Wines with a Reason to Give for the Season: The Ultimate Wine Gift Guide

Holiday Pairing, organic wine

That’s it. You give up. Another year rolls by and yet again you are finding yourself searching for gifts for your [insert dad, friend, sister, boss here] who seriously has everything. You shamefully type in the google search for ‘gift ideas’. You inevitably resort to booze.

Lift your head a little higher. What follows is a guide that allows you to get your shopping done in minutes, while still giving a gift that says more than ‘have a drink, grandma.’ These are thoughtfully selected, unique wines that won’t have your friends and family thinking you just popped your head in the local liquor shop 1 block from the party. All these wines are available at my shop, Little’s Wine & Spirits, and we gladly ship to most states!

For the Holiday Party: 2010 Allamand Malbec ($12) or 2010 Le Grand Ballon Sauvignon Blanc ($13)These inexpensive picks will have people thinking you spent at least $15-20 a bottle on your selections. They may be on opposite ends of the earth (Mendoza, Argentina and Loire, France), but they share a few things in common: small, hand-crafted family production, pure expression of the land they come from, both over-deliver for the price, and both are universally loved by all who taste them!  Favorites in my shop!

For the Camper: Yellow + Blue Malbec or Sauv Blanc ($13)The Tetra-pak’ed sippers make it easy to bring along any backpacking trip. They are light, eco-friendly, and give you a whole Liter of liquid to get you through those chilly alpine nights.

For the Brown-Noser: 2009 Ass Kisser Red ($12)–I refuse to bring in gimicky wines, unless they got a good thing going for them. With good reason this Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend made it to the Top 100 Wine Enthusiast Best Buy list this year. Smooth, easy and a hilarious, an inexpensive addition to any present.

For the Cryptic type: 2009 Sinister Hand Syrah ($23)–Owen Roe is a producer every wine enthusiast should try at some point. He has a bit of a cult following, and with one sip of this decadent Syrah, you will likely know why. The graphic bloody hand on the label tells a most peculiar, haunting story for those who are into that sort of thing…

For those who play it safe: 2008 Ghostwriter Pinot Noir ($42)–A little pricey, sure. But I will bet you that if you try it once, you will again with no hesitation. This is hands down the most gorgeous Pinot Noir under $50 coming out of California! No hyperbole. Just the facts. The best gift for that Pinot person you need to buy for.

For those who like a gamble: For those who are more adventurous, pick something with a little age on it, like an old vintage port. It’s not really making a huge gamble, as they can age for decades, but it would certainly impress anyone on your list who has possibly never had an one. At Little’s we can go back to the 80’s. In fact, if you want to try something really different, go for a Primitivo Quiles Fondillon Gran Reserva Monastrell ($50) from Alicante drawn from soleras dating back to 1948.

For those who swear they only like red wine: 2010 Arndorfer Gruner Veltliner ($20)– Really, any Gruner will do, but this is one of the best for the money out there. This dry white has a lot going for it. It works perfectly with hard to pair food such as artichokes and asparagus, plus it has a mysterious way of gaining the trust of those who thought they’d never like white wine again. And, come on… it’s fun to say.

For those who enjoy the narrative of wine: 2000 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva ($43)– The story of a man who sought out Rioja in the 1870’s and fell in love with the land. Four generations later, this family hardly changes a thing about how these wines are made. They make their own barrels. They have moved writers, critics and sommeliers in ways that no other producer ever has. Give a wine that is truly capable of transporting one back in time.

For the farmer in your life: NV Chartogne-Taillet 1er Cru ($44)–Go with farmer fizz all the way. This is the cute term for serious, grower Champagne. In a land where over 80% of the wine made is by those who only own about 12% of the land, it is refereshing to taste the difference in quality by those who make bubbles starting with the vine all they way through the production in the bottle. Plus, you are getting Premier Cru at about the same price as the ever-variable Yellow Label Veuve.

For the uber eco-friendly friend: 2010 Nikolaihoff Gruner Veltliner ($24)– I know, I already discussed one Gruner. But seriously, it’s worth it to have two on the list. This wine comes from the oldest European winery–almost 2,000 years old! Nikolaihoff was also the first to be certified biodynamic by Demeter. All things considered, this is a smoking deal for what’s inside. A beautful, linear, elegant white that will surely keep you guessing at the unusual, terroir-driven aromatics on the nose.

For the KJ Chard person you want to convert: 2009 Cannonball Chardonnay ($14)– Don’t let the general label of ‘Sonoma Coast’ deceive you. In 2009, over 80% of this fruit was sourced from the Russian River, making this the steal of the century. Great for that Chard drinker who is trying to find something new, but has trouble with change.

For the Future Wine Collector who still has no money: 2009 Chateau Courroneau Bordeaux ($17)– It’s no lie, 2009 has proven itself to be one of the best in years, possibly even several decades. Some are comparing it to ’82, ’61 and ’47. This is perfect for someone who is just getting into collecting, but doesn’t want to spend a ton. It will easily age a good 6-10 years.

For the know-it-all who has tried every grape on earth: You’ve had it with the comments, the criticisms, the commentary. For once, you wish you’d just shut that person up who has something to say about every wine under the sun! Or do they? Here are a few curve balls you could throw your smart aleck’s way this season:

2005 Movia Pinot Nero ($40)– Sure they’ve have Pinot Noir, but have they ever tasted one from this highly respected Slovenian producer?

2008 Wild Hog Carignane ($23)– A popular choice varietal in the south of France, but one of the only of its kind in Cali. Perfect for anyone who prefers big burly Cabs, Malbecs or Bordeaux.

1996 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay ($35)– For the money, you are staring down the barrel of one of the best tasting, aged Chards from Sonoma Coast on the market. This is perfect if your gift recipient hasn’t much experience with mature California Chardonnay. A true gem.

2008 IBY Zweigelt  or Blaufrankish ($19)– Watch the omnicient try and wrap their head around this one. These are the freshest reds to come onto the market out of Austria. Zippy, peppery and somewhat related to Pinot Noir, these take it up a notch in weight and spunk. Great if said recipient is really into grilling.

For the socially responsible: 2008 Walden Cotes de Roussillon ($15)– A fair trade collaboration by several small farms in the Roussillon region of south France, Walden is a project under the leadership of former sommelier Herve Bezeul who is motivate by the ethical project Mr. Thoreau used as guidance in his writings at Walden Pond. He uses those inspirational words as a compass in his own career. There are a lot of easy-drinking, smooth reds on the market, but few with such personality as this. Youthful and mischevious, this spicy, zesty red is up to something. It breathes new life into a region that I typically am drawn to for the old, rustic style of reds. Bright fruit, fun and playful.

For the coupon cutter: 2007 Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Blanc ($30)– Everybody loves a deal. But for those who are particularly passionate about savings, consider this curvy, voluptuous white blend from Vacqueryas. Typically selling for $50-70, this is an incredible deal for a wine that is made on a mere hectare of land. It has the potential to age for years to come.

For the Wall Street type: 2006 Rivetto Serralunga Barolo ($55)–Stick to the Speculator Top 100 to appease this aficionado by having him or her try a beautiful Barolo on for size. Collectors are quick to grab Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa for the cellar, but they overlook the most bombproof varietal of all: Nebbiolo, which has no better home to thrive than Barolo in Piedmont, Italy. Dried roses are a classic aromatic people associate with this hardy little grape. I’d say that’s just the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Nebbiolo and your nose.

For the Literary type: 2009 Chateau d’Issan Margaux Bordeaux ($75-100)– Sipping this wine, you might understand why Ernest Hemingway’s protagonist Jake in The Sun Also Rises was so infatuated: “I drank a bottle of wine for company. It was a Chateau Margaux. It was pleasant to be drinking slowly and to be tasting the wine and to be drinking alone. A bottle of wine was good company.” By all means, if you have a few extra hundred bucks, really wow your bookworm with the first growth Chateau Margaux, but if you are looking to stay under a $100, this is your guy. It has years to go until it’s really ready to drink (in fact, it should age a good 25 years no problem). Only one tip… perhaps have your bookworm share it with someone (preferably you.)

Roast beast and friends: A global guide to pairing wine this holiday.

cooking, food pairing, Holiday Pairing, Wine Blog

And so it begins, with the passing of the bird at Thanksgiving, the advent of the holiday season. Already a volunteer for Salvation Army was ringing the bell outside the grocery, and Bing Crosby blared from the speakers as I sifted through dented apples. My calendar is slowly filling with bonfires, festivals and parties of good cheer.

This is my absolute favorite time of the year.

But as I get older, it’s less about the presents and Santa Claus… it’s more about friends, family…and food. More provocative is the knowledge that people everywhere share this same sentimental ritual. Whether Jewish or Christian, Chinese or Chilean, old or young, people around the globe pause this season to share a meal, wine and time together.

Food and wine are so central to culture. During a time of such universal celebration, it’s difficult to focus solely on American traditions, particularly given that globalization has never been so extensive. Having a shop so close to a university, this becomes even clearer just how many people are away from ‘home’ for the holidays. Not only that, America truly is a melting pot of cultures. There are many people that adhere to their ‘motherland’ rituals around the holiday. Therefore, instead of merely pairing the roast beef and turkey with wine this season, we’re going to step outside and look to traditional fare consumed ‘round the world for bottled inspiration.

In Denmark, they begin the meal with rice pudding followed by a roasted goose stuffed with prunes and apples, sides of brown potatoes and red cabbage. Germans, too, love a chubby goose on the table. A good match here respects the gaminess of geese and pierces through the oh-so-succulent fat that makes it so yummy. So keeping in mind something medium bodied, with a quirky attitude and generous acidity, go Chinon with the 08 Baudry ($18), Burgundy with the 05 Audoin Marsannay Cuvee de Demoiselles ($34), new world Pinot with the full fruited yet earthy tones of JK Carriere’s 08 Provocateur ($23), the painstakingly traditional 02 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia ($38) that proves vintage is irrelevant when the winemaker kicks ass, or the more modestly priced 08 Chateau d’Oupia Minervois ($12) which expresses both savory spice and floral notes, a sensational combination to give this goose a gastronomical glow.

Italians begin their 2-day feast with seafood on the eve of Christmas and regional pastas and appetizers on the actual day. You can experiment with reds—typically those with very little weight and tannin—however, with seafood, have fun with bubbles and obscure Italian whites. For the former, consider Emilia Romagna born Lambrusco Bianca with the fresh zippy Lini 1910 ($17). You can’t go wrong with a well made Cava like the lean 05 Juve y Camps Brut Nature ($18), equally dry Finca Labajos Brut Nature ($13) or the 07 Gramona Gran Cuvee ($21) if you like a creamier, rich style. But if you wanna go big, go Champagne. Particularly the more linear styles of Vilmart and Cie ($75), Gaston Chiquet ($47), and Marc Herbart Rose ($45), though the quirky, mineral-kissed, slightly oxidized notes of Aubry ($37) would leave a tasty impression as well with a variety of fruit de mer.

If you want to try out some funky regional whites from Italy, start with the floral, herbal youthfulness of the 07 Sergio Mottura Orvieto ($18) or the equally floral but more honeyed 07 Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino ($24), which also boasts tropical notes of papaya. Many wine connoisseurs believe that

Verdicchio is the most complex grape in the country, and a fine example of such would be high acid, food friendly 08 Le Vaglie ($23). Finally for something a little nutty with soft citrus tones, reach for either the 08 Bastianich Friulano ($18) or 09 Picollo Gavi ($14).

As for the Christmas Day feast, go for just good, solid reds from the northern regions of Tuscany, Piemonte and the Veneto. If hosting a party, stay with some of the lesser expensive options. One of my new favorites is the fruity, smooth yet still distinctly Italian 08 Ca’ del Sarto Barbera d’Alba ($10).

Others that don’t break the bank are the 07 Mazzi Valpolicella (dusty and rustic with notes of pie cherries and licorice) and the 08 Roagna Dolcetto d’Alba (sweet yet surprisingly tart cherry with rockin’ acid)—both$18. Taking it up a notch, some lovely, well-structured reds are found in the 06 Villa Cafaggion Chianti Classico Riserva ($26), the contemplative 04 Fanetti Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($28) and the Nebbiolos from northern Piedmonte in the 06 Proprieta Sperino ($37) and Valtellina in the 06 Triacca ($28). As opposed to Langhe, where most Nebbiolo is found, these are a little more elegant, restrained and beaming with higher floral tones and pie spice. If what you desire is splurging for the big day, consider such reputable, cellar-worthy producers as Cigliuci, Moccagata, Cavalotta, Brovia, Giacosa, Conterno, Montevertine, Paolo Bea, and Borgogno. Several of which you can find at Little’s. Of these, most are under $60. All of these wines mentioned can be tracked down and special ordered and shipped to the Italian wine lover on your list.

The Brazilians come together over pork loin (lovely with Riesling). The Japanese oven-roasted chicken. The Peruvians oven-roasted turkey. Both made more interesting with Alsacian whites and Beaujolais. And the French, of course, settle for nothing second best as they slurp back oysters and gelatinous Foie Gras. The former is sensational with Sancerre, like the 08 Crochet Croix du Roy ($34), or a mineral loaded Muscadet like the 08 Chauviniere Thebaud (Champagne without bubbles at $21). The latter, fatty foie is ethereal with Sauternes—like Raymond Lafon—though a demi-sec Vouvray would work as well.

If you celebrate Hanukah, try a beef brisket bathed in red wine. A perfect complement to this would be a fruit forward Syrah from California, like the 08 Barrel 27 ($19), or one from down under, such as the 08 Eagle Vale Shiraz ($20) from Margaret River. For yet another option, maybe give Spain a chance with the 06 Pesquera from Ribera del Duero ($34).

Of course, coming from all corners of the earth, Americans have come to make other meats part of their festive meal. From pheasant and venison to oxen and duck. Pheasant will typically pair similarly to the goose. With braised red ox cheeks, reach for that Bordeaux you’ve been waiting to find an occasion to sip. With venison, cozy up to a big ol’ Cabernet from Cali. And for the duck, don’t settle for anything other than a fine Syrah from the northern Rhone in France or a Chateauneuf du Pape from the South.

Finally, welcome the New Year by honoring the current one with a memorable feast. If going with classic prime rib, have a soft, Merlot-based Bordeaux from St. Emilion, like the 03 Galius ($23) or the 98 or 00 Bellevue (both about $40). For a step outside the box, try a Cab/Merlot blend from New Zealand in the 01 Hans ($27). If having a fondue party, what better than wines from the region where this tasty dish was born—the Savoie of France. Whether the crisp whites of Apremont and Montmelian or the red grapes like Mondeuse and Pinot Noir, all find their place when paired with the regional cheeses from this Alpine corner of the world. Breakfast after bars at 3 am?  Yes, you can pair it!  How better than bubbles. Any bubbles!  Especially forgiving with a wide variety of morning food if you transform it into a Bellini or Kir Royale.

Finally, if you want to twist the traditional ‘surf’ portion of the night, as I will, try making a Lobster and Saffron risotto. I am imagining a white Burgundy or Rhone Grenache Blanc (Oh, Fonsalette, I love you—why do you have to be $70!) to snuggle nicely with this earthy, decadent dish.

Cooking up something else?  I’d love to hear about it and help you make some memorable pairings this holiday season.

good acid. good fruit. bring it on big bird…

cooking, food pairing, Holiday Pairing

Pairing Thanksgiving and holiday dinners shouldn’t be dreadful.  In fact, like the meal itself, it should give one a sense of permissible indulgence.  When other time of year can you buy so many wines from around the world, knowing all have their place for perfect articulation with some classic dish on the table?

Rather than stress about THE perfect wine, take a deep breath and choose a few versatile sippers.  Think higher acid varietals that simultaneously offer lower tannins and little to no oak.  This is not the time for Silver Oak and Prisoner.  If you are hosting, place a few glasses at each setting, and encourage your guests to really experiment with food and wine pairing.  These are meals that are characterized by their abundance and variety, so why fall short with the wine?

Here’s a little guide so you can make the best of this most anticipated gastronomical tradition.  It’s a little long, but many have requested it.  Remember, if you are not in Colorado, ask your local wine shop what wines might be like the ones you are interested in.  They should be able to help.

Whetting the palate…

Whether looking for something to pair well with appetizers or enjoy with the meal itself, you can never go wrong with bubbles at Thanksgiving.

B-Deville-Chevellier Grand Cru Champagne ($31.99): This is the Champagne for those who will have nothing less but are finding such a palate hard to afford these days…  A gorgeous blend of 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay made by a family who has been in the business of bubbles for four generations.  An inexpensive, classy touch to any holiday event.

Allimant-Laugner Cremant d’Alsace Rose ($22.99): Exquisite.  Truly eye-opening in elegance and complexity for the dollar.  Juicy cherries and raspberries soften the tang of the high acid that makes this wine such a stellar selection for pairing with holiday food.  Made of 100% Pinot Noir.

Lini 910 Lambrusca ($16.99): Blow away your guest by popping open this lambrusco… bianco.  Very rarely does one come across this Emilia-Romagna delight in a dry, white style.  Stainless steel fermentation allows for a bright, citrusy alternative to Prosecco or Cava.  A real crowd pleaser.

On the table whites…

2007 Chehalem Pinot Gris ($16.99): They say go Alsace for this meal, but some of these Gris coming out of Oregon are eerily parallel to these petrol-like, minerally whites from France.  This one is just so.  Rich pear and apricots laced with an array of spices will play wonderfully with mashed sweet potatoes and homemade stuffing.

2008 Leitz Out Riesling ($12.99): It’s not every day you can come by fruity, mineral-kissed German Riesling for under $13.  Leitz Out Riesling is a special selection of grapes from a variety of their highly acclaimed vineyards in the Rheingau.  Generous fruit and stiff acid make for a symphony with just about anything on the table!

2008 Delheim Chenin Blanc ($11.99): Chenin Blanc is definitely one of the most well-received varietals coming from South Africa at the moment.  This is a wine that shows off a lovely arrangement of flowers, honey, and ripened pear.  A decadent white that would easily harmonize with squash, buttery potatoes, and cream-based side dishes.

2005 Domaine Ferret ‘Les Moulins’ Pouilly-Fuisse ($33.99): Don’t miss out on experiencing one of the best producers in the Maconnais.  Recently sold to Louis Jadot, this is one of the last vintages available that will give you an idea of just how incredible a producer Ferret it.  A serious Pouilly, this Chardonnay is aged for 18 months in the bottle before release, gaining complex aromas of white flowers, pear, and a lovely paradox of both focused citrus notes yet indulgently lavish plump fruit characteristics.  Sometimes the best pairing during the holidays is just with a good, classic wine.

2006 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot d’Alsace ($24.99): A blend of 70% Auxerrois and 30% Pinot Blanc from the highly esteemed biodynamic producer Olivier Humbrecht.  Well-structured, this dry austere white promises to be a sensational pairing with any harvest dish, as it is simply singing with acid and hushed aromas.

On the table reds…

2007 Chateau Cortinat Saint-Pourcain ($16.99): Everyone knows the age-old pairing of Beaujolais with Thanksgiving food.  The famous Duboeuf Nouveau comes to mind, which is released the third Thursday of November to celebrate the end of harvest.  But why not go with something a little different?  How about combining the two best red holiday grapes: Gamay and Pinot Noir?  This selection from Chateau Cortinat in the Loire Valley is a perfect choice for the holidays.  Embedded with dried cranberry, forest floor, and savory herbs, this medium-bodied red will enhance just about any dish on the table.  A well-balanced, smooth, delicious alternative!

2008 Humberto Canale Pinot Noir ($12.99): Sure you’re familiar with one of the world’s most esteemed varietals, Pinot Noir.  But have you tried one from the lowest latitude winegrowing region, Patagonia?  On the nose it shares a resemblance to the bright fruity pinots of California, but the alcohol is kept at a modest 12.5%.  This means that you can enjoy all the pure, clean flavors that this delicate grape has to offer without the scorched, heady elements that sometimes come from Cali Pinot Noir.  Superb acid and classic characteristics make for a perfect, affordable Pinot for the holidays.

2005 Chateau des Tours ($25.99): I figured I had recommended the Domaine des Tours ($18.99) one too many times by now, so I am moving up to the next in line from this incredible producer, Emmanuel Reynaud, the current owner of the well-known Chateau Rayas and Fonsalette.  This selection definitely needs a little air in the decanter, but once it opens, you are in for a treat.  More concentrated than des Tours, this CDR has richer notes of kirsch and strawberry, with a touch of peppery spice and savory herbs.  A familiar Reynaud touch of smokiness and minerality sets this wine apart in its own remarkable category.

2007 Ridge ‘Three Valleys’ ($22.99): So you want the quality that comes with a well-established name like Ridge, but you want to save a few bucks.  This is the only zin-based Ridge that is made from multiple vineyards, though mostly with fruit from their reputable Lytton Estate in Sonoma.  It is a bit softer than the others and more accessible in its youth, but it still bears the indisputable structure and complexity so many have grown to respect in this producer’s wines.  A classic holiday pairing wine.

2006 Quinta de Cabriz ($11.49): I wanted to offer a red that was completely unlike those typically associated with holiday wine pairing guides.  This red from the Dao region of Portugal came to mind immediately.  Remember, the key is low tannin, fresh acid, opulent fruit.  That’s exactly what you have here.  This red uses grapes you would find in a any traditional port wine, including Touriga-Nacional and Tinto Roriz (otherwise known as Tempranillo).  An undertone of earthiness really seals the deal.  A friendly red that is certain to please a wide variety of palates at your table.

While holding the belly…

2007 Leo X-treme ‘Sundowner’ Eiswein Rose  ($39.99): Few wines come along that leave such an impression as this one.  Eiswein (or ‘ice wine’) is a sweet dessert wine made from grapes that are left to freeze on the vine.  Actually, the water inside the grapes is the only part to really freeze, leaving a concentrated must to be pressed for fermentation.  The result is divine.  This German eiswein is made of Cabernet Sauvignon.  It wears the palest of pink shades.  Well-balanced acid assures this dessert wine not to be sticky and cloying.  A rare occasion allows for this labor-intensive production, and not much can be made from the limited grapes, making this a pricey dessert wine (that’s oh so worth it!).

2005 Oremus Late Harvest Tokaji ($26.99): If you haven’t tried this Hungarian delight, it is time.  A sweet dessert wine made of the furmint varietal, Tokaji is like Sauternes in that it sits on the vine late into the harvest, naturally gaining in sugar content.  It also typically develops noble rot, or bortrytis, which deepens its complexity and flavors.  Honeyed notes of apricot and pear are the first to be recognized, along with nutty undertones to follow.  Unforgettable with blue cheese, fruit tart dishes, and cheesecake.  Not as great with chocolate.

2006 Clos Dady Sauternes ($27.99): So often people want to experience Sauternes, but not for over $30.  As a wine buyer, that creates a challenge.  Every now and again, though, one comes along that is able to provide an accurate depiction of this much-adored noble sticky at a fraction of its typical price.  Notes of honey, apricots and spice characterize this wine, but unlike Tokaji, Sauternes is fantastic with chocolate desserts.

2006 Jorge Ordonez Muscato ‘Naturalmente Dulce’ ($23.99): Just next door to the land of Sherry lies Malaga in the southern part of Spain.  Like much Moscatel in Malaga, this particular wine was made in the mountain region, in a small village called Almachar.  ‘Naturalmente Dulce’ refers to the style in which this wine was made.  This indicates that the Moscatel grapes were sundried for about 4 or 5 days in order for sugar levels to rise naturally.  This style also sees extended maceration, honing the fullest aromatic expression.  That’s really the magic of Moscatel, after all—the exquisite, elegant bouquet on the nose of tangerine, honeysuckle, and sweet spice.  Lovely with squash pies, light cheeses, and fruit tarts.

Underberg ($4.99/3-pack): Finally, when the last piece of pie has been swallowed, and you are afraid you may be about to make a scene dropping flat on your host’s living room floor, holding your stomach in agony… reach for the Underberg.  Ask no questions, kick a baby bottle back, allow a moment for wincing and possibly even a swear or two, and wait… A few minutes later, you just may be ready for round two.  It’s a miracle-working herbal digestif.  And it is necessary if you plan to do some serious eating.