Gabe's View

Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

Gabe’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

Posted by Gabe on December 17, 2013

Christmas is just around the corner and if you’re like most Americans you still have plenty of shopping to do. Most of us have Wine & Spirits lovers on our list. So here are some killer Wine & Spirits selections in a variety of price points to make those on your list happy and keep them warm. And if by some chance all your shopping is done pick some of these up for your Holiday table, your taste buds will thank you!

Wines:

Agricole Vallone – 2007 Vigna Flaminio Brindisi Riserva. This Italian wine was made from Negroamaro (80%) and Montepulciano (20%). The fruit for this wine was sourced on the winery’s own estate. Aging started in stainless steel tanks followed by large Slavonian oak casks for about 7 months. 12 months in concrete tanks followed and finally 6 months in bottle prior to release. 1,500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Red plum and strawberry aromas fill the nose of this wine along with pepper spice. The palate has warming red fruit flavors such as cherry and red raspberry as well as continued plum. A hint of cinnamon, cardamom and pepper are all part of the above average finish along with a bit of espresso. Firm acidity and gentle tannins provide nice structure. This wine screams out to be paired with a nice meal. Thankfully it’ll work with a wide array of foods such as classic roast chicken, pot roast, pasta with red sauce, a cheese and charcuterie plate or more. At under $20 this wine is an outstanding value. It’s priced for everyday drinking but tastes like a special occasion wine.

Dry Creek Vineyard – 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine was made using fruit sourced in Dry Creek Valley. In addition to Zinfandel (83%), there is some Petite Sirah (17%) blended in. The fruit comes from vines that are between 90 and 110 years old. Fermentation took place over 22 days in a temperature controlled environment. Barrel aging followed over the next 20 months in a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak. 28% of the barrels utilized were new. Just more than 3,200 cases were produced and this Zin has a suggested retail price of $30. The Petite Sirah in this wine makes its presence known from the first whiff where black plum and violet aromas are in evidence along with raspberry and a bit of vanilla. The palate is a horn-o-plenty of fresh berry fruit flavors. They’re abundant, succulent and incredibly varied. A core of spices is present as well and it dances merrily alongside all the fruit. Bits of blackberry and pepper emerge on the finish as well as a touch of rhubarb. This is a proportionate Zinfandel that is loaded with fruit without ever straying over the top, or even close to it. Fleshy fruits, medium tannins and a fine backbone of acidity all come together to make a fresh and desirable wine that will pair well with food. Year after year this wine is one of the best values in Zinfandel. It also happens to be continually made in the style that encourages pairing it with food. It will also drink well longer than the average Zin. It’s outstanding now but don’t hesitate to hold on to it over the next 7 or 8 years. Under proper storage conditions it’ll flourish. If you want to buy someone the most American of wines you aren’t going to do much better than this benchmark example of Zinfandel which comes from Dry Creek Valley, the effective home office of the varietal.

Swanson Vineyards – 2010 Oakville Merlot. This wine blends together Merlot (83%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), and Petit Verdot (2%). After Fermentation this wine was aged in an even split of French and American oak for 18 months. 33% of the barrels utilized were new. The Swanson Merlot is widely available nationwide and has a suggested retail price of $38. Black fruit aromas are joined by interspersing bits of red fruit on the nose of this Merlot. Cherry flavors dominate the palate with raspberry and plum playing a role here as well. The finish is substantial and memorable with loads of spice, chicory, and a hint of bittersweet chocolate. It shows off firm tannins and rock solid acidity. This wine is delicious now, particularly after being decanted for about an hour but will benefit from a couple of years of bottle age under proper conditions. I’ve been drinking the Swanson Merlots for over a decade now and I believe they really improve over the first 5 or 6 years in the bottle and drink well for another 6 or so after that. It’s always been a Cabernet lover’s Merlot with depth structure and the ability to age. This is as far away from stereotypical insipid Merlot as you’re going to get. Year after year the Swanson Merlot represents one of the best wines values in Napa Valley. If you want to drink killer Napa Merlot, or gift it to your friends, this is the one.

Rodney Strong – 2010 Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit for this wine comes exclusively from the Brothers Ridge Vineyard which sits in the northern half of Alexander Valley near Cloverdale. This single vineyard wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 4 select blocks. After fermentation this wine spent 21 months in French oak; 43% of the barrels were new. This small production wine has a suggested retail price of $75. Blueberry, black raspberry and green peppercorn aromas emerge from the nose of this Cabernet. The palate is loaded with ripe and ready fruit flavors such as blackberry and raspberry. Bits of vanilla bean are present as well. Espresso, earth, chocolate and wisps of minerals are present on the substantial finish. Firm, gripping tannins and solid acidity mark this Cabernet’s structure. It’s been about had a dozen years that Rodney Strong has been making a trio of super premium single vineyard Cabernets. These wines upped their game into a space that they didn’t previously inhibit with the rest of their portfolio. At $75 this wine is a very good value. Alexander Valley is a region with excellent Cabernet potential, which the folks at Rodney Strong fulfill with this wine. Since not as many consumers realize how awesome Alexander Valley Cab can be you can be the beneficiary. A Cabernet of the same quality from Napa would likely cost closer to $125. So if your gift giving list includes a Napa Cab lover, buy them this wine and you’ll be giving them two gifts, the wine itself and the eye opener into Alexander Valley Cabs. They will thank you profusely.

Spirits:

Auchentoshan – Classic Single Malt Scotch. This Scotch was triple distilled, which is their house methodology and aged entirely in Bourbon Casks. This offering is the entry level selection in the Auchentoshan portfolio and it has a suggested retail price of $30. There are hints of charred wood on the nose. Peach, apricot, Granny Smith Apple and spice are prevalent on the palate which is mid-range in terms of overall weight in the mouth. Continued spices are in evidence on the finish along with lemon zest and a gentle salinity. At less than $30 if you shop around this is an excellent value in Scotch. It’s an easy going Whisky which calls you back to the glass for sip after sip. Perfectly suited, style and price wise for everyday drinking. That said it has more than enough complexity to keep you interested.

Laphroaig – Triple Wood Scotch. This Scotch was created using a triple maturation process. It was aged in ex-bourbon barrels, quarter casks and Oloroso Sherry Casks. This is a seasonal expression available in limited quantities that won’t be on the shelf too long. It’s available in select shops around the United States and has a suggested retail price of $59.99. This Scotch has a beautiful light copper hue that stands out when poured. Aromas of toasted macadamia nut, Lychee fruit and apricot are all present in the effusive nose. The palate here is loaded with fruitcake spices, dried yellow peach and interspersed bits of char. Oatmeal characteristics lead the finish which also shows off a lovely bit of brine that interlocks with caramel and molasses. This is a gorgeous Scotch that shows off the trademark peat that Laphroaig is known for in a gentle and even handed manner. Other expressions in their portfolio lean heavier on the peat. So if you like a dollop of it but don’t want to go all in on Smoky and Peaty Scotch yet, this could be the Laphroaig for you. It’s a distinct expression in their range that is well worth exploring or gifting.

The Irishman – 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky. The Irishman was founded in 1999 by the Walsh family. Their family has been involved in Whisky production for well over 100 years. This Whisky was aged over 12 years in entirely first time used Bourbon barrels. This Whisky is non chill filtered and limited to only 6,000 numbered bottles per year. It has suggested retail price of $65. The toasty char from the Bourbon casks is prominent on the nose along with some spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, as well as a gentle wisp of allspice. Apple, rye , and oat characteristics are in strong evidence throughout the robust and full flavored palate which has bracing depth and complexity. The toasty notes circle back in on the finish along with a bit of dusty dark chocolate and continuing reverberations of spice. This is a beautiful Irish Whisky with  lovely and notable complexity.

Gosling’s Family Reserve – Old Rum. This rum is aged for an extended period in barrels. Every bottle is hand numbered and wax sealed. Unlike several of their other releases which are made in large quantities, the Old Rum is made in limited amounts. It sells at select shops for around $80. The hue of this rum is dark and it is opaque. Bits of cinnamon and anise emerge from the deep, dark nose of this rum. From the very first sip a cornucopia of flavors emerge. Plum pudding spices, molasses and hints of mesquite honey are all in evidence. As you sip it, layer after layer of gorgeous flavors emerge and envelop your senses. Bits of burnt sugar and chocolate sauce are part of the finish which has tremendous depth, length and persistence. It’s thick, dense and meant to be contemplated. Gosling’s Old Rum is a gorgeous offering that should be savored. If you want to make a rum cocktail, pull something else off the shelf, this one is meant to be enjoyed straight. If you have a Rum lover on your gift list this one will knock them out. The Rum itself is certainly enough, but it’s also beautifully packaged and comes in a wooden box with a sliding cover, making it a lovely presentation as well.

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