It’s time to start buying gifts for the holidays and that means it’s time to get specific. I’m beginning here in France with recommendations for gifts from some of the country’s most popular wine regions.This is not supposed to be an all inclusive list, so forgive me if I’ve missed your favorite wines. This is simply supposed to be a rough list of fabulous wines that make great gifts at a variety of price points. It is worth noting that for a variety of reasons the prices of many of these wines very widely, and I’ve included the range that each typically can be found at. I’m also trying to identify the best of the recent vintages that would prove most popular to the wine geeks while giving the average consumer the best bang for the buck. There’s so much to choose from it was hard to narrow down my choices to five wines per region but I’ve managed to do it! I present are the greatest French wine gifts for 2013!
The hot vintages are 2009 and 2010. Both are considered to be excellent vintages though in very different styles with the 2009s marked by abundant ripe fruit in a lower acid, richer style while the 2010s combine high alcohol with fresh acids and massive tannins producing a vintage for the ages. My suggestion is to go after the 2009s for gift giving, they will be plenty age worthy, and do not neglect back vintages which have not fully benefitted from the recent runup in Bordeaux pricing. 1999s are drinking well today and were always under-valued and consider the more precocious of the 2000s, a very fine vintage, are now drinking very well indeed.
2009 Chateau Lyonnat $16-$35
A classic Bordeaux full of red fruits and rich tannins.
2009 Chateau Poujeaux $35-$50
A perennial overachiever, the 2009 is an amazing value packed with fruit and mid-term cellar potential.
2009 Chateau Sociando Mallet $45-$65
Classic, old school Bordeaux for the cellar with more of an attractive green edge to the flavors than one is accustomed to seeing these days.
2009 Boyd Cantenac 2009 $60-$80
Powerful, and deceptively simple and fruity in its youth, a Chateau that develops a velvety texture and complexity with age.
2009 Grand Puy Lacoste $75-$100
A classic Bordeaux, it needs a decade in the cellar before it comes into balance and begins to reveal the layered complexity and elegance that sets Bordeaux apart.
Burgundy prices had already been under pressure before the recent spate of short vintages, particularly the near disastrous 2013 that puts more immediacy on rising prices. Burgundy has never been inexpensive per se, production levels and demand ensure this, though with some careful filtering it’s not impossible to find great values across the price spectrum. Backfilling with Burgundy is not usually a value play, but with the number of great vintages in the pipeline it is possible today. 2006, 2007 and 2008 have each been lost a bit amongst the hype afforded 2005 and 2009-2010. Careful backfilling in these vintages could still make sense, though the 2010 vintage is the best in years, it will require patience.
2010 Jadot Beaune Clos Ursules $50-$70
Another avenue to value in Burgundy is through the big negociants and Jadot is one of the best of these. Here we have a fabulous bottling, once again from Beaune and packed with rich, pure, lacy fruit.
2010 Chevillon Nuits St. Georges Les Roncieres $70-$80
While the Cote de Beaune is the home of great values, you can still find fabulous wines in the Cote de Nuits. Chevillon produces remarkable wines that still sell for fair price, and his Roncieres is a standout in 2010, rich, dark and age worthy.
The Southern Rhone
The Southern Rhone is filled with fabulous wines, from myriad appellations but the truth of the matter is that the region's reputation in the USA was built upon the great wines from Chateauneuf du Pape. Prices for these wines continue to creep up, which does open the door for the values from Gigondas, and Vacqueyras in particular, to steal some of their thunder but for the most part when someone wants a Southern Rhone for the Holidays they usually want Chateauneuf. These are great wines for gifts, essentially ready to drink on release but with great mid-term cellaring potential. Once again 2009 and 2010 are both fabulous vintages with the 09s being a bit easier going than the very powerful 2010s. Since these wines don’t require extended cellaring I’d suggest going for the 2010s if you can find them.
2010 Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape $53-$70
Holding on to tradition, this offers up savory olive and meaty accents that will emerge with time adding tremendous complexity to the core of black fruit. Tannins need a few years to resolve but this will be amazing.
The North Rhone
While the Southern Rhone relies on blended wines, usually with a preponderance of Grenache, the north is all about Syrah and as such tends to have greater vintage variation. 2009 and 2010 are both great wines with the soon to be released 2011s lighter in character and style. The 2009s being a bit firmer at this stage of the game but the 2010s have greater purity and balance. Either way these are wines for the cellar and a case where hunting for back vintages often pays big dividends. 2001, 2005, and 2006 are all mighty fine vintages that didn’t receive a ton of media love so they remain relative values and well stored bottles are drinking well today.
2011 Eric Texier Brezeme Cotes du Rhone $20-$28
Here’s a wine that surprises on several levels. First off while it’s a Cotes du Rhone it’s a rare version from the Northern Rhone so it’s Syrah based. These tend to be high acid wines, which is off-putting to some, but they are wonderful renditions of traditional Northern Rhone Syrah at affordable prices. The VV Pergaud is more expensive but really ups the ante. Search for it if you have to.
2010 Gilles Robin Crozes-Hermitage Cuvee Alberic Bouvet $25-$35
The “lesser” appellations of the Northern Rhone are starting to attract a lot of attention from value shoppers and Crozes-Hermitage is a great source for Syrah.This is a bit on the modern style, sleek, focused and nuanced, though with age it will reveal more of the savory character it holds in reserve.
2010 Vincent Paris Granit 60 Cornas $45-$65
Cornas is one of the more exciting appellations in the Northern Rhone with many new producers taking advantage of excellent old vineyards and more modern techniques to tame the formidable tannins that have long distinguished Cornas. 2011 is a perfect, softer vintage to introduce one to the cellarworthy, complex wines of the region and this Vincent Paris is a gorgeous floral, peppery example.
2010 Louis Barruol Côte-Rôtie La Viaillère $55-$70
Cote Rotie has a reputation for producing the most elegant wines of the Northern Rhone, though more recent vintages have seen a spate of powerful, modern styled wines coming from here. While this Louis Barruol might not be the most refined example, with unusually firm tannins, it is a classic Syrah filled with bacon fat, olives, black pepper, violets and black fruit that will explode with 8-12 years in the cellar.
2010 Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillot $105-$130
This is, by a notable margin, the most expensive wine on this list. It breaks my $100 rule, though not by much, yet I include it here because it is one of the greatest wines on earth and arguably the finest expression of Syrah being bottled today. Aromatically at another level, with brilliant balance and finesse that allows this to compete with the finest Burgundies at the table. It’s a wine you have to at least try once in your lifetime. Buy yourself a bottle, you deserve it.
If you’re really searching for world class wines that are values you have to check out the Loire Valley. Predominantly based on Cabernet Franc, the reds from the Loire are as good as any produced in France, yet sell for a fraction of the price of comparable wines of quality. And since I’m talking about the Loire it would be felonious to ignore the sweet white wines from places like Vouvray. Arguably the finest white wines on the planet, affordable, age worthy, delicious in their youth, middle age, and old age. Yours, not the wines because these things are virtually immortal.
2011 Clos Roche Blanche Cuvée Pif $16-$20
Here’s a typical Loire red, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It sells for a song, rich with tart red fruits, earth, and herbs; it will improve in the cellar over the next 5-8 years and continue to gain nuance and complexity There is no better value for the cellar.
2007 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses $20-$25
While more recent vintages might be on the market it’s worth seeking out the 2007. Pure and vibrant and just at the point where the fruit is slowly giving way to more pronounced tobacco and earth flavors ths is entering its long plateau of maturity.
2010 Charles Joguet Chinon Clos de la Dioterie $40-$50
This is a monumental bottle of Cabernet Franc. It has it all, power, richness, elegance, depth, superb structure. It’s really a wine for the cellar, and after 5-8 years this will be one of the great Cab Francs of the decade.
2009 Huet Vouvray Clos Bourg Moelleux $42-$65
And now for something completely different: Chenin Blanc. Sweet, white, full of fruit today and ready to age for decades during which time it will develop all sorts of lanolin, nutty, honeycomb and quince flavors. Huet is the master of Vouvray and to be able to buy this quality for this price is simply remarkable.
2009 Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny $70-$90
Loire Cabernet Franc not from Chinon? Yes, and arguably the finest expression of Cabernet Franc extant. This is a cult wine, albeit a relatively affordable one. The richness and supple texture belie the level of complexity and nuance these wines can attain. A rare wine that is a high point in any cellar.