexity stand up to Châteauneufs double the cost. The wine’s complexity shines through in the guise of nuanced spices and lovely, rich fruit, backed by precise acidity and firm tannins. This is one of those rare treasures in the wine world that is enjoyable now, but will be even better in 15 years.
1996 Baron Fuente Grand Millésimé* ($44.99) Of course you expect great things from the 1996 vintage, but this takes those expectations to new heights. Incredibly complex, the nose is transcendental. Gone are the aromas of green apple, lemon curd and fresh toast. In their place is a harmonius symphony of ripened pomaceous fruit, minerality, toast and leesiness blended together in a beautiful bouquet that can only be achieved through vintage and bottle age.
Bruno Michel Blanche Brut Champagne ($29.99) This organic Champagne is one of my favorites regardless of price. But at only $29.99 and absolutely beautiful, you might wonder if it's too good to be true. It's not! This Champagne is composed of 53% Meunier and 47% Chardonnay, 70% from the 2004 harvest, 14% from the 2003 harvest and 16% from 2002. It's incredibly delicate and elegant, with subtle layers and wonderful sophistication.
2006 Hedges "Three Vineyards" Red Mountain ($17.99) For a really nice steak dinner, or any dinner for that matter, the Hedges from Washington State is as good a red as you can find for less than 20 bucks. The 2006 is composed of a majority Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Syrah for added complexity. A Claret in style and wonderfully elegant and smooth, it drinks like something three times the price. I dare you to say you don’t like it.
Bruno Michel Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut* ($44.99) I think the holidays offers more occasions to break that very special bottle of Champagne to really treat yourself (and others?) to a wonderful evening of drinking. I sometimes go months without buying Champagne and don't realize how much I miss it until I taste something as exquisite as the Bruno Michel Blanc de Blancs. This is the bottle that brought me back to Champagne recently, and I'm loving it. This 100% Chardonnay-based wine is wonderfully rich with a bit of barrel aging, while maintaining a crisp and lively palate of bubbles and subtle hints of minerality from the chalky soil. The balance of flavor is truly special and justifies every penny you spend.
2006 Joseph Carr Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99) This is my new favorite Cabernet in the store for $20 or less. The 2006 Napa Cabernet is a Left Bank-style blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc all from Napa Valley’s top vineyards, but reflecting the spirit of the Bordelais from start to finish. Lots of California ripe and fleshy fruit and a bit of smoke and leather with good structure and elegant tannins.
2006 Anderson's Conn Valley Napa Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) This has been my favorite California Cabernet producer in the store for the last few vintages, and the 2006 is fantastic. A surprising open nose of black currants, toasty oak and a bit of spice, the wine's rich mouthfeel is all black fruit, almost liqueur-like, with more toasty oak, spice and coffee flavors and a long finish that shows some mineral notes at the end. While there's plenty of tannic structure, the wine is accessible now (although with a few years of cellaring and it will be even better). I think it is a bit more elegant than the 2005.
2008 Wildhurst Reserve Lake County Sauvignon Blanc ($8.99) A wonderful, clean and crisp Sauvignon Blanc that has loads of citrus, lychee and grapefruit. All stainless steel fermentation and no oak. This is a perfectly zippy wine that is made for lighter fare like oysters, chicken, pork and salad. And it's inexpensive enough for everyday drinking, too. For those of you who are not attracted to heavy, oily whites that are over-oaked!
NV Krug "Grande Cuvée" Champagne ($124.99) Yes, I know that this is a pricy item in these difficult economic times but, it is Krug and it is better than some Champagnes that cost well over $200. Now, to be honest, I am biased toward the house of Krug. Vintage, non-vintage, Clos de Mesnil. Not that I often have the Clos de Mesnil. In any case, the NV is a MUST for any lover of Champagne. The nose alone has nearly everything: coffee, coconut, toast and citrus fruit. On the palate, it gets even better with roasted nuts, golden apples, brioche and a zippy finish with fine acidity. Rich but not too rich, if you know what I mean. Worth every penny. I love it by itself or with something simple like baked Brie.
2008 Pascal Janvier Jasnier (16.99) Jasnier is my secret, so please don't tell anyone! This wonderful little village to the north of Vouvray produces some of the most astounding white wines in the world. Formally (think 19th century) Jasnier was considered one of the finest Grand Crus in France. However, the rise of Bordeaux and Burgundy diminished this miniscule appellation to a blip on the map. No one told the folks in Jasnier, though, because they are still making some of the finest wines I've ever tasted. 100% Chenin Blanc, this one possesses a beguiling richness that is constantly morphing on the palate. Wonderful acidity, clove honey, cinnamon, limestone, citrus, melon and a persistent dry rockiness just keep coming and changing. At this price you can't afford not to buy this Grand Cru Chenin Blanc.
2006 Anderson's Conn Valley Napa Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) Anderson's Conn Valley Napa Reserve—as well as their wonderful Merlot/Cab Franc blend “Right Bank”—are consistently some of the finest values in Napa Valley, even at $50, because these wines really over-deliver. Thoughtful winemaking and exquisite fruit come together for this wine, making for something really special despite the otherwise difficult 2006 vintage. The Reserve is approachable today thanks to its delineated rich fruit character, savory campfire spice and dark earthiness, which provides depth, but I do recommend decanting it thoroughly. This wine is clearly in its youth and will develop considerably in your cellar. Structurally profound even at this early stage, any serious buyer who misses this will deeply regret it.
2007 Roccapia Chianti ($9.99) I just opened this for our staff tasting recently and this little “Chianti” stopped the show with lots of oohs and ahhs from my co-workers. This Sangiovese has lots of bang for the buck (or Euro, very tough to beat these days). Medium-bodied with dark fruit, good acidity and a really long finish. This is the perfect Chianti to serve for holiday parties or just pizza or pasta night. It will bring you a little Tuscan sunshine to light up and warm a winter’s evening.
2004 Solaria Brunello di Montalcino ($44.99) I have known and sold this producer’s wines for many years. Patrizia Cencion's Solaria i is really a one-women operation (she does hire help for harvest) and her philosophy is that great wines start in the vineyard and not in the lab; she is there only to help it along. Patrizia really doesn’t put a thumbprint on her wines, she will let the she lets the hills of Montalcino and the Sangiovese speak for themselves. Classic dark and ripe fruit, full-bodied with lots of structure, I would give this a couple hours of decanting if I were to drink this sooner than later. I have many past vintages in my cellar and a few of the 2004s will quickly join them.
1981 Lopez de Heredia "Viña Tondonia" Blanco Gran Reserva Rioja ($89.99) Words simply fail to do justice to this incredibly original, ageless white wine. In addition to being a Rioja benchmark, the only Gran Reserva style white Rioja still in production, it is peerless in the world of white wine as well, a true original. Velvety soft on the palate, with an interplay of rich stone fruits, marzipan and nutty qualities, this is one of the best wines I have ever drunk and it will likely remain that way. Let others have their Montrachet, I'll take Tondonia, thank you very much.
2001 Abadal Reserva Pla de Bages ($19.99) A blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah, the 2001 Abadal is in a wonderful place right now: juicy black plum and currant fruit, rich but focused, and supported by wonderful secondary flavors of sweet herbs and a warm earthiness. Without a doubt, the fruit intensity and character of the excellent 2001 vintage, which many consider to be the vintage of the decade in Spain, is on full display here. Supple, rounded, and just an incredibly tasty drink, this is a terrific buy for any fan of mature Bordeaux or Napa Bordeaux blends.
2007 Antech "Cuvee Eugenie" Cremant de Limoux (13.99) One of my favorite discoveries this past year.
This is a great option for those who want to keep the party going but don’t want to add to their financial ruin from the holidays. The wine is a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 40% Chenin Blanc and 10% Mauzac and spends 12 months on the lees before disgorging. What you have is a clean fresh sparkler with citrus flavors and subtle hints of toast. Those credit card bills are about to start showing up so it is nice to have something with Champagne quality but at half the Champagne cost.
2007 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape (PreArrival $69.99) This wine has received tremendous accolades so one more can’t possibly hurt. It is my favorite Rhone from the 2007 vintage and possibly my favorite wine of 2009. The Telegraphe possesses intense flavors of smoke, blackberry and hoisin but remains focused and balanced. Many of the wines from this vintage are a little over-the-top with fruit but this is classic VT with the volume turned up. You'll let the wine envelop you with its incredible sound and resonance and it won't leave with your ears bleeding. Sure it's not even close to being ready to drink but this is a wine you should develop a long-term relationship with by buying a case. Then you can come back and revisit it over the years and see how it develops.