A lot of my foodie friends love Italian food or are fans of the high acid wines of Italy. Some of the most exciting Italian wines I tasted this year were Brunellos from the 2007 vintage, and I think these wines would make exciting holiday gifts. President Obama apparently agrees, having gifted House Speaker John Boehner with a 1997 Brunello from Pogio Antico for the Speaker’s birthday this year.
Brunello from the Montalcino area in Tuscany is the ultimate expression of Sangiovese for me. Montalcino is a relatively warm and dry micro climate where the Sangiovese grape can experience a longer growing period than virtually anywhere else in Italy.
From my Brunello tastings this year, the one I rated the highest that falls under the $100 level is the 2007 Uccelliera. The best bargain amongst 2007 Brunellos is the 2007 Casanova di Neri.
2007 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino - Bricking medium dark red violet color; lifted, red berry, spice, dried orange nose; tasty, baked berry, tart dried berry, tar, mineral, roses, tart orange palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points
2007 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino - Medium dark red violet color; appealing, dried berry, dried cherry, dried herbs nose; tasty, tart dried cherry, dried berry, sage, charcoal palate; medium-plus finish – 94 points
For my more adventuresome friends, Spanish wine, based on Tempranillo from Rioja, is likely to be my choice this year. I spent a memorable week with fellow U.S. wine bloggers tasting there this past summer, and have also been tasting all the Riojas on the market in the U.S. I can get my hands on.
My top recommendations for delicious Rioja come from two producers I visited this year: a 2005 Reserva from Miguel Merino and a 2005 Gran Reserva from Federico Paternina. Both of these are remarkable values at less than $50, so I don’t even need to recommend anything over $50. The Spanish Table is actually carrying the Paternina for only $25.
Miguel Merino worked in the wine trade in Rioja for decades, serving as export director for several wineries. Instead of retiring, he decided to fulfill a longtime dream of making his own wine, in small quantities, mainly from old vine vineyards. The first vintage for his eponymous winery was 1994. I wouldn’t say his are classic Riojas, but they are very flavorful and elegant wines, inspired by Rioja traditions.
The Federico Paternina is much more of a traditional style Rioja. Federico Paternina is under the same ownership as one of my favorite traditional Rioja houses, Bodegas Franco-Españolas, and they have long shared the same winemaker, the very talented Carlos Estecha.
2005 Federico Paternina Rioja Conde de los Andes Gran Reserva - lightly bricking dark ruby color; cinnamon, light brett, dried roses, raspberry, dried cherry nose; very tasty, spicy, ripe raspberry, dried cherry palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 93 points
2005 Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva - Dark ruby color; very appealing, complex, dried berry, licorice, dried black fruit nose; complex, structured, dried berry, dried herbs, tart licorice, tart blackberry, mineral palate; long finish 94+ points
There are so darn many good Syrahs being produced in the U.S. these days. I think they are perfect gifts for our friends who love big, meaty, food friendly reds. The two I’ve chosen are exceptionally flavorful and intense, made by two of California’s most talented Syrah specialists.
The Westerhold Syrahs are made by Russell Bevan, who is known for intensely flavored wines that still retain good balance. Paul Lato makes his eponymous wines, in small quantities, to increasingly high demand. He is originally from Poland. In Canada, he trained as a sommelier, working in that profession for 12 years in Toronto. After moving to the U.S. in 2002, he worked harvests at Au Bon Climat and Qupe, and made his first six barrels of wine in 2002. His wines are carried at an impressive list of restaurants, including French Laundry, Michael Mina and Boulevard.
2008 Westerhold Family Vineyards Syrah Westerhold Vineyard - Opaque purple red violet color; tart black fruit, tar, licorice nose; tasty, intense, tart black fruit, tar, licorice palate; long finish (22 mos in French oak) 93+ points
2010 Paul Lato Syrah Il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard - Dark ruby color; lifted, tart black fruit, ripe black fruit, pepper, graphite nose; tasty, intense, tart black fruit, pepper, violets, mineral palate; long finish 93+ points
Many of my friends love Rhone wines, and when we do wine dinners, Rhone is one of our most popular themes. Add to that the high quality of the 2009 Northern Rhones and 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Papes and I knew I just had to include a Rhone category on my gifting list.
My under $100 Rhone selection comes from a producer who is regularly at the top of my list for the Northern Rhone, Thierry Allemand. His 100% Syrah wines from the tiny Cornas appellation are complex and pure. In the 2009 vintage, I slightly preferred his younger vine bottling, the Chaillot, to the Reynard, at least for drinking in the near term.
It is very tough to find a Châteauneuf-du-Pape for under $50 these days. I am therefore delighted to be able to recommend one from a traditional producer that often flies under the radar, Château de la Font du Loup. The winemaker/proprietor (with her husband) is the very engaging Anne Charlotte Melia-Bachas.
2010 Château de la Font du Loup Châteauneuf-du-Pape - Dark ruby color; tart berry, herbs, ripe berry, redolent nose; tasty, structured, tart berry, tart black fruit, anise palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points
2009 Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillot - Very dark red violet color; charcoal, tart black fruit, incipient bacon fat, tar nose; lovely, charcoal, tar, tart black fruit, pepper, mineral palate with balance; long finish 96 points
A Port makes a great gift for those who like an occasional, special bottle of wine to end a great meal or party. I particularly like them on cold winter nights, so late December is a perfect time to give or receive a bottle. For the amount of work and aging that goes into them, Ports are also relative values.
Tawny ports are wines made from red grapes that are aged in wooden barrels, exposing them to gradual oxidation and evaporation, which concentrates the flavors but also mellows the wine. As a result of this aging, they gradually change to a golden-brown or “tawny” color. The exposure to wood tends to impart nutty flavors, and different casks are ultimately blended to match the house style. The official categories for aged tawnies are 10, 20, 30 and over 40 years. I particularly love 20-year-old tawnies, which usually offer the most complexity balanced with a sense of freshness.
Taylor and Fonseca are two of the greatest Port producers, and both are under the ownership of Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman. Taylor’s 20-year-old tawny is my top choice at the under $50 level. For the last widely declared vintage year, 2007, I prefer the Fonseca vintage Port, which has more delicacy and will be approachable earlier than its Taylor sibling. Both of these will make outstanding and much appreciated gifts.
N.V. Taylor (Fladgate) Porto 20 Year Old Tawny - Light medium browning ruby color with pale meniscus; light cherry, baked cherry, raspberry nose; tasty, baked cherry, raspberry palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points
2007 Fonseca Porto Vintage - Opaque, very dark red violet color; rich, complex, berry, blackberry, faintly herbal, black fruit, tar nose; rich, powerful but poised, berry, black fruit, blackberry, vanilla, black cherry palate; long finish 97 points