Holiday Survival Guide: 101 Gifts of the Vine: Wine

  • Brett Anderson

It is odd that the father of classical tragedy should have penned what may be the truest truism concerning the happy issue of the vine when he compared this liquid art form to sculpture: “Bronze is the mirror of the form,” wrote Aeschylus, “wine of the heart.” While a surfeit of wine will sometimes induce us to reflect a little more than we intend, its thoughtful selection—either to accompany an exceptional meal or as a token of regard—will assure a place for us in the hearts of others, no matter what the mirror reveals. Pairing wines with cailles grillées or a poached salmon with sauce verte is difficult enough; pairing wines with an irate in-law or an eccentric cousin is quite another matter. Our directory of holiday recommendations encompasses a range of releases from Sonoma to Spain, each categorized according to the personality or situation it will suit best. 

 

Wine Photography by Randall Cordero. 

 

Sur la Table
Identifying rare wines designed to impress is indeed an art, especially when one must apply one’s skills with the object of satisfying guests who are both varied and discerning. This assortment will serve even the most demanding diners.

Whites
Acacia Chardonnay Carneros Sangiacomo Vineyard 2002
A boisterous celebration, teeming with fig, nuts, and honeysuckle. ($30)

Antinori Umbria Cervaro della Sala 2002
Minerals and dried fruit pervade this superb white. ($40)

Chateau de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape White Vieilles Vignes 2002
As tropical a taste as one can obtain from the South of France, this white is redolent of mango, peaches, and cream. ($70)

Conterno Fantino Chardonnay Langhe Bastia 2001
Despite its Piedmontese origins, this Chardonnay has a bouquet like apple pie à la mode. ($35) 

Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume Controlée 2001
A touch of noble rot has lent this Chenin Blanc a creamy lushness to accompany its melon notes. ($50)

D.R. Stephens Chardonnay Carneros 2001
This buttery broth of melon and fig finishes with a note of smoked nuts. ($40)

Kim Crawford Tietjen Gisborne Chardonnay New Zealand 2000
A lively subequatorial mingling of dried apricot, orange peel, and pear. ($25)

Staglin Chardonnay Rutherford 2002
This Chardonnay shines with a golden halo of pear and lemon zest, then smolders with toasted oak. ($50)

Sterling Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve 2001
Tantalizingly spicy, this California white offers up a mouthful of vanilla and poached pear. ($40)

Reds
Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Georges de Latour Private Reserve 2001
In any vintage, this Cabernet ranks among the best accompaniments for a superb steak; in 2001, it ranks first. ($90) 

Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Concentrated, bursting with black fruit, this mocha-filled wine calls out for a porterhouse—rare. ($35)

Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon Winston Hill Rutherford 2000
A luminous holiday red in the glass presages a palate of bright berry, smoke, and cedar. ($100)

Louis Bernard Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1998
A satisfying infusion of berries and smoke from the Rhône’s legendary appellation. ($28)

Spring Valley Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2001
Fabulously ripe with fruit, redolent of spice, this blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot provides a lingering finish. ($45) 

Stephan Vineyards L’Aventure Optimus Paso Robles 2001
Stephan Asseo’s eclectic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Zinfandel remains the best of its kind in the Paso Robles region. ($45)

Toasts of the Town
Other than defective string lights, the holidays’ chief hazard remains the toast. The tradition has bred a litany of protocol with which all party-goers must contend, setting off a chain reaction of endless clinking and countertoasts. Such moments can be made much more palatable if the stemware is replenished from one of these bottles.

Bollinger Brut Special Cuvée NV
This nonvintage Champagne conjures the cool, fragrant softness of a Chinese garden under moonlight. ($45)

Domaine Carneros Le Rêve 1997
Taittinger’s Carneros creation combines pear and creamy vanilla in a delicate effervescence. ($55)

Lanson Noble Cuvée de Lanson Blanc de Blancs 1995
An edgy bubbly, exhibiting bright fruit and tangy acidity. ($125)

Schramsberg J. Schram 1998
Three parts Chardonnay to one part Pinot Noir yield a brilliantly fruit-filled, creamy sparkling wine. ($80)

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Brut 1995
A graceful, classic Champagne with a fine, mousselike texture. ($130) 

Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Brut 1996
This crisp, light blend of autumn apples has been packaged this season in a unique gift case by designer Emilio Pucci. ($200)

Rose-Colored Glasses
These vintage Champagnes, while they sparkle, deserve a category of their own. They should be reserved only for worthy friends with the rosiest outlooks.

Dom Pérignon Rosé 1995
Faded mineral notes inform this otherwise floral, cherry-perfumed pink. ($95)

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 1996
A lightly layered composition of pale coffee and candied fruit. ($210)

True Eccentrics
It has been asserted that the only thing the English appreciate better than eccentricity is their wine. Lord Byron indulged in both, quaffing this revered beverage from a human skull inscribed with verse. These imaginative vintages will please the odd individuals of your acquaintance who might ask, as did Byron’s inscription, “Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone, /In aid of others’ let me shine; /And when, alas! our brains are gone, /What nobler substitute than wine?”

Whites
Gravner Venezia-Giulia Breg 2000

This Veneto white offers up rose and the sweet spice of baked apple. ($120)

Peter Michael Chardonnay Ma Belle-Fille Vineyard 2002
This Sonoma wine exhibits the scent of fresh-mowed grass, honeysuckle, and a honeylike consistency. ($75)

PlumpJack Chardonnay Reserve 2003
This reserve white, like its predecessors, is a curiously quenching amalgam of tropical fruit, as well as minty mineral and toast. ($42) 

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Spätlese Josephshöfer Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2002
A siren among wines, this Riesling delivers a taste-tingling experience with an invigorating finish. ($28) (Click image to enlarge)

Rudd Bacigalupi Chardonnay 2002
This Chardonnay is a late summer evening in liquid form—pale yellow, full of peach blossom, with traces of smoke. ($60)

Reds
Beaulieau Vineyard Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
This intense Cabernet Sauvignon gushes with dark berry, exudes coffee, and fumes with smoke. ($130) 

Clos du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Franc 2001
A bass composition of blueberry, blackberry, violet, and vanilla, punctuated by a faint cymbal crash of pepper. ($85)

Darioush Napa Valley Shiraz 2001
This California Shiraz is a hugely vanilla, coffee-roasted aroma followed by a silky blueberry taste laced with pepper and cigar box. ($64)

Domaine de la Vougeraie Clos de Vougeot 2001
This esoteric and intoxicating sensual essay encompasses smoked meat, cloves, a sweet suggestion of rust, and a silky consistency. ($125)

Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Pisoni Vineyard 2001
A concentrated expression of the jamlike fruit that Pinot Noir achieves beneath the California sun. ($70)

Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel Paso Robles 2000
A Byzantine blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache, and Counoise that evokes roast meat and currants, as well as lovely leather and tobacco. ($35)

On the Wild Side
The pressures of industry and finance, family and
philanthropy exact their toll on all of us. When our
merciless superego gains the upper hand, we must restore equilibrium by unleashing the id. What better way to achieve this aim than to uncork some truly wild wines?

Whites
Beringer Sbragia Limited Release Chardonnay 2001
Perhaps the most uninhibited Chardonnay on the market—as creamy as custard and loaded with pear and spicy fig. ($40) 

Darioush Viognier Napa Valley 2003
An exhilarating condensation of honeydew melon, jasmine, citrus blossom, and honeycomb. ($32)

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Napa Valley To Kalon Vineyard I Block 2001
Peach and passion fruit balance a zesty lemon acidity in this single-block Sauvignon Blanc. ($65)

Reds
Alban Syrah Edna Valley Reva Vineyard 2001
This Syrah opens with the aroma of blossoming sweet peas and smoked bacon, before initiating the taste buds to a buffet of fresh blackberry, sage, and saucisson sec. ($45)

Archery Summit Pinot Noir Arcus Estate Oregon 2001
This heady Oregon Pinot Noir renders lush black fruit. A riotous roll in a meadow of blackberry and violets. ($75)

Clos Mogador 2001 Priorat
This hedonistic blend pours blackberries and vanilla onto a crust of toasted oak. ($60)

Lafond Pinot Noir Santa Ynez Valley Lafond Vineyard 2001
A satisfying marriage of vibrant cherry with moldering mushrooms and a Camembert-like pungency. ($35)

Matetic Vineyards EQ Pinot Noir San Antonio Chile 2002
This silky Chilean Pinot is fragrant with an earthy essence like the local clay after rain. The dark fruit has a hint of rubyred grapefruit and Darjeeling tea. ($24)

Prats & Symington Chryseia Douro 2001
An adventure in dark blackberry and black cherry that culminates in smoke and dusky cocoa. ($40)

Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel Sonoma County Cullinane Vineyard 2001
This jubilant Zinfandel abounds with concentrated berries, allspice, sweetened coffee, and oak. ($45)

Stephan Vineyard L’Aventure Estate Cuvée 2002
Inky and unctuous, this esoteric blend stirs up a brew of currants, brown sugar, soy, toasted bread, and tobacco. ($75)

The Bacchantes
Through the centuries, women and wine have proven a popular pairing. Granted, the Greeks personified wine in the form of a god, Bacchus, rather than a goddess, but the deity’s most ardent followers consisted of a tribe of women clad in animal furs and clutching vines. The myth may be rooted in fact: Recent research indicates that women have better senses of both taste and smell than men, giving them a distinct advantage in the vineyard and the winery. The following are four superb wines that benefit from a woman’s touch.

Duval-Leroy Brut Blanc de Chardonnay 1996
The world’s largest private Champagne house is run by Carol Duval-Leroy. The 1996 vintage of her Chardonnay-based brut delivers a stunning mélange of citrus, vanilla, roasted nuts, and honey that coats the mouth in a soft, tingling cloud. ($40)

Lane Tanner Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard 2002
Santa Barbara winemaker Lane Tanner has charted her own course in the county’s Pinot Noir vineyards. This bottling contains dazzling berry and cherry fruit with a seductive earthiness. ($30)

Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Olivet Lane 2002
Bright Bing cherry is lovingly laced with crème brûlée with a savory sprinkling of mace. A recommendation from Merry Edwards: Try this with quail and nameko mushrooms. ($51)

O’Shaughnessy Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
The sleek architecture of Betty O’Shaughnessy’s new winery prefigures the elegant structure of her rich, blue-black Cabernet Sauvignon. ($54)

For the Renaissance Man (or Woman)
When Constantinople fell in the 15th century, numerous scholars fled to Rome, bringing with them important writings and classical manuscripts and planting the seeds for a new age of discovery. This spirit of enlightenment endures in the minds of a few modern thinkers; for these rare individuals we suggest a few exquisite yet cerebral wines with a slightly­—but not exclusively—Italian flair.

Whites
Gaja Langhe Gaia & Rey 2001
This harvest of fresh, honey-coated apples and oak finishes with a streak of Devonshire cream. ($115) 

Reds
Antinori Pian delle Vigne 1999
Well-structured, full-bodied, and beautifully macerated, this Brunello carries on its velvety waves of chocolate-berry a breeze of violet and lavender. ($70)

Bond Melbury Napa Valley 2000
This single-vineyard wine’s shifting flavors of black cherry, berry, cedar, cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla act on the senses like a cloud of incense. ($150)

Bouchard Père et Fils Nuits St. Georges Les Cailles 2001
This premier cru offers up bright, sweet raspberries and red currant countered by a hint of rare meat and spicy oak that carries through its stately finish. ($53)

Château Ausone St.-Emilion 2001
Named for the fourth-century Latin poet Ausonius, this Bordeaux delivers gorgeous fruit, balanced structure, and a tantalizing vibrancy. ($230)

Château Le Pin 2001 Pomerol 2001
More prized to today’s collector than a copy of Cicero’s De Republica would have been to a medieval scholar, this Pomerol turns its pages from boysenberry fruit to a freshly watered herb garden to the delicious cedar smoke of a cigar lounge. ($550)

Clos Figueres Priorat 2001
Lovely, dark, and deep as Robert Frost’s woods, this swarthy Spanish beauty exudes ginger, plum, anise, and molasses. ($55)

Husic Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001
This first vintage from the Stags Leap District glows a wickedly deep magenta in the glass. Boysenberry dominates, giving way to a savory-sweet blend of soy and brown sugar. ($85) 

Lançon Père & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de la Solitude Secrèt Réserve 2000
A masterpiece of shadow and light—brooding blackberry, bright flashes of ginger and clove, subtle saffron, chocolate, and creamy coffee. ($120)

Luce della Vite Luce 2000 The texture of this Montal­cino red is like the silk and velvet of a cardinal’s robes. A beautiful assortment of berries blends with its piquant minerality. ($75) 

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Castello di Nipozzano Mormoreto 2001
This Tuscan delivers sturdy structure, a sumptuous body, a medley of blackberry and boysenberry, and cigar and cedar essences. ($58)

Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco Asili 2000
Beneath a cool, earthy coating, powerful cherry pulsates, mingling with traces of cocoa, mint, and coffee. ($75) 

Spring Mountain Vineyard Elivette Spring Mountain 2001
Elivette captures the spirit of this historic winery in a fragrant and concentrated wine. Black fruit progresses toward an effusion of rich oak and a long, delicately spiced finish. ($90)

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Masseto 2001
Dark as a Borgia ruby, this Merlot blends blackberry and exotic Eastern spices in a supple, almost narcotic mist. ($250)

Just Desserts
The Chinese have for centuries espoused the spiritual, intellectual, and medicinal virtues of balancing and reconciling opposites. Even in their cuisine, hot flavors must accompany sour, just as salty foods must counter the sweet. Though the popularity of dessert wines has grown, these essentials of the table have been too often overlooked in America. The considerate host will never leave guests with lopsided chi by denying them a sip of these late-harvest treasures.

Chateau Ste. Michelle–Dr. Loosen Riesling Eroica 2001
A veritable orchard of peach and apricot, followed by green apple and honey, with the perfect touch of acid. ($20)

Dolce Saint Nicholas 1999
Only 1,000 bottles were released of this gorgeous elixir, which does not cloy, but kisses the palate with candied orange and toasted almond. ($500)

Dr. Loosen Riesling Eiswein Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Bernkasteler Lay 2002
This delightful ice wine layers peaches and cream over a tangy, almost raspberrylike acid. ($80) 

Jackson-Triggs Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Gewürztraminer Ice Wine Niagara Peninsula 2001 This rich wine’s viscosity and intense sweetness are countered by beautiful pineapple and apricot fruit, as well as a splendid acidity. ($80, 375 ml)

Fortify Yourself
Port, which comes only from the Douro River region of Portugal, ranks as the best loved of fortified wines. Dating to the 17th century, when hostilities between France and England interrupted the flow of Gallic wine across the channel, port kept the English oenophile in good stead. Nevertheless, a selection of sherry from the Jerez region of Spain, or a nutty-brown Madeira from the tiny Portuguese island, should not be left off a good hospitable host’s tray of after-dinner delights.

Bodegas Dios Baco Oloroso Jerez 30 Year Old Baco Imperial NV
A well-oiled oloroso providing a honey texture and a lingering taste of pecan pralines laced with a touch of sea salt. ($60)

Cockburn Tawny Port 20 Year Old
The sweet dried plum and berry fruit takes a backseat here to maple candy and warm roasted pecans. ($55)

Graham’s 1991 Vintage Port
A thick, inky brew that gains strength as it rolls toward its finish, this berry-bound porto has grown more satisfying with age. ($45)

Vinhos Justino Henriques Verdelho Madeira 1954
Beautiful walnut, honey, and tea lacquers smoothly cover a surface of fresh-baked apple pie. The finish adds a peppery varnish. ($180)

Fit For a King
This category hardly requires explanation: As precious and as priceless as gold, frankincense, and myrrh, these exceptional vintages are fit to lay before a king, a potentate, a head of state, or—most importantly—a dear and worthy friend.

Whites
Aubert Ritchie Vineyard 2001
Jasmine, honeysuckle, smoke, and hazelnut envelop one’s nose, as do citrus essences. A lovely, luxurious texture heightens this single-vineyard Chardonnay’s creaminess. ($55)

Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne 2000
This lush white Burgundy overflows with ripe pears, mango, and lemon-lime. The golden finish is succulent and serene. ($80)

Domaine Leflaive Candied Bâtard-Montrachet 2000
Burgeoning with lemongrass, honey, and glazed lime, this buttery white roils with fruit. ($220)

Krug Brut Champagne 1988
This vintage Champagne from one of the world’s greatest houses fuses honeycomb with citrus blossom, a bite of shortbread, and a slightly roasted, savory note. A holiday essential. ($190)

Louis Jadot Le Montrachet 2000
A creamy, sensual Chardonnay that pulses with white fruit—apple, white peaches, and pear. ($300)

Reds
Alvaro Palacios Priorat L’Ermita 2000
Still an infanta in the realm of wines, this dark, gleaming Priorat blend wears a crown of violets and bleeds the blue blood of berries. ($270)

Antinori Tignanello Tuscany 2001
The Antinori family has once again coaxed a darkly rich, satisfying, and near-perfect profile of berries and wood from the Sangiovese grape. This vintage should not be missed. ($95)

Cardinale 2001
Seductive yet strong, this Napa-Sonoma meritage yields an assemblage of flavors—blackberry, cedar, coffee, currant, and chocolate—to match the depth of its indigo color. ($120)

Chateau Palmer Margaux 2001
A feminine ideal, this luscious French red recalls one of Matisse’s odalisques supine upon a field of purple velour and fragrant rose petals devouring dark, juice-filled fruits. ($110)

E. Guigal Hermitage 2000
This fat, dense Hermitage drinks at first like an aromatic liquid smoke supported by plum and a pronounced yet mellow oak. ($60)

Gagliole Pecchia Tuscany 1999
An explosion of plum and blackberry precedes this pure Sangiovese’s mushroom cloud of smoke, wildflowers, and allspice. ($154)

M. Chapoutier Hermitage Vin de Paille 2001
Another southern French triumph, this masterful Hermitage emphasizes earthier essences—dried cherry and berry, as well as newly tanned leather and a touch of charred bread. ($180)

Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2000
This Barolo bounds out of the bottle with fresh-picked summer berries and lilac, underscoring once again Piedmont’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest wine-producing regions. ($150) 

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
While the winemaking at Silver Oak is all-American, this Cabernet tastes like a trip around the world, combining an English currant jam with an herb-scented Mistral, as well as a dollop of tropical oils. ($100)

Verité La Joie 2001
The first of three miraculous wines from winemaker Pierre Seillan, this Paulliac-style blend is a huge yet lithe and elegant wine featuring vivid blueberry and blackberry fruit, chocolate truffle, and oak. Its soft, powerful tannins will carry it for decades. ($125)

Verité La Muse 2001
To a superb Merlot, winemaker Seillan added 9 percent of Cabernet Franc, producing a blend with a bouquet of blackberry and rose perfume laced with fresh-brewed coffee. ($125)

Verité Le Désir Sonoma County Red Wine 2001
This sultry St.-Emilion-style Cabernet Franc–based blend resonates with a sustained bass note of boysenberries, chocolate, and cool earth. This wine simply calls out from the glass for a filet mignon smothered in a béarnaise sauce to make one weep. ($125)

Vina Bisquertt Zeus I Colchagua Valley 1998
This Olympian blend from Chile’s Bisquertt family, though difficult to obtain, rewards one’s efforts handsomely. Handpicked and hand sorted, this red wine has wonderful finesse, bright cherry and plum fruit, sweet smoke, and soft woods. ($60) (Click image to enlarge)

Treasures to Bury
Some winemakers make wine for enjoying today, while other artists of the vine build their vintages for posterity. True, the following portfolio would constitute even the greediest wine lover’s ultimate wish list for the holidays, but we would be remiss if we did not note that it is perfectly within the bounds of good breeding for hosts to stash a few (or all) of these treasures in their own cellars for a decade or more—all with an eye to the future entertainment of honored guests, of course.

Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso Bolgheri 2000
This Super Tuscan is unsparing and meaty, replete with flavors an imbiber can sink his teeth into. Rich berry, dusky plum, and sprinklings of mint and rosemary define this Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah blend. Superbly tannic for aging. ($105)

 

 

 

 

Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard 2000
This superb Cabernet from one of Napa Valley’s most storied vineyards captures the flavor of Calistoga–sun-warmed plum, sweet aromatic chaparral, anise, and soft earth. ($150)

 

 

 

 

Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2001
This stalwart Chilean boasts ample amounts of boysenberry, black cherry, cedar, oak, and very elegant tannins that ensure a long and graceful aging. ($55)

Chateau Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2000
If you can find it, expect to pay much more than the list price. Still, this Bordelaise gem will last a lifetime. Full-bodied in the extreme, it retains its silky elegance across a framework of plum, cedar, and cigar box. ($425)

Colgin Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Tychson Hill 2000 Tremendous yet balanced tannins provide the structure over which a bounty of flavors–black cherry, creamy vanilla, sprinklings of nutmeg, and wood spice–unfurls like rich, dark, variegated vines. Difficult to find but worth the effort. ($175)

Gaja Langhe Costa Russi 1999
The palette here is scarlet, from the color of this queenly Barbaresco to its soft rose fragrance, bright red cherries, and tangy touch of rust. A magnificently regal Nebbiolo from first drop to last. ($220)

Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Napa Valley 2000
California winemaking seldom achieves results more gorgeous than this very, very difficult-to-find blend, the bulk of which is sold to an allotment list. The predominant theme is dark chocolate—coated cherry and berries in a wine that exhibits dizzyingly sensual texture. Fine wine dealers may have a few bottles still, but expect to pay more than the list price. ($210)

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder 2001
Mountain-grown and always a reward to the senses, this single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon has the blackest, most succulent fruit and tremendous tannins layered over by persimmon, Christmas-cake spices, and a touch of mint. ($125)

Penfolds Grange Shiraz South Australia 1999
Undeniably one of the world’s finest Syrahs, this spectacular creation takes one on a wild tasting tour that begins with blackberry and blueberry fruits that hum in the mouth, licorice, and toasted oak and sesame. Absolutely unblemished. ($225)

Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino Vigneto Manachiara 1999
A striking and brawny Brunello that will settle and soften magnificently as it matures. Dense plum, floral essences, and bracing minerals. ($65)

Shafer Hillside Select Stags Leap District 2001
An undercurrent of mineral intensity paves the way for a parade of essences that include spiced plum, currant, coffee, chocolate, and sage. A potent brew. ($150)

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri 2001
A Tuscan red with all the eloquence of form embodied in a Cellini bronze. Muscular blackberry, cherry, and currants encase a backbone of oak and mineral. Soft tannins provide a finishing polish to this masterwork. ($170)

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