There’s no more appropriate time to say “drink something good” than during the holiday season. For many, myself included, we use the holidays to grant ourselves permission to spend a little more on that special bottle. After all, we’re drinking it with, or for, someone special: “here’s to being great friends," "Here’s to dad," "Here’s to a dynamite year at work," "Here’s to cultivating a remarkable family," Here’s to changing our perspective on failure, "Here’s to never settling for less than we can give, love, share or be.”
As we become more mindful of the reasons for the season, wine becomes more than just a beverage — it becomes ceremonial. Ultimately, it becomes the moment. Hence, why we need to treat ourselves and “drink something good.” Amen.
So, what to drink? I have compiled my holiday Top 10 list for 2017. Some are specific bottle recommendations, some are categories to explore and, lastly, I've included a few tips for gifting.
1. Hunnicutt Zinfandel Napa 2015 ($54): 100 percent old vine zin with production of only 10 Barrels and aging of 18 months in French and American oak. First planted in 1902, the Luvisi Vineyard in Calistoga produces a Zinfandel with structured layers of raspberry, blackberry, graham cracker and black pepper. This wines changed my perspective when it comes to Zinfandel.
2. Johnson Harris Cuvée Wentz Columbia Valley 2012 ($24): Eagles fans rejoice! A serious red blend (50 percent Merlot, 26 percent Syrah, 17 percent Cabernet Franc, 7 percent Cabernet Sauvignon) made by John Livingston in honor of our beloved quarterback, Carson Wentz. Loaded with dark red fruits and emblematic of Right Bank Bordeaux. You can find this selection at both Passion Vines locations.
3. Bodega Garzon Tannat Reserve 2015 ($19): No. 41 on WS Top 100. Tannat is the noble grape of Uruguay and nobody is crafting it better than Bodega Garzon. This wine will go quickly, due to its price-quality ratio and score, but be sure to check out Garzon’s full lineup. I promise you will see more from this winery in the years to come.
4. Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year: Could make for a great gift, but they go quickly! Many collectors and enthusiasts seek out wines from this list. Visit WineSpectator.com for a full list, and be sure to ask your local retailer what they have in stock. Check out Joe Canal of EHT or Super Liquors in Marmora.
5. Drink Small Grower Champagne: Brands such as Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon are top-of-mind for most people when thinking about Champagne. But, a growing category within Champagne is “small grower,” which are wines produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards. Examples: Agrapart, Marc Hebrart, Pierre Péters and Gonet Médeville. These are wines produced by small farmers and winemakers who employ the most natural methods to craft wine at the highest level of quality. Check out White Horse in Absecon.
6. Large Format Bottles: Large format consists of any bottle size over 750 milliliters. The holidays typically mean larger groups getting together, and opening (or gifting) a 1.5 L, 3 L or 5 L of wine is guaranteed to garner excitement and attention! Most stores don’t stock an extensive selection of (quality) large format bottles, but the holiday proves to be the exception. Seek and you shall find.
7. The Collector’s Choice: What do you get the girl or guy who has it all and possibly even collects wine? I like to ask the following question/s to a retailer: what do you have with some age (at least 10+ years)? What new producer is shaking things up in the wine world? What is an up-and-coming region getting noticed? Most aficionados, who love wine for the right reasons (yes, there are wrong reasons … another time!) will appreciate this thought-process more than, “just another expensive bottle…”.
8. Taylor Fladgate Port 2011 ($108): Port, a fortified wine made by adding a proportion of grape spirit or brandy during the production process, is a fantastic after-dinner selection. Vintage port, made in only the best years, is both rare and collectible. You can find this particular selection at Circle Liquor in Somers Point.
9. Gifting etiquette: As the story goes, you buy that special bottle for a friend, you walk into the party and the host places it on the counter amongst all the other wine. Shortly thereafter, the wine gets opened and devoured within minutes … and you’re left wondering, “do they know how much I spent?” In most instances, the recipient doesn’t know. My suggestion, ask your retailer to print out tasting notes that includes the price of the bottle. There’s still no guarantee, but at least you respectfully tried.
10. Restaurant wine list: There is no one more excited about wine than the wine director/sommelier at your favorite restaurant. This is the time of year when you should let them pick! Give them your price range, what you’re having for dinner and behold … chances are you may get something on the “secret wine list.” Shhh.
I want to thank you for following my column in 2017. It has been an absolute pleasure connecting with you here, in-store (at Passion Vines) and in the community. My hope is that you’ve learned a few things along the way and that you continue to challenge yourself and your pallet to “drink different.”
Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful Christmas and Holiday Season. Remember — “drink something good” tonight!