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An Odd Bacchus Gift Guide

1 December 2012

If you, like me, have only just begin to contemplate making your holiday shopping list — let alone actually buy anything — do not despair. If your circle of family and friends, like mine, contains quite a few drinkers, all you need to do is make one trip to your favorite local wine/spirits shop, with this list in hand.

I’ve suggested mostly regions or categories of wines and spirits, rather than specific brands, so that you’ll have a better chance of finding them. The links go to fascinating, beautifully composed blog posts with additional information:


(In no particular order)

1. If you’re buying a gift for someone who really knows their wine, someone you would like to impress, a Grower Champagne is an ideal choice. Produced (theoretically) by the people who grew the grapes in specific vineyards, this Champagne will likelier reflect its terroir more than a Champagne made by a négociant, which buys grapes from an array of vineyards in the Champagne region. A Grower Champagne will be indicated by “RM” (Récoltant Manipulant) on the label, usually in very small type, as opposed to “NM”, which stands for Négociant Manipulant.

2. One of the best white-wine values out there is Savennières, a Chenin Blanc produced in the Loire Valley. Haven’t heard of it? That’s one of the reasons it’s such an excellent value.

3. Another excellent white choice would be a wine from Pessac-Léognan, a sub-region of Graves, which is a sub-region of Bordeaux. “Pessac-Léognan” may not roll right off the tongue, but its luscious tropical flavors and voluptuous texture will thrill the palate. This was probably my favorite white I drank this year.

4. A less-expensive but still-delightful gift would be a Furmint from Hungary. I just had a very fine example a couple of nights ago at Big Jones, with up-front pear flavors followed by a spicy, almost fiery finish. It works beautifully with a range of foods, and typically doesn’t cost all that much. If you have a bigger budget, go for some Tokaji Aszu, the justly renowned Hungarian dessert wine (the more “Puttonyos,” the more concentrated the flavor).

5. One of my favorite odd red wines of the year was St. Laurent (pronounced “Sahnkt Lorent”) from Austria. This variety tends to make rather sexy wine, with dark red fruit, velvety tannins and a touch of earth.

6. Good wines from famed Tuscany tend to be rather expensive, but Morellino di Scansano has yet to be discovered. These Sangiovese-based wines from a corner of the nearby Maremma region tend to be better values than their Tuscan cousins. The one I tried had deep, enticing fruit and some real finesse.

7. I’ve had great experience with Massaya, a well-regarded winery in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Its wines made quite an impression on me, both red and white. If your wine shop carries vintages by Massaya, don’t pass them up.

8. For the spirit drinker, you can hardly go wrong with Ron Zacapa, a fine rum from Guatemala. Smooth and complex, this rum is made for sipping, not mixing with Coke. Go for as old a rum as you can afford.

9. If you don’t find Ron Zacapa, look for Flor de Caña instead. This Nicaraguan rum also impressed me with its refined character and rich flavors.

10. For the mixologist who has everything, seek out Crème Yvette. This floral, violet-based spirit  went out of fashion in the 1960s, and when it stopped being manufactured in 1969, it looked to be lost forever. But production was restarted in 2009, and once again, we can mix proper Aviations and Blue Moons. Not inexpensive at about $50, but sure to impress.

Happy Shopping!

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