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2006 Holiday Host Guide: Vintage Gifts

The holidays have always served as milestones by which we mark the passing years. Our memories of successive Thanksgivings, Hanukkahs, and Christmases—the gatherings, the candlelight, the thoughtful (and thoughtless) gifts, not to mention the bouts of indigestion and, if we have celebrated properly, the hangovers—trace a priceless mental path from our present to our childhood past. These few fleeting days, with the passage of time, often encapsulate entire years of our lives, enabling us, our families, and our friends to find our ways back, in a sense, to the people we have known and the places we have been. Happily, the gift of wine provides a more material marker: Each bottle is a moment, a memory preserved, ready to be uncorked, relived, and enjoyed again.



Certain foods—a foie gras pan-seared to a delicate crispiness or a rare steak served in sizzling butter and herbs—are made for wine; and it may be said, too, that certain wines are made to be paired with food. This, of course, is not to say that these selections won’t stand alone; but, just as the sudden, rushing waves of the orchestra make the trill of a violin solo all the more delicate and beautiful, the winemaker’s music is often best enjoyed in concert with that of the kitchen.

{ Red }


Andeluna Grand Reserve Pasionado 2003

A peppery spiciness combines with ripe red-fruit flavors in this Bordeaux-style blend, an impressive second-vintage effort from this new winery in Argentina’s Mendoza province. ($50)

Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve 2002

This harmonious composition showcases the balanced ripeness and structure of the 2002 vintage, offering a nose of cedar, allspice, black cherry, and plum; these lush fruit flavors carry over onto the well-rounded palate. Sturdy tannins ensure that this wine will last in the cellar through many more holidays to come. ($116)

Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Private Reserve 2004

Known for its brawny Cabernet Sauvignons, Frank Family takes its first stab at the pesky Pinot Noir grape with this 674-case bottling. The transition appears to have been every bit as smooth as this velvety blend of black cherries and cloves. ($55)

Husic Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

Though only on their third vintage, Julie and Frank Husic have created yet another remarkably dark, rich, and refined Cabernet. Full of chocolate and cherries, this silky red also shows delicious licorice and clove spice. ($95)

O’Shaughnessy Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2003

This mountain elixir from the Calistoga region of Napa Valley presents a bounty of forest blueberry, bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, and cherry in a silky textured wine whose finish culminates in sweet, smoky woods and smooth tannins. ($65)

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Reserve 2002

The color is as dark and rich as the cinnamon-laced boysenberry and black cherry that greet the nose; yet this wine avoids the syrupy overextraction of some Cabernets, melding a medley of spice and dense fruit in poignant harmony with cooler mineral notes and smooth tannins. ($55)

Spring Mountain Vineyard Elivette 2002

Patience has its rewards. Spring Mountain Vineyard reminds us of this simple axiom with each release of Elivette, a reserve-level Meritage blend of consistently outstanding quality. More voluptuous than the classic 2001 vintage, this new release also possesses the polished structure, dark, earthy concentration, and classic style for which the estate is known. ($90){ White }

Beckmen Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Purisima Mountain 2004

This crisp, clean white from one of Santa Barbara County’s best producers has a brilliant color like a yellow diamond, a refreshing shower of intense lemon-lime, bright acid, and a mineral finish. ($20)

Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc 2004

Time spent in French oak barrels lends a creamy texture and a hint of vanilla spice to this Sauvignon Blanc–based blend, which reveals its base varietal with a ripe pear nose and crisp citrus flavors. ($36)

Talbott Chardonnay Diamond T Estate 2002

A Chardonnay with graceful power, this refined composition resounds with flavors of sweet, creamy pear, lightly spiced green apple, and succulent peach, enhanced by undertones of flint and warm toasted oak. ($75)


The holidays offer us ample opportunity to celebrate our native virtues, yet we may as well confess that the season’s true joy lies in indulging our vices. Irish author Oscar Wilde made a career of artfully pursuing that aim. His predilection for debauchery not only uncorked a stream of scandals that kept 19th-century London gossips bubbling, but also resulted in a libel trial that ultimately landed Wilde in jail. While enumerating his excesses, Queen’s Counsel asked during the trial whether he drank Champagne. “Yes; iced Champagne is a favourite drink of mine—strongly against my doctor’s orders,” Wilde replied. “Never mind your doctor’s orders,” Counsel admonished. “I never do,” said Wilde. This sparkling vice remained a favorite of his to the end: Bankrupt, he sipped a glass on his deathbed, declaring, “Alas, I am dying beyond my means.”

Dom Pérignon Rosé 1996

The legendary Champagne house’s chef de cave, Richard Geoffroy, has dubbed this rosé the “jewel of Dom Pérignon.” Produced only in vintages that experience ideal conditions, this sparkling wine is made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Flavors are a compote of sweet, spicy peach, strawberry, and savory grilled brioche. ($400) (Click image to enlarge)

Krug Rosé 1995

Six generations of the Krug family have perfected the delicate art of producing Champagne, earning for themselves a reputation for serious winemaking. Yet the family is not without its playful side. Krug lent a more personal (and compact) note to its Grande Cuvée by offering it in a half bottle (375 ml); now, the Champagne house’s exceptional rosé comes in the same size, presented in a pink silk gift box that reflects the wine’s delicate color. ($120, 375 ml)

Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut

Louis XIV was the first king to drink Champagne, whose sparkling wines have dazzled ever since. This superb cuvée takes its name from Louis’ reign, which came to be known as the “great century.” Glimmering gold, the wine offers up a sweet, honeyed scent with a touch of toast. ($109) (Click image to enlarge)

Salon Le Mesnil 1996

Perhaps the least-known, rarest, and, one could argue, best of Champagnes, this astonishing wine was originally produced for one individual, Eugène Aimé Salon, a Champenois who, after World War I, decided to sell to the public. In 1920, Maxim’s in Paris became one of the first buyers of this blanc de blancs, which is only made in exceptional vintages (37 in the last century). The 1996 is pale yellow and layered with flavors of green apple, grapefruit, pear, and tart kiwi. ($300)

Schramsberg J. Schram Rosé 1998

An ethereal rosé from California, this crisp sparkling wine exhibits all the sophistication and finesse of its distant French cousins. Pale amber in color, the 1998 vintage is the first rosé to be released by one of the most respected sparkling wine producers outside of Champagne. Clean and balanced, with a playful berry bouquet, this wine broadens on the palate, revealing strawberry, rose petals, and a pleasing minerality that dissolves with bubbles on the tongue. ($120)Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1996

A true aristocrat among sparkling wines, this blanc de blancs possesses a cool progression of crisp apple, ripe pear, white peach, and golden toast in an elegantly structured body that is pure Taittinger. ($140)

Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé NV

Another outstanding rosé release, this nonvintage Veuve Clicquot stands out as a must-pour for this season’s parties. Soft amber in color, the wine blooms with cherry and summer strawberry flavors that are held together by a hint of pastry crust, bright acidity, and a wonderful texture punctuated by pinpoint bubbles. ($70)


In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, few of Alice’s catoptric encounters can top the one with the two queens, who astound poor Alice with their unexpected inversions. She must walk away from the Red Queen to draw near her, and the White Queen bandages her finger before she has pricked it. Alice’s attempts to impose a more rational order are met with stern rebuffs. “Queens never make bargains,” the Red Queen informs her. Yet all of these wines—made or managed by women who are the queens of their respective domains—can be considered bargains at any price, and each will tickle the palate with its delicious twists and turns

{ Red }

Amuse Bouche 2003

Screaming Eagle winemaker Heidi Barrett partnered with a friend to produce this stunning Merlot- and Cabernet Franc–based blend. Silky yet powerful, the wine offers intense black cherry and playful blackberry flavors coated in a blanket of dark chocolate and rich coffee. ($200)

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2003

Easily one of the least characteristic and best wines of Pauillac in most vintages, this superbly feminine Bordeaux is a rich brew of spiced plum, coffee, and chocolate-covered cherry, beneath which lie satiny tannins that, like a proverbial red carpet, guide one in state toward a royal finish. ($125)

Lane Tanner Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard 2004

Like Lane Tanner herself, this single-vineyard Pinot is unpredictable and delicious. Softer, perhaps, and less forceful than previous vintages, this release still retains the ripe strawberry and wild berry fruit of its predecessors, while delivering more delicate hints of Asian spice and wood accompanied by an assertive, almost Burgundian structure. ($33)

Merry Edwards Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir 2003

Merry Edwards has a way with Pinot Noir, coaxing from this temperamental grape silky wines with style and strength, luscious ripeness, and great subtlety. This single-vineyard Pinot is perhaps the most extracted of her wines, offering a rich blend of blackberry fruit and liquorlike cassis. ($48)

{ White }

Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2005

Aged in French oak, stainless steel, and even concrete eggs (vessels popular in France that purportedly combine the richness of oak with the purity of stainless steel), this easy-drinking ensemble of grapefruit, peach, and honey flavors is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. ($20)

D.R. Stephens Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard 2004

While other Napa Valley estates are shying away from buttery whites, D.R. Stephens embraces the effects of oak-barrel aging with this viscous, toasty, and creamy Carneros Chardonnay. ($45)OENOLOGICAL ECCENTRICS

A taste for the strange and rare has always characterized the British—certainly the aristocrats. For instance, one 18th-century merman, Matthew Robinson, the second Baron Rokeby, felt an irresistible compulsion to be in water. He would float for hours off the shore of Kent or in the tank he built in his home, often until he had to be fished ashore. Another, the fifth Duke of Portland, after succeeding to his title in 1854, devoted the rest of his life to living underground, burrowed beneath his home, Welbeck Abbey. While none of these wines originates in the United Kingdom, each expresses a uniquely quirky personality. And any of these precious liquids will be equally at ease afloat (on one’s yacht) or underground (in one’s cellar).

{ Red }

Cambria Clone 667 2003

Perhaps the most complex of three single-clone Pinots produced at Cambria, 667’s flavor and aromas blend together a sultry liquid smoke with tobacco, grilled bread, clove, grapefruit, pomegranate, and a hint of nutmeg and vanilla. ($48)

Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta Colchagua 2003

This single-vineyard blend has emerged as Chile’s equivalent of a first-growth wine. A seductive medley of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carmenère, it evokes extracted blackberry, creamy coffee, and sweet grilled sage. ($65)

Cellers Fuentes Gran Clos 2001

Sourced from 100-year-old vines in Priorat, the Grenache, Cariñena, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that compose this blood-red Spaniard impart equal portions of power and finesse in the bottle. ($80)

Cobos 2003 Malbec

Made in Mendoza, Argentina—one of the more exciting wine regions to gain international notice in the past several years—this intriguing Malbec offers dark, brooding notes of plum, blackberry, and smoke. ($150)

Juslyn Vineyards Spring Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

This beautifully constructed Cabernet has the cool, composed profile that characterizes many of the mountain wines from this region in Napa Valley. The fruit is dark—cassis, blackberry—and lushly extracted, with silky texture and tannins, while the long finish closes with a peppery kick. ($90)

Marston Family Vineyard Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Another Cabernet from the Spring Mountain region, this wine, while elegant, is not afraid to flex its tannins. The deliciously ripe black cherry and blackberry combine with soft mocha and mushroom, rounding out this dynamic red. ($80)

Prats & Symington Chryseia Douro 2003

A joint venture between two great winemaking families—the Prats of Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux and the Symingtons of Portugal—this alluringly dark wine layers black plum, bittersweet chocolate, and delicate spice atop sturdy tannins. ($50) (Click image to enlarge)

{ White }

Brander Cuvée Nicolas Santa Ynez 2005

This engaging blend of 75 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 25 percent Sémillon tastes of nectarine, lemongrass, and candied citrus tied together with a wispy strain of cedar. ($25)Darioush Signature Viognier 2005

Thick with heady scents of jasmine, citrus blossom, and honeysuckle, this wine produces an intense, lush melon flavor on the palate before evaporating into a delicate finish. ($34)

Kuleto Estate Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2004

This pale Chardonnay plays on the senses like a summer breeze, carrying the sweet scent of ripe peaches. Its creamy texture is echoed in delicious vanilla and toasted almond flavors, and the finish offers hints of mint and anise. ($41) (Click image to enlarge)

Moraga Sauvignon Blanc 2004

This stylish California white comes not from Sonoma or Napa but from Southern California—from the Los Angeles hillside neighborhood of Bel-Air, to be precise. It coats white peach and grapefruit with a layer of spearmint, then finishes with a dose of soft mineral. ($65)


If a touch of eccentricity defines the English temperament, then the Italian character is paradoxically shaped by a sense of order and proportion, along with a slightly perverse appreciation for caprice and the random influences of chaos. This odd dichotomy can be found in the frenzied artifice of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita as much as in the Italian admiration for Pisa’s Leaning Tower or the vine-tangled, ruined grace of Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli. The wines of Italy, too, possess a seductive mélange of the civilized and the savage, the idealized and the untamed.

{ Red }

Antinori Toscana Solaia 2001

A super-Tuscan not to be missed, the 2001 Solaia’s intensely dark color presages the black fruit aromas and the powerful, sultry mocha flavors that pour forth on the palate. The texture is velvety soft, while the enormous, well-integrated tannins ensure a long life in the cellar. ($150)

Avignonesi Desiderio 2001

This thickly textured Tuscan Merlot has a core of sweet boysenberry wrapped in a thick, smoky espresso coating. An engaging licorice spice defines the finish. ($50) (Click image to enlarge)

I Collazzi 2002

Produced on a family-owned estate in the Florentine hills, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc shows excellent color and has an earthy nose of berry, clay, and dried meat. Its character is almost Barolo-like, with the sweet tang of bay leaf on the finish. ($40)

Le Macchiole Messorio 2001

This Merlot from Bolgheri shows a pleasantly dark color and exhibits rich berry and cherry fruit on the nose, along with hints of mocha. It is superbly balanced and stunningly powerful, with a lingering smokiness on the finish. ($200)

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2001

An enormous wine for an excellent vintage, this Brunello will require a significant amount of aging to show its complex character to full advantage. The 2001 is loaded with berries, while currents of spice—vanilla, licorice—course beneath its ample fruit. ($60)Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Lamaione 2001

A Merlot-based wine from the Frescobaldis’ Castelgiocondo estate in Montalcino, this superb super-Tuscan gives off an intoxicating blackberry aroma laced with thyme, basil, and sweet fennel. A complex set of flavors in a velvet-bodied wine. ($65)

Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Barbaresco 2001

Martinenga, the most prized of Marchesi di Grésy’s three Piedmont vineyards, supplies the Nebbiolo grapes for this gorgeously earthy and acidic Barbaresco. ($40)

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia masseto 2003

Having set new standards of quality for Tuscany since its introduction more than two decades ago, this delicious blend has rich, dark color to match its black cherry fruit. A whiff of vanilla on the nose prepares one for the mouthwatering spice on the palate. ($150)

{ White }

Alois Lageder Benefizium Porer Pinot Grigio 2004

The smoky, mineral flavors of this straw-colored wine are testament to northern Italy’s (and this fourth-generation winemaking family’s) capacity for Pinot Grigio, a grape that too often falls flat in the bottle. ($20)

Livio Felluga Colli Orientali del Friuli Terre Alte 2002

A fruity, nutty white wine with a liveliness that nevertheless remains, from sip to finish, a sophisticated experience of ripe apple, white peach, and pleasant granite minerality. ($35)


The prurient proclivities of Louis XV were assiduously documented, even during his lifetime; and while his incompetent reign laid the major groundwork for the French Revolution, his licentiousness did its part to fan the flames of antimonarchism. The king’s amours included not only Madame de Pompadour and the notorious Madame du Barry, but also an assortment of much younger girls who, by turns, occupied a notorious house dubbed the “Deer Park.” The following French belles filles (all young) not only offer opulence on a par with Louis’ tastes, but also strike a seductive note of which the king who once was nicknamed Le Bien-aimé would have approved.

{ Red }

Château Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2003

This black beauty exudes blackberry, licorice, black coffee, sweet and sticky black tobacco, and a profusion of complex spices, beneath which lie powerful tannins wrapped in black silk. ($325)

Château Lafite-Rothschild Pauillac 2003

This Pauillac, like a prima ballerina, is pure grace and sinew beneath soft, ethereal folds of berry, cassis, violets, and sweet allspice. A magnificently choreographed performance. ($450)

Château Margaux 2003

Destined for greatness, this gargantuan, superextracted Margaux displays an almost dizzying complexity. The ink-black fruit is sweetened by a touch of brown sugar, beneath which can be detected a trace of gaminess that adds piquancy to the palate. The texture is gorgeous, and the finish is nothing short of profound. ($425)Cos d’Estournel 2003

A forestlike mélange of blackberries, plum, cassis, vanilla, and nutmeg on nose and palate alike, this grand St.-Estèphe is full-bodied with exceptionally fine tannins and a lingering, complex finish. ($150)

Guigal Côte Rôtie La Mouline 2001

This smoky Rhône unites Syrah with 11 percent Viognier, making it a slightly more feminine wine with substantial red fruit, exotic wood, and a touch of clove spice. ($350)

{ White }

Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne 2003

While many Burgundian wines—red and white—were atypical for this hot vintage, this Corton-Charlemagne managed to maintain, for the most part, its usual poise. Its wonderfully fragrant perfume of lemon and lime blossoms greets the nose, while the palate is citric with a nutty, mineral finish. ($120)

Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard La Romanée Premier Cru Chassagne-Montrachet 2004

A compote of lime and grapefruit provides the foundation for decorative touches of vanilla cream and honey in this pale-colored yet potent Chassagne-Montrachet. ($75) (Click image to enlarge)


All of us know at least one person who, like Dickens’ Scrooge, regularly chokes on the milk of human kindness. The passive-aggressive in-law, the obdurate trustee, the callous CFO, and the unreasonable collector who will not part with his Kandinsky—all of these nemeses whose lives have been devoted to mastering the arts of insensitivity have turned their backs on their fellow men; yet each of them can be brought back, however briefly, into the fold of common humanity with one of these rare liquid gifts, which will bring joy to their lips and light to even the darkest of their hearts.

{ Red }

Castello Banfi Poggio alle Mura 2001

This powerhouse Brunello burgeons with spiced plum, dried cherries, dried meat, and earthy clay. Hints of savory herb lie atop thick yet refined tannins, and the finish lasts as long as a Puccini crescendo. ($80)

Colgin IX Estate Syrah 2003

The rocky soil of Colgin’s IX Estate vineyard on Napa’s Pritchard Hill, though originally chosen as a site on which to grow Bordeaux varietals, has proven ideal for the Côte Rôtie and Hermitage grapes that produce this intense, vibrant Syrah. The wine combines flavors of wild berry, pepper, bacon, tobacco, coffee, and clay. ($125)

Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia 2003

This Meritage blend enjoys a nearly unique reputation not simply for quality but for consistency of character as well. The latest vintage, 2003, is no exception. A sensuous mélange of blackberry, plum, and liquid smoke, it seduces both the nose and the palate. ($150)

Lokoya Howell Mountain 2003

This latest single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from winemaker Christopher Carpenter is a refined and inky brew. The nose gives off violets, spicy plum, cassis, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate, and the finish is a lengthy tour de force that culminates in a satisfying minerality. ($175)Mastroberardino Villa dei Misteri 2003

This well-established producer in Italy’s Campania region was appointed by the archaeological authorities of Pompeii to a project that involved replanting sections of land within the ancient city that were identified as vineyards prior to the eruption of Vesuvius. The first vintage, 2001, was auctioned off to benefit restoration efforts in Pompeii. Blended from two unusual varietals, Piedirosso and Sciascinoso, the 2003 vintage is a rich and flavorful sip of the ancient past. ($200)

Opus One 2003

This wine’s spiced plum, cinnamon candy, and red plum scents stir the nostrils before juicy red cherry, grapefruit, cedar, and spice deliciously coat the palate. ($170)

Penfolds Grange 2001

American oak gives this legendary Shiraz an utterly unique flavor profile that places it on a par with the world’s greatest wines. Dark berry, licorice, and spice dust the nose, while the complex palate combines dried cherry, berry, chocolate, licorice, and nutmeg. ($225)

Shafer Hillside Select 2002

One of the most sought-after reserve wines in California, this black-red Cabernet Sauvignon has an intense spiced plum scent along with deep berry. Vanilla and cedar flavors top a richly articulated texture. ($190)

{ White }

Bouchard Père & Fils Montrachet 2004

Profoundly deep and densely concentrated, this brilliant example of Burgundy’s prized Chardonnay offers up flavors of creamy vanilla, spicy butterscotch, delicious citrus, and pit fruit. ($350)

Charles Heidsieck Champagne 1985

An outstanding vintage from an outstanding producer, this remarkable Champagne is blended from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay. Its character is opulent and intense, featuring lemon blossom and pastry notes. ($120)

Peter Michael Mon Plaisir Chardonnay 2003

This single-vineyard Chardonnay from a legendary producer is creamy and richly rendered, blending sweet melon, ripe pear, white peach, and smoky honey. ($70)


Although the life of the mind is, in our benighted age, more often neglected than that of the body, indulging the senses is sometimes the best way to feed the soul. A strain of enlightened hedonism runs through these unusual wines, which overflow with exotic flavors, swathe the palate with their sensuous textures, and tease the imagination.

{ Red }

Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004

This single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley resonates with red and black berries, cherry, and wildflowers in a cool composition that rests on a mineral bed of firm tannins. ($75)Blackbird Vineyards Merlot 2003

This stunning composition of strawberry, boysenberry, and dark chocolate from the Oak Knoll area of Napa Valley is gratifyingly rich and silky, spiced with candied ginger and espresso. ($80)

Camille Giroud Clos Vougeot 2003

Winemaker David Croix has remarked that, in the beginning, he and his staff referred to this enormous Pinot Noir as “port.” This superb vintage is characterized by unusually vibrant (for Burgundy) black fruit and cassis, brooding, earthy mushroom, and vanilla. ($127)

Pride Mountain Merlot Napa-Sonoma 2004

This exceptional red from the Spring Mountain region of Napa Valley gushes with black cherry, cassis, espresso, and deliciously exotic wood. ($56)

Roda 1 Reserva Rioja 2001

This succulent Rioja contrasts sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit with more pungent elements of grilled herbs and mineral. ($56)

{ White }

Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2004

This joyous white is a summer celebration in a bottle. Tropical scents precede a palate of honeydew melon, exotic blossoms, and fine acid. ($25)

Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Hochrain Wachau 2004

A masterfully racy wine, this Austrian gem is loaded with bright citrus and has a keen bite of spice on the finish. ($67)

Peter Michael Ma Belle-Fille Chardonnay 2004

This astounding white wine is as pure an expression of Chardonnay as one is likely to find. The blend of apple, pear, and fig fruit is glazed over with a subtly spiced coating of custard. ($150)

Staglin Chardonnay Rutherford 2004

Singularly fresh and inviting, this luscious white balances power and intensity of flavor with Burgundian elegance and finesse. The nose is tropical, redolent of banana and mango as well as honeysuckle, while on the palate, the dominant notes are of apple pie, lemon blossom, and vanilla. ($65)


When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s infallibly logical fictional detective lacked a criminal case to solve, he often resorted to another sort of solution—one containing 7 percent cocaine—to save his restless mind from boredom. These brain teasers, though harmless, will occupy and delight the cortices of equally inquisitive and intellectually inclined imbibers with their palatable paradoxes, mysterious flavor medleys, and surprise endings.{ Red }

Achaval-Ferrer Finca Altamira Malbec 2004

Lush and elegant, this iconic Malbec is a stunning mélange of earthiness, acidity, and soft tannins that exhibits complexity, power, and great definition. ($85)

Alion Cosecha 2001

Aged in new oak and made entirely of Tinto Fino, a variety of Tempranillo that has adapted to a harsher climate, this Spanish wine offers a powerful red berry aroma and scents of toasted bread and clay. ($75)

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Le Sol Syrah 2004

This New Zealand blockbuster lays dark blackberry fruit atop spicy licorice, pepper, and smoke. ($60)

Faiveley Clos des Cortons Faiveley 2003

Though somewhat atypical, the wine is nevertheless a sensual balance of richly dark, luscious black cherry fruit, dried meat, leather, and tobacco. ($167)

HdV Syrah 2004

This Syrah is a dark, smoky red with delicious aromas of blackberry, currant, and cedar seasoned with cinnamon, with a lingering lavender perfume. ($60)

Kaesler Old Bastard Barossa Valley Shiraz 2003

Dark and dense, this Barossa bursts with nearly perfect blackberry fruit, balanced acids, and gorgeous depth. ($135)

Luce della Vite 1999

Recently rereleased by the estate, this hugely tannic Tuscan has begun to reveal its beauty and complexity. With a nose of red berry, cherry, and menthol, it offers fresh, bright fruit and acid on the palate alongside piquant notes of cedar and cigar. ($80)

PreVail Back Forty 2003

Aromas rise from a glass of this deep purple wine like the scent of a cool blackberry patch in a summer forest. Black cherry also emerges, before a sip reveals the wine’s rich texture, dark fruit, and notes of mineral and mocha. ($80)

{ White }

Kolbenhof Gewürztraminer J. Hofstätter 2004

Honey and apple swirl about the palate of this playful Gewürztraminer. A tropical hint of pineapple also emerges before the honey-coated finish. ($40)Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Chardonnay 2004

The nose is ripe and redolent of sweet citrus, crisp pear, and apple, while the texture of the wine is thick, silky, and soft, sending waves of fruit across the palate. A rich, sense-enfolding white wine not to be missed. ($60)

Rudd Russian River Valley Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard 2004

Produced from Wente Chardonnay clones planted in the 1960s, this well-bred white shows its pedigree in every sip. Redolent of citrus blossoms and honeysuckle, the wine tastes of delicious pit fruits that complement a lean, mineral finish. ($60)


Few nobler gestures can be found than that of Sydney Carton, the reprobate barrister who, in the closing chapters of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, changes places with his rival and look-alike, Charles Darnay, on the scaffold of the guillotine in revolutionary Paris. Of course, even drunk with the heady spirit of the holidays, few of us today would take largesse to such an extreme as to literally stick our necks out for an adversary. However, this season, should we for any reason choose to do a “far, far better thing” than we have ever done, we could do no worse than to offer up one of these aristocratic wines.

{ Red }

Gaja Barbaresco 2001

This Piedmontese masterpiece is full of ripe red and black fruit with undercurrents of spice and dried meat. ($190)

Harlan Estate Proprietary Red 2002

Ink-black yet lit from its center by flashes of crimson, this exquisite wine breathes powerful berry perfume laced with violets, cassis, and candied plum. ($400)

Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia Masseto 2003

Quite simply one of the world’s great wines, this sensual Merlot from Bolgheri caresses the senses with berry aromas and sweet, spring-garden herbs. The texture is silky and pure. ($250)

Vega Sicilia único Ribera del Duero 1994

The silky texture of this Spanish legend belies its dense, sultry palate of intense, mouthwatering spice—a composition that explains why this is one of the world’s rarest wines. ($360)

{ White }

Château Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan Blanc 2002

Though powerful and complex, this Bordelaise white never loses its finesse or pure fruit, which gives way gradually on the palate to nuttiness and spice. ($225)

Domaine Romanée-Conti Montrachet 2002

If the Holy Grail of white wines exists, this Montrachet is surely it. A crystalline composition of extraordinary delicacy and strength, this opulent white from a stunning vintage layers lemon curd, tropical fruit, honeycomb, and gentle spice, one over the other, to form a sensory tissue as fine as gossamer. ($1,800)Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2002

The unctuous mouthfeel of this dry Burgundian white prepares the taste buds for crisp white peach and delicate orange essences that carry through the lengthy finish. ($360)

Pride Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay 2004

This Napa Valley white shows a leaner, more precise flavor profile than one commonly associates with Chardonnays from California. The flavors are dense—citrus, pit fruit, and mint—with a lean, mineral finish unhindered by heavy oak. ($37)


The three magi brought with them on their journey to Bethlehem gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts intended for a worldly king. Yet they possessed sufficient wisdom to recognize, as they arrived at the scene of the Nativity, that the sovereign they sought was of a different kind altogether. For the wise men—and women—in our lives who make a daily present to us of their understanding and insight, these special boxes, though rare, are but tokens of appreciation for favors far beyond price.

Cakebread Cellars Jack’s Collection

This complete horizontal from Cakebread Cellars’ own caves comprises six red wines from the extraordinary 2001 vintage selected by Jack Cakebread himself. Highlights include the 2001 Three Sisters, the Benchland Select, and the Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignons. ($775) (Click image to enlarge)

Far Niente Best Case Scenario Collector’s Case

This custom-made, hand-finished collector’s case is a collaboration between Napa Valley’s Far Niente and artist Thomas Arvid, best known for his acclaimed painting, Best Case Scenario, from which this unique gift takes its name. In addition to a signed, numbered, limited-edition giclée print of this painting (a serigraph sketch of which decorates the case’s inside lid), this unique package includes a six-bottle vertical of Far Niente’s 2001, 2002, and 2003 Cabernet Sauvignons. ($1,200)

Stags Leap District 10th-Anniversary Appellation Collection

The prestigious producers of the Stags Leap Winegrowers Association have, for 10 years, assembled a selection of their Cabernet Sauvignons in a single package to showcase for wine lovers the distinctive character of this small section of southeastern Napa Valley. In addition to an impressive roster that includes Cliff Lede, Clos du Val, Hartwell, Pine Ridge, and Shafer, this collection of primarily 2003 vintages also features two new producers: Griffin Vineyards and Taylor Family Vineyards. ($1,200)

Vérité La Joie Collector’s Vertical

Since the introduction of the 1998 vintage of Vérité in 2002, this “First Growth” Sonoma-Napa blend has captivated the palates of top wine collectors. Produced from Napa and Sonoma fruit, La Joie is a California wine in the style of Pauillac, according to French-born winemaker Pierre Seillan. Emphasizing Cabernet Sauvignon, each of these blends (vintages 1998 through 2003 are included) is characterized by intense fruit, strength of structure, and subtlety. ($750)

Vérité La Muse Collector’s Vertical

Whereas its sister wine contains larger percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon, La Muse, like the finest Pomerols from Bordeaux, enjoys a larger portion of the red fruit and smokiness of Merlot. This collection of six wines (including vintages 1998 through 2003) showcases the remarkable terroir of the Mayacamas Mountains, not to mention the talents of vigneron Pierre Seillan. ($750)


According to an 1892 article in New York’s Town Topics, “[When] Mrs. William turns on the entertainment faucet the opalescence is sure to be dazzling.” One menu, designed by her son-in-law, gourmet Sam Ward, consisted of 21 courses, including potage tortue verte à l’Anglaise, selle d’agneau de Central Park with mint sauce, roasted plover, timbales à la Milanese, and ris de veau à la Parisienne. This marathon meal (all consumed in less than three hours) underscores the 19th-century necessity of serving a suitably bracing reward—a tradition that, in the best households and restaurants, remains with us today.{ Red }

Dolce Late Harvest Napa Valley 2002

The perfect finale to a magnificent meal, the 2002 vintage is a richly textured wine that blends dried apricots, honey, custard, caramel, and spicy notes of sweet tobacco and exotic wood. ($80, 375 ml)

Dow’s Vintage Port 1994

This massive port has a full, mouth-coating texture that engulfs the taste buds. The flavors are a complex medley of candied grape, blackberry, dried cherry, violets, and hints of white pepper. ($104)

Leacock’s Bual Madeira 1966

With a radiant amber color, this vintage Madeira tastes of pure fruit, toasted rancio, honey, and spice. ($200)

Taylor Fladgate 2003 Vintage Port

Dark, elegant, and beautifully structured, this vintage port robes the mouth in rich folds of berry and spice. ($92)

{ White }

Avignonesi Vin Santo 1993

A thick, mouth-enveloping treat that combines caramel-covered apples, molasses, butterscotch, and honey. The texture of this amazing wine is nearly erotic. ($210, 375 ml)

Beringer Nightingale 2002

A delightful confection made from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, this delicious dessert wine is redolent with apricots, fresh honey, and creamy vanilla. ($40, 375 ml) (Click image to enlarge)

Castello di Pomino Vin Santo 2001

This beautiful amber-gold dessert wine from Tuscany gives off a nutty spice on the nose, while the palate shows dried berries, cherry, orange zest, honey, and a walnut finish reminiscent of sherry. ($40, 500 ml) 

Darioush Shahpar Late Harvest 2003

This limited-edition late-harvest blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon melts into pools of orange blossom, melon, honey, and apricot, before dissolving into a toasted-nut finish. ($48, 375 ml)

Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine Niagara Peninsula 2002

This sparkling dessert wine is decidedly creamy, with notes of honey, apricot, and lychee that make the palate tingle. ($90, 375 ml)Pedro Domecq Pieropan Recioto di Soave Classico Le Colombare 2001

This rare white is made from Garganega grapes and dried for several months before being pressed. The wine is sweet, creamy, and substantial. ($44, 500 ml)

Royal Tokaji True Essencia 1999

The dark, wood-finished color of this outstanding Hungarian classic belies the sweet lemon tea and apricot scents that greet the nose. The flavors are full and fruity, resplendent with marmalade, kiwi and apricot jams, and toffee. ($500, 500 ml)

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