Spirits and Wine: A 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

Nothing says “happy holidays” like a festive bottle or two

What do you get the person who has everything? Wine or spirits!

If you’re not sure what to get someone as a gift this year, consider a good bottle of wine or spirits —‚ always in season. Anyone who drinks alcohol will certainly appreciate a well-chosen bottle to enjoy, be it alone or with friends (my hope is that it’s with you). 

Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Rosé Champagne 2004 ($300)

This 55–45 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir was fermented in stainless steel tanks, with six years of bottle aging after dosage. The moment you pour this wine, the beautiful color just radiates from your glass. Wild strawberry and rose petal aromas lead the charge on the beautiful nose. Hints of crème fraîche are present, too. The palate is intensely layered with wave after wave of gentle red fruit flavors and subtle spice. Bits of cherry emerge on the colossally long finish alongside biscuit and brioche characteristics. Good luck attempting to stop drinking this absolutely fantastic Champagne. From the stunning packaging to the remarkable wine, this is a complete knockout. If you buy this for someone, they’re sure to know you really like them.

Frapin VIP XO Cognac ($199.99)

Frapin is unique because they harvest their grapes a bit earlier than other producers,to maintain higher levels of acidity in the grape. They also only employ only natural fertilizers such as manure, mulch, etc., to ensure a pure product, as they bottle all their cognacs without filtering. As far as the result is concerned, the color brings to mind a 40-year-old tawny Port; aromas consist of roasted peaches and the nose is filled with an undercurrent of gentle spices. When sipping, apricot and stone fruits dominate the palate, which is incredibly light on the tongue, yet features layers of gentle complexity. On the back of the palate, a hint of chocolate emerges while chamomile tea and a bit of honey lead the finish, which warms the back of the throat with a touch of heat and lingering spices. If there is a cognac lover on your list who you want to treat, this is the gift for them. Everything, from the physical presentation to the elegance in flavor profile, is part of a well-constructed story.

Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque Champagne 2006 ($150)

Almond and lemon zest aromas light up the gorgeous nose of this Champagne. Plenty of fresh yellow fruit flavors appear on the palate along with brioche notes. The finish just goes on and on with bits of crème fraîche and yeast in play as well as a tiny bit of spice. This is a stunning example of vintage Champagne with grace, depth, and precision. It’s delicious now, but will improve for a decade and drink well through 2030 at minimum. 

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($150)

This is the wine's 30th anniversary. It’s mostly cabernet (89 percent) with cabernet franc (8 percent) and petit verdot (3 percent) blended in. All of the fruit is from the winery's St. Helena estate in northern Napa Valley. Less than 4,000 cases were produced. Red fruit and eucalyptus aromas are supported by bits of cigar box. The red fruit characteristics continue on the palate, which is rich and layered but proportionate and gentle in the way it doles out each successive layer. Black olives, minerals, leather, and wisps of earth appear on the impressively lengthy finish, and there is extraordinary depth and persistence. In short, this is old-school Napa Valley estate cabernet sauvignon at its best. It’s going to improve over the next five to eight years, but it’s quite delicious now. It’s known as one of the benchmark cabernets of Napa Valley and it deserves that reputation.

Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($125)

All of the fruit in this wine came from the Puento Alto Vineyard in the Upper Maipo region of Chile. This vintage is composed of 97 percent cabernet sauvignon with a touch of cabernet franc. It spent 15 months in new (76 percent) and used (24 percent) French oak. This wine has long been the standard-bearer of top-shelf Chilean cabernet. When you pour it, the dark-as-night color beams from the glass. Black cherry and vanilla aromas jump from the nose along with supporting bits of toast. The 2010 vintage is concentrated; tons of black and red fruits are present. Cherry characteristics though continue to rule the day. The finish has a velvety edge with crushed red and black fruit, dusty dark chocolate, chicory, and earth. Year after year, this wine continues to be one of the best examples of cabernet sauvignon in the world. A couple of decades ago, Don Melchor put Chile on the premium wine map, and this vintage continues that greatness.

Pina Napa Valley Ames Vineyard, Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($85)

This is a single-vineyard effort from a property on the east side of the Silverado Trail. The Pina Family has been tending vineyard land in Napa Valley for more than 150 years and producing wines commercially since the mid-1980s. Dark berry aromas, toasty oak, and vanilla are all present on the nose. The palate is studded with black cherry, blackberry, and boysenberry elements. Cinnamon and black pepper spices are present as well. Chocolate-covered black cherry flavors appear on the long, firm finish, along with minerals and roasted espresso bean. The tannins here are tight and gripping. If you’re going to drink this now, decant it for 90 minutes and it’ll reveal all of its charms. Otherwise, lay it down for six to eight years and drink it in the five after that.

Aberlour A’bunadh ($81.99)

Each batch of this release is unique. Made in tribute to Aberlour’s founder, A’bunadh is produced using traditional methods, eschewing more modern techniques. It’s bottled at cask strength, meaning the proof at which it emerges from the still (most whiskys are diluted with water to a consistent level). A’bunadh has a rich mahogany hue. A bit of welcoming heat emerges from the nose and brings a whiff of molasses with it. The flavors are somewhat fiery and bold with intense precision. Caramel, toasted hazelnut, dried fig, and date characteristics are all present here. The finish is long and unrelenting, with hints of fudge and continued dried fruit flavors as well as a host of spices. A’bunadh is a concentrated scotch that demands attention once you taste it. Not for the meek, but if someone on your gift list loves cask-strength single malts, this is an excellent example. Its time in Sherry casks has added additional complexity and really turns this into an impressive expression.

Benziger Tribute 2011 ($80)

This Bordeaux-inspired blend is composed largely of cabernet sauvignon (65 percent), with dollops of merlot (10 percent), cabernet franc (10 percent), petit verdot (10 percent), and malbec (five percent). It comes entirely from a biodynamic-certified estate vineyard in Sonoma County. Ripe plum, blackberry, and violet aromas abound on the nose. Dried dark berry fruits accompanied by bits of kirsch liqueur fill out the sumptuous palate along with black tea. Continued rich, elegant, and well-proportioned dark fruit flavors continue through the finish along with earth and cocoa. This wine r has particularly impressive length, depth, and grace for a 2011. It’s delicious now but will age beautifully over the next dozen years.

Los Amantes Anejo Mezcal ($79.99)

Produced entirely from agave grown in Oaxaca, pit-smoked underground. After a triple distillation, aging took place over two years in a combination of French and American oak. The smoky nose shows off toasted barley aromas as well as an undercurrent of citrus. The palate here is sweet and intense with marzipan, candied fruit, caramel, toast, and lemon curd all present. The finish is long and even with elements of mesquite honey and bits of vanilla bean. There isn’t a hint of burn or harshness; this deeply layered mescal goes down easy.

Frapin VSOP Grande Champagne Cognac ($79.99)

For this cognac, ogni blanc grapes from the Charentes region go through a double distillation in copper stills and are aged in Limousin oak casks after fermenting with native yeasts. The deep golden hue of this cognac shimmers as you pour it into your glass, as light cinnamon and subtle yellow fruit aromas beckon you to sip. Dried fig and apricot flavors appear on the palate, dotted with accompanying spices and wisps of toasty oak. Nutmeg, cloves, toasted Brazil nut, and a bit of caramel are all present in this complex flavor profile. This elegant cognac impresses with every element.

GH Mumm Brut Rosé Champagne NV ($75)

This classic champagne combines pinot noir (60 percent), chardonnay (22 percent), and pinot meunier (18 percent). The brilliant Bing cherry hue looks marvelous in the glass. From the very first whiff, you get lots of controlled red fruit intensity. Cherry and strawberry are both in play from the first whiff through the palate. There’s a nice weight to the mouth feel, which also features a complement of spices. Bits of flaky biscuit and white pepper emerge on the above average finish. It’s crisp and refreshing, almost begging you back for another sip. Delicious on its own, it’ll pair with fairly substantial cuisine, too.

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014 Amontillado Edition Single Malt Scotch ($74.99)

Each year, Laphroaig releases a special limited edition offering. The 2014 edition was aged for eight years, first in bourbon barrels, then for a year in amontillado Sherry casks. This scotch opens with a classic smoky Laphroaig nose filled with mesquite aromas joined by toasted hazelnuts. The palate is stuffed with raisin, fruitcake spices, and mission fig. Marzipan, dark chocolate, lots of spice, and various dried brown fruits inform the long and impressive finish. The Sherry references are gloriously present from the first whiff through the long, lingering, sweet, and spice-laden finish. The 2014 Cairdeas is remarkably distinct from the main Laphroaig portfolio while retaining key characteristics. For fans, this is a must have.

Tinto Figuero Viñas Viejas 2009 ($68.99)

The tempranillo in this wine from Spain's Ribera del Duero came from vines with more than 50 years of age on them. From the first whiff, there is an elegant power to the wine. The nose is intense, with red and black fruit aromas wafting from it convincingly. The palate is laden with tons of ripe fruit. Black raspberry, cherry, and blackberry are present along with bits of sweet dark chocolate. Strong fruitiness continues on the long finish along with chicory and plum pudding spices. This is a delicious example of old-vine tempranillo with muscle, grace, and length.

Jameson 12-Year-Old Single Malt Whiskey ($50)

This 12-year-old whiskey was aged in a combination of bourbon barrels and oloroso sherry casks. Toasted almond and fresh wheat aromas billow from the nose. Apricot notes lead the light sweet palate, which glides along your taste buds; it’s also dotted with plenty of spice. Date and nutmeg characteristics emerge on the finish along with toasted walnut, barley and hints of light yeast. This is a remarkably smooth whiskey with no discernable burn of any kind. Jameson 12 is a very silky, mellifluous, easy-drinking, and complex whiskey for the price.

Perticaia Sagrantino di Montefalco 2009 ($47)

The sagrantino grape has been making a few ripples in the U.S. over the last seven or eight years. Which it should as it’s yet another example of a distinct Italian varietal. This particular offering has a big, booming nose loaded with dark and brooding fruits of various types. The palate is thickly layered with fruit and spice. Blackberries and cherries lead the way. Lots of earth, dusty dark chocolate, and plenty of spices emerge on the long and persistent finish. As is typical for sagrantino, the tannins are firm and gripping. If you’re going to drink this wine in its youth, decant it for a couple of hours. Alternatively, lay it down for 10–15 years. This will make a great gift for the wine lover on your list who likes to explore.

Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac ($45)

This was produced entirely from fruit sourced in the Grande Champagne region. Dried Calimyrna fig aromas come together with hints of baked plantain on the wonderfully inviting nose. Apricot, toasted nut, and fruitcake spices are all present on the palate, which is layered with intense flavors. Chamomile tea, raisins, toffee, a hint of creaminess, and just a touch of heat are all part of the remarkably long finish. This is a lot of cognac for the money.

Dry Creek Vineyard The Mariner Red Wine Blend 2011 ($45)

This Bordeaux-inspired wine is a blend of cabernet sauvignon (51 percent), merlot (30 percent), cabernet franc (10 percent), petit verdot (5 percent), and malbec (4 percent). It spent 20 months in French oak (40 percent new) prior to release. Black cherry, leather, and cigar box notes emerge from the nose. Dark fruits are in heavy evidence on the palate with black cherry and raspberry leading the charge. Boysenberry, dark chocolate, and wisps of ground espresso emerge on the substantial finish along with mineral characteristics and kirsch liqueur. This is a cohesive blend; the varietals come together and help form a whole that outshines the parts. Year after year, The Mariner is an impressive value in Bordeaux-inspired blends, and this example, coming from a tough vintage, is no exception. 

Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac ($43)

This offering has higher alcohol (45 percent) than others in the Ferrand portfolio. It is also the first Ferrand selection produced with cocktails in mind. A big, intense nose of fresh flowers and fruit aromas leads here. The palate has good weight with lots of fruit and spice in evidence. Its finish has good length and a nice bite to it. There is a bit of discernable heat which along with a final wallop of spices leaves the final lasting impression. While this is aimed at cocktails, I found it compelling to sip neat.

Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch ($39.99)

The house style at Auchentoshan includes triple distillation. This new offering was aged in American-oak bourbon casks. Rachel Barrie, the master blender, hand-selects the casks for this offering when they have achieved the desired taste and complexity. This single malt has a gorgeous golden hue that really radiates. Apricot, toast, fresh-cut wheat, and a hint of agave all emerge from the lovely nose. The palate has a honeyed edge with a hint of char to it. It’s layered and mellifluous with stone fruits, spice, and bits of toasted farro. The satisfying finish on this offering is long and spicy with touches of sweet oak, vanilla bean, and a bit of toffee. This is a fine new entry from Auchentoshan.

Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel Irish Whiskey ($35)

This newer release from Jameson combines Irish pot-still whiskey and small-batch grain whiskey aged in charred bourbon barrels. This whiskey has a darker hue than other selections in the Jameson portfolio. The nose is big, featuring toasted farro and bits of toffee. Dates and other sticky brown fruits fill the palate along with brown sugar references. Mission fig, spice, and toasted walnut characteristics are all in evidence on the pleasing finish. Black Barrel is a really easy-going whiskey that is very well-priced for the quality.

Henry’s Drive “H” Syrah 2012 ($27.99)

Only 3,000 cases of this syrah, from the up-and-coming Padthaway wine region in South Australia, were produced. Aged in new and used French and American oak, the wine shows oodles of blackberry and blueberry, filling the sumptuous palate, while blueberry aromas dominate the nose accompanied by a hint of Mexican vanilla bean and a touch of thyme. Other diverse flavor layers include bacon fat, chicory, chocolate sauce, and a cadre of spices concludes in the solid finish.  

Inconceivable Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2013 ($25)

The fruit for this 100-percent chardonnay was hand-harvested at Bien Nacido Vineyard and fermented entirely in French oak. The aromas include apple blossom and bits of mesquite honey. The palate is a delightful pure burst of orchard and tropical fruits along with hints of white peach and subtle baker’s spices; wisps of crème brûlée, minerals, and toast are present rounding out the finish. This is a fresh example of a chardonnay with terrific varietal character and oak.

Plantation Grande Reserve 5-Year-Old Rum ($21.99)

This offering hails from Barbados, where the rum is distilled before being shipped to France, where it’s aged in French oak. Banana and coconut aromas tinged with burnt sugar lead the nose of this offering. The palate is light-bodied but layered with tons of nuanced flavors. Date, mission fig, cardamom, cinnamon, and hints of milk chocolate are all in evidence on the solid finish along with bits of brown sugar. This is an excellent entry-level sipping rum for the money. Plantation’s 20th Anniversary Rum is one of the best out there at about twice the price; think of this as a junior version of that.

Luca Bosio Leda The Truffle Hunter Barbera d’Asti 2013 ($14.99)

25,000 cases of this 100-percent barbera were produced. The vines have an average of 25 years on them. Fermentation took place in stainless steel followed by six months of bottle aging prior to release. Violet and cherry aromas lead a big and somewhat boisterous nose. The palate is stuffed with tons of spice and easy-going, appealing red fruit flavors. Sour cherry, rhubarb, and gentle hints of cola appear on the generous finish. Supple tannins and firm acid provide great structure. This wine loves food. It would be an inspired pairing with Indian dishes. Good luck finding someone who doesn’t like this really appealing red wine. It’s got lots of fruit up front and plenty of depth to keep seasoned drinkers interested.