Spreading the Holiday Cheer, with an International Flair

Courtesy John-Pa
Courtesy John-Pa

At this time of year, when the weather gets colder and the skies grow darker, our hearts somehow glow more warmly, and our smiles shine more brightly. As the evening sky fills with colored lights and traditional songs, so our gatherings with friends and family take on a more festive air. We share our good cheer in word and deed, often over a glass of something special.

One of the best ways to share the good cheer of the holiday season is through gifts of wine. And while shopping at this time of year is sometimes a challenge, finding the right bottle for a family member, close friend, or colleague gets easier every year as the world of wine grows more bountiful. There has never been a better time to shop for quality wines from around the world, or an easier time to find that perfect wine for everyone on your list.

Calendars in December and January are filled with parties, and those parties are often filled with people drinking sparkling wines. A great alternative to the usual European bubbles that everyone should get to know is NV Reginato Sparkling Torrontes (Silver medalist, 2013 NY International Wine Competition) from Mendoza in Argentina.  Blended with a bit of Chardonnay, this wine is redolent of citrus and stone fruit, with bright acid that gives way to a deliciously creamy body. This exciting wine is sure to be a hit at any party, and is a super value at $15.

Courtesy Renée S. Suen
Courtesy Renée S. Suen

Of course, the holidays are often the time for more intimate gatherings, for special times with family and friends. Those occasions call for something more memorable. NV Agrapart et Fils Champagne Les 7 Crus Blanc de Blanc Brut is a perfect choice for just such a moment.  Bright and crisp with aromas and flavors of apple and pear, with chalky minerality and mouth-watering acidity leading to a satisfying finish, this bottle is a welcome guest at any party. $40.

One of my favorite white wines, one that I like receiving as well as giving, is the 2011 Venica & Venica’s Collio Pinot Grigio from Friuli-Venezia Giulia in northeastern Italy. Its combination of clean, crisp acidity and bright, generous fruit makes it a delightful match with the all the wonderful seafood at this time of year. I think it drinks a bit above its $23 price point.

There are always those wine lovers on our list who only like what they like, and for some folks that means Chardonnay. To treat those chard aficionados, look no further than the 2010 Domaine du Chalet Pouilly Fuisse  (Silver medal, 2013 NY International Wine Competition). This Burgundian beauty offers floral and stone fruit aromas that lead to peach, apricot and pineapple on the palate, with a taut balance of acid and minerality. At $25, it’s nice to know that there are still some values left in that part of France.

Courtesy BePak
Courtesy BePak

One of the comforts of long winter nights, and a reliable bulwark against the cold, is red wine. Is it just me, or is it actually impossible to imagine winter without red wine? If you’ve got a friend who loves to explore globally, an excellent choice is the  2009 Taylors St Andrews Shiraz (Bronze medal, 2013 NY International Wine Competition). This wine is enormous and extravagant, filled with deep, rich fruit and framed with notes of vanilla and cedar. A great companion on a cold winter’s night. $60.

Have someone on your list who likes things a little more on the elegant side? Or perhaps enjoys holding their wines for a few years? Out of Walker Bay in South Africa comes the 2012 Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir(Bronze medal, 2013 NY International Wine Competition). Rich, expressive, and filled with all the tools necessary for successful aging, this is a wine that invites buying two – one for now and one for later. $55.

Of all the important meals at our house, the most important meal of the year is Christmas Eve, and the menu always calls for a special wine. During the past year or so, when I think of special I think of the 2004 Muga Prado Enea from La Rioja in Spain. At $55 you won’t find this wine on the bargain shelf at the local grocery, nor should you. A powerful, impressive combination of modern and traditional styles, this Tempranillo has all the vanilla smoothness you’d expect from an old-style Rioja, but is also jammed with the bright red fruit and crisp acidity you look for in today’s top bottlings. Silky in the mouth with a finish that just won’t quit, this special wine is the perfect special gift.

Do you know someone who loves learning about wine, who can’t wait to find out about the next best thing? If so, then you can’t be more generous than to turn them on to the great things happening these days in Portugal. A fine introduction to the Portuguese varietals there that are grabbing the world’s attention is the2009 DFJ Vinhos Grand Arte Alicante Bouschet (Gold medal, 2013 NY International Wine Competition). This deep, dark, brooding wine is filled with rich, black fruit flavors, and offers a smooth mouth-feel, along with enticingly grippy tannins. Despite its concentration and weight, it is a wine of great versatility. If you have friends who like the big reds of southern France and northern Spain, they’ll be the perfect people on your list for this impressive bottle. What’s also impressive? Its price – only $20.

fonseca porto lbv unfiltered 2007
fonseca porto lbv unfiltered 2007

I have a friend from college who, when he goes shopping for presents at this time of year, always buys a few gifts for himself. In that same spirit, I’m including this next wine. Now I just have to persuade my wife that me buying presents for me is a legitimate expression of holiday cheer. The 2006 Chateau Lynch-Bages, at $160, is, amazingly, one of the great values from the classified growths of Bordeaux. It’s considered an “off” vintage, as the preceding year pulled in rave reviews and the weather in ’06 just didn’t match up. Still, this is the sort of wine that, when you are lucky enough to enjoy it, makes you think, “Oh, so this is why people drink Bordeaux.” I’m pretty sure I’m getting at least one nice present this year.

If all this great wine hasn’t taken the edge off winter’s dark and chilly nights, then it’s time to bring out the big gun. That’s right, we’re talking about Port, a wine that almost demands you put a few extra logs into the fireplace and pull up your most comfortable chair. A great choice, whether it’s a gift or a treat for yourself, is the 2007 Fonseca Late Bottle Vintage Porto Unfiltered (Silver medal, 2013 NY International Wine Competition). For $20 it’s hard to find a bottle that fits more perfectly into the holiday season: sweet, warm, and brimming with comfort and satisfaction.

Here’s to our houses and our glasses being filled with cheer in the days ahead!