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7 ideal holiday gift wines

December 17, 2011, 12:52 AM UTC

By Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth

When choosing wine as a gift, there are many considerations that you need to take into account. Is the region famous enough? Did it have a great vintage? Is the producer well known for delivering great wine? Will people realize how much I spend when they see the name? Does the package look fancy and expensive?

Another option is to simply buy wines that over-perform. Wines that will make their recipients stop to look at the label after their first sip. Wines that make people say, “Wow that’s really good.”

That’s the approach I take when choosing wine gifts, and this list brings together some of my favorite wines for gifting today. These are wines that you can drink now or put in the cellar, so you don’t have to worry when they’ll be opened. You’ll just have to be comfortable knowing that when the corks are finally popped, you’re going to make some people very, very happy.

2009 Christian Moreau Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons – $40

Great Chablis is like no other Chardonnay. It’s at once rich yet light, with layers of fruit and mineral flavors that refresh the palate and whet the appetite. Most of the finest Chablis producers have realized that they can charge obscene amounts for recent vintages, but Christian Moreau continues to hold the line. This is a dynamite Chablis, rich and exciting to drink with good short-term aging potential. It’s delicious even today, with powerful citrus and tropical fruit tones cut by classic Chablis minerality.

2006 Selvapiana Bucerchiale Chianti Rufina Riserva – $35

People don’t often think much of Chianti, but Chianti Reserva is a different story. And when it’s as good as this Selvapiana, it’s in a completely different world. This is not your typical Chianti, it’s not even your typical Chianti Reserva. It’s a pure and elegant expression of the Sangiovese grape that loses none of its inherent beauty, yet it is made with the texture and finesse of fine Burgundy.

Bright with cherry and raspberry fruit and touched with a hint of wood spice along with the mineral and herbal nuances that Sangiovese is known for, this is just a remarkable wine. Complex and long, it is already drinking well, but can improve with several more years in the bottle.

2009 Thomas Fogarty Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir – $25

Sometimes a wine comes along that changes the way you think about fermented grapes altogether. Such is the case with this bottling from Thomas Fogarty. Great Pinot Noir has a delicacy and finesse that is unrivaled. It is able to capture the terroir, the taste of the earth, in which it is produced like few other grapes. Bringing all this together in the New World , at an affordable price no less, has been a challenge.

This Pinot Noir offers rich, ripe red and black raspberry fruit and a firm, sinewy structure that is characteristic of wine from the Santa Cruz Mountains. For lovers of Pinot Noir, especially from Santa Barbara, the Russian River Valley, and Oregon, this wine is an eye-opener.

2007 Hidden Ridge 55% Slope Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon – $40

Cabernet is Cabernet right? Especially at $40. Wrong. If you’re looking for a distinctive Cabernet that combines the structure of mountain fruit with rich, dark berries and wraps it all up with well-judged oak, this wine is for you. 2007 was a stunning vintage in California’s northern wine reaches, with small berries packed with everything you need to make profound wine. Tremendously complex on the nose, with leather and tobacco accents that meld into the creamy core of dark cherry fruit before finishing with depth and length, this wine pretty much blows away the competition at this price. Buy some for gifts, but don’t forget some for yourself.

2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial – $30

Rioja generally has three official classifications that identify the quality and aging process of their wines. Every so often, a vintage comes along that is so good that producers reach for yet another way to let their customers know of its exceptional quality. In these rare cases, they use the term “Reserva Especial.”

2001 was an exceptional vintage, and after many years of aging, La Rioja Alta released its 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial. It was worth the wait. This is an absolutely gorgeous bottle of wine with rich fruit, a silky texture, and lovely integrated spice tones from extended aging in oak barrels. This wine is resting in my cellar and, at this price, it’s a value that simply cannot be beat.

La Follete Manchester Ridge Chardonnay – $45

If you’ve ever had to buy a gift for a couple and one half of said couple claims to dislike Chardonnay, this bottle could be your solution. Greg La Follette has had a storied career creating many renowned wines in California. His current project, the eponymous La Follette, has given him the opportunity to take everything he has learned in his decades of winemaking and produce wines that he likes. These are not your typical wines. In many cases, they show more similarity with Burgundy than Californian wines, which holds true with the Manchester Ridge Chardonnay. Born from fruit that enjoyed a long, cool growing season 2,000 feet above sea level in Mendocino County, this Chardonnay is light and elegant, ripe and even a bit creamy, but crisp with green apple and tart pineapple fruit. As good as it gets in California.

2009 Huet Vouvray Le Mont Premier Trie Moelleux – $65

I’m often asked to recommend wines, and it seems that one of their favorite questions is, “What is the best wine in the world?” There are, of course, infinite answers to that question, but one of the best wines in the world, and certainly one of the greatest wine values on the planet, has to be the wine coming from Huet. Made from Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley, Huet produces a full range of Vouvray, from bone dry to unctuously sweet as well a superb value sparkler, though the sweet wines are what Huet is best known for.

These are wines that are nearly immortal, though not in the sense that they last but because they endure, gaining unbeatable complexity and depth with age. This Vouvray, a selection from a specific vineyard, is packed with sweet yet vibrant fruit and accented with sweet almond and vanilla tones. It’s fabulous today but will reach its peak when our grandchildren start drinking.