Don’t look now, but the holiday gift-giving season has rolled around…again! Well, maybe you should take a little peek, especially if there are wine lovers on your holiday gift list. And if your wine-loving friends and relatives are watching their budget this year (and who isn’t?), a nice bottle of wine from you might just be the gift they can’t afford to buy for themselves. Plus, you buy yourself Christmas gifts, right?
If you’re lucky enough to have one or more well-stocked wine shops in your neighborhood, one-stop shopping makes holiday hunting that much easier. And to help with your holiday wine buying, I’ve pulled together a selection of wines and one wine book that I reviewed for Wine Review Online over the past 12 months. All of the wines were rated as Very Good to Outstanding (90 points or higher) and while you may have to search for some of them, most of these wines are still in the market. So, get out there and start shopping!
In January I took a fresh look at Argentine Malbec, a red wine that is getting better and better. Ironically, Malbec was once popular in Bordeaux and remains the backbone of red winemaking in Cahors, where the grape is called Cot. But Malbec has proven to be more trouble in the vineyards of Bordeaux than it’s worth, so acreage has been declining until today there are more than three times as many acres of Malbec in Argentina than in Bordeaux. Argentine Malbec is a substantial wine with a deep inky color, full tannins, bracing acidity and layers of fruit that is reminiscent of blackberry and dark plums. Among my favorite Argentine Malbecs are these two standouts: Lucca, La Consulta Mendoza Malbec, 2007, $36, richly textured berry and mineral flavors and Vale de Pena, Mendoza Malbec, 2006, $26, dense fruit, ripe berry, earthy notes.
The lesser known appellations of Burgundy caught my attention in February and March, with coverage of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines of Givry, Marsannay, Saint-Veran and St. Aubin. Readers of this column know that I am partial to Pinot Noir, although I do enjoy the occasional Chardonnay, like those of Saint-Veran and St. Aubin. What attracts me to these wines are the balanced Chardonnay flavors, tempered use of oak and prices that are more attractive than those of pricey white Burgundy. Of note are Merlin de Bourgogne, Saint-Veran La Grand Bussiere 2007, $30, floral-citrus, textured with subtle oak, and Roux Pere et Fils Saint-Aubin Les Murgers des Dents de Chien 2008, $39, layers of apple and mineral, great balance and structure.
In March, it was back to Pinot Noir and the juicy, berry-rich wines of Givry and Marsanny, two Burgundy appellations that offer high quality at reasonable prices. I especially liked Domaine Thenard, Givry Clos St. Pierre 2008, $28, with its refined cherry-berry flavors and great structure, and Domaine Bruno Clair Marsannay Les Longerois 2007, $40, impressive classic Pinot aromatics, supple, good length with finesse.
Grenache is a rising star in Australia, especially the sumptuous concentrated wines from South Australia’s McLaren Vale. In April, I took a close look at d’Arry’s Original, a value-oriented Grenache and Shiraz blend from d’Arenberg, one of McLaren Vale’s leading family-owned wineries. Recognizing the role Grenache plays throughout the south of France, d’Arenberg has skillfully married the flavors of Grenache with Shiraz in these two wines: d’Arenberg, McLaren Vale South Australia “d’Arry’s Original” 2005, $19, a wine of great depth and complexity with smoky oak and ripe berry flavors and d’Arenberg, McLaren Vale South Australia “d’Arry’s Original” 2006, $19, packed with dark fruit flavors, earthy nuances and a hint of anise.
Few wines say spring and dining al fresco more than Beaujolais. In May, my focus was on Duboeuf Beaujolais from the outstanding 2009 vintage. The beauty of Beaujolais comes from the Gamay grape, with its ripe juicy fruit, soft tannins and mouth-watering natural acidity. While Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Village are great values, for added complexity and richness, the Crus of Beaujolais are the stars of this region south of Burgundy. Georges Duboeuf says that 2009 is the best he has seen so far in his life and these two crus add weight to his claim: Georges Duboeuf, Morgon Jean Descombes 2009, $15, earthy-raspberry, refined and structured and Georges Duboeuf, Moulin-a-Vent Domaine Rosiers 2009, $15, wild strawberry, deep and layered with great body, fruit and texture.
June in Northern California was more like fall than the beginning of summer. Undaunted, my thoughts turned to white wines fashioned for casual sipping and light foods. Among the most interesting summer whites I tasted, for both price and quality, were Rocca di Montemassi, Tuscany Vermentino 2008, $15, a wine with ripe stone fruit aromas and flavors and a trace of mineral and Pacific Rim, Columbia Valley, Washington 2009 Riesling, $11, a great sipping wine with juicy nectarine and pineapple flavors and impeccable sugar-fruit-acid balance.
There are a number of very good California Pinot Noir producers, but for years one of my favorites has been Merry Edwards. Without a clear understanding and hands-on care by the winemaker, Pinot Noir can be nothing more than a simple red wine. Edwards understands Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and her wines always promise depth and complexity. And she has built a carefully selected group of single-vineyard wines like these two I tasted for July: Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley Coopersmith Vineyard 2007, $54, a lush supple Pinot with dark fruit flavors, hints of spice and a long layered finish and Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley Klopp Vineyard 2007, $57, loaded with textured black cherry flavors and traces of mineral and black tea.
August brought an unorthodox comparison of South African Pinotage and California Petite Sirah, two big reds that impress me as having a lot in common. Both varieties have a Southern Rhône heritage and both have a reputation (no longer warranted) for being big and rustic, to name but a few similarities. I tasted a range of Pinotages and Petite Sirahs and found these two stood out for complexity and depth of flavor: Kanonkop, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch South Africa Pinotage 2008, $35, a classy wine with smoked bacon and ripe berry flavors; Quixote, Napa Valley Stags’ Leap Ranch Petite Sirah 2005, $50, loaded with layered blackberry flavors, accented with smoked meat and black pepper scents.
From Pinotage to Pinot Noir, again with a South African connection through the efforts of Lester and Linda Schwartz, owners of Fort Ross Vineyard on Sonoma’s rugged northern coast. Natives of South Africa, the Schwartzes struggled for years before producing elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, reflecting the power and dense fruit that has made the Sonoma Coast appellation one of California’s best for Pinot Noir. During a visit to Fort Ross Vineyard in September, I enjoyed Fort Ross Vineyard, Sonoma Coast California Chardonnay 2008, $30, a dry textured wine with juicy citrus and mineral notes and Fort Ross Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Reserve 2007, $37, a brooding wine with black tea, boiled beets and dark fruit flavors, rich texture and great length.
In October I strayed from my fixation on Pinot Noir long enough to explore a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon called Meander. Following a three-year search, Amy Aiken, proprietor and winemaker of Meander found the grapes she wanted and now makes small amounts of a richly complex Cabernet Sauvignon. Meander, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, $65, is juicy and supple with refreshing mulberry flavors and nicely integrated oak. Aiken also makes nicely crafted Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir under the Conspire label.
Winemaker Richard Arrowood is a survivor, having made his name first at Ch. St. Jean, then at Arrowood, the eponymous Sonoma Valley winery where he fought various battles to stay in the game. Today, Arrowood and his wife Alis own and operate tiny Amapola Creek winery in the eastern Sonoma hills. Arrowood makes small lots of just three reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah. During a visit to the winery in September, I was especially impressed with Amapola Creek, Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, $80, concentrated with deep blackberry aromas and flavors and an intriguing tar note and Amapola Creek, Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso Vineyard Vinas Antiguas Zinfandel 2007, $40 an intense berry-rich supple wine that reflects the pedigree of the noted Monte Rosso Vineyard; despite the 16% alcohol, there is no heat through the silky finish.
Completing my 2010 list of wine gifts, I looked back at the wine books I recommended last December and believe that one provocative book is still worth a look. “Been Doon So Long,” by Randall Grahm, owner/winemaker of Boony Doon winery, is a collection of iconoclastic, often humorous send ups of the wine industry. Literary references abound, plus Grahm throws in a wealth of Italian, German, French, Spanish and Yiddish (yes, Yiddish!) wine terms. The send ups alone are worth the cover price, like “The Rimeshot of the Ancient Marsanner,” a nod to Coleridge and to Grahm’s love of Rhône wines. Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology, Randall Grahm, 2009, University of California Press, $34.95 Hardcover. If Grahm is not your choice for words on wine, try the University of California Press Fine Wine Editions, a series of compact soft cover books with excellent photography, including the “Fine Wines of Champagne” and the “Fine Wines of Tuscany and Central Italy.”
If you’re lucky, giving the gift of wine means that both you the gifter and the person on your gift list, the giftee, can enjoy the wine together. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!