I was thinking through what I'd tasted, and read, and heard about, and so on through the course of 2009, and it seemed like a good idea to recap a few highlights as possible gift ideas. After all, there's still time left—and even if the holiday season passes, why not give a few more gifts to people? The wine business—in fact, the entire U.S. economy—will thank you!
10. Evan Williams Three-Ounce Flask ($13.50) Long flight? The cagey folks at Evan Williams are there to keep you from having to drink rotgut from a cart; this stainless steel flask holds only three ounces, which makes it OK for airport security. You could fill it with, just on a whim, the latest release of Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon ($26), the lightly spicy, supple 2000 vintage. As usual, it's a great deal in a single-barrel Bourbon.
9. Wine from Italy's Lazio region I had the interesting pleasure of running a tasting recently of wines from Lazio, the region that surrounds Rome and is bordered by Umbria and Tuscany to the north. Lazio tends to get overlooked, because the vast majority of the wine it produces is utterly forgettable white Frascati that flows in a vast river into the glasses of Rome's countless trattorias. But there's a hidden realm of ambitious small producers in the region, making some fantastic wine. I'm particularly fond of the in-your-face fragrant 2008 Cantina Sant'Andrea Oppidum ($24, try contacting the importer), a dry Muscat that smells like a fistful of flowers and tastes of citrus fruit with a nut-skin edge, as well as the dark cherry-and-silk 2005 Damiano Ciolli Cirsium ($40, ditto), made from the local Cesanese grape variety. Cool wines. Unfortunately, both a bit hard to find.
8. Easier to find: The 2007 Twenty Bench Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($19, find this wine). This is a stupidly good deal in Napa Cab, so much so that when I used it in a blind tasting on the CBS Early Show the other morning, it bested a 2006 Bordeaux from a second-growth property (admittedly a bit unfair, as '06 Bordeaux aren't exactly user-friendly at the moment).
7. Even easier to find: The 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($16, find this wine) I don't know what sort of deal Jim & Bob Varner cut with the infernal forces to be able to keep producing such a good Chardonnay for such a modest price, but whatever it was, wine drinkers owe them some thanks.
6. The One wine glasses ($50 for four) Andrea Immer, Master Sommelier & general wine-authority-about-town, designed these glasses with the specific thought in mind that (a) you would only need one red and one white glass, and (b) you could dishwash the darn things without breaking them. I've tested them out; they work. Nice glassware is a good thing. Alternatively, you could buy someone the Riedel stems that I've always used as my go-to all-purpose glasses, the Riedel Vinum Chianti/Zinfandel glass (model 6416/15, about $40 for two). I know, doing this defeats the whole point of Riedel glasses, but hey, I'm a journalist, not a millionaire.
5. For Pinot Noir fanatics, winemaker Ross Cobb is making some of the best Sonoma Coast Pinot I came across all year. I didn't get a chance to write about them in the magazine, because they're small production and fairly expensive, but they're truly impressive wines. My favorite was his 2007 Cobb Coastlands Vineyard ($68), which had lovely floral and balsam aromas, gorgeous wild berry fruit with a hint of white pepper, an orange peel note to the acidity, and a taut, streamlined structure. Just terrific stuff. You have to sign up on the website to receive an allocation, but from what I can tell it's not sold out yet.
3. What the heck. While I'm at it, why not give someone a gift from the Food & Wine Wine Club.
2. The Macallan 57 Year Old ($15,000) OK, it's a little pricey. But I did get a chance to taste this stuff, and, whether it's worth fifteen grand or not, I can definitely say that it's truly gorgeous whisky. It isn't remotely dried out (a common problem with extremely old whiskies), gives off whiffs of caramel, sweet spice, tobacco and peat, and tastes of orange rind, spice drop, rancio, and dried fruits; it's tremendously complex and also lovely, with a rich viscosity. Plus, it's bottled in a fancy-pants Lalique decanter, of which there are exactly 400 total for the world. But, if you don't feel like trading your child's college fund for a bottle of hooch, you could instead pick up the nifty new half-bottle size Macallan 18 ($80), which is exactly the same Macallan 18 as in the traditional 750ml bottle (extremely good, in other words) but smaller. Really great stocking stuffer.
1. Champagne The Champenoise are having a tough time this season, people are holding onto their shekels & not shelling out for the pricey tête-de-cuvées they once did, but hey—as far as I know, no one is ever unhappy to be given Champagne. Why would they be? It's festive, it tastes great, it's fun, and even if you're one of the weird anti-fizz minority and don't like the stuff, it's eminently regiftable. There's plenty of good Champagne out there, but I'm particularly partial at the moment to the chalky, aromatic NV Henriot Blanc Souverain (about $50, find this wine), a graceful—and findable—blanc de blancs bottling not to be confused with the similarly named (and also quite good) Henriot Brut Souverain.
Our gift guide this year is organized around six of our favorite cookbooks of 2009, from Ad Hoc at Home to Down Home with the Neelys. Here are four more standouts for your holiday-shopping consideration.
1) A Boy After the Sea
To benefit a charity named for his son, Vancouver chef Kevin Snook has assembled mind-blowing seafood recipes from everyone from Alice Waters to Ann-Sophie Pic, all of them beautifully photographed, in the name of an extraordinary cause.
Great for: Aspiring chefs, seafood lovers, fathers and sons.
2) The Craft of Baking
Karen DeMasco has a magic touch with sugar, butter and flour, and now so can you.
Great for: Beginner bakers, advanced bakers, anyone likely to bake you something in the next year.
3) Growing Good Things To Eat in Texas
No recipes, just sweet, homespun profiles of Lone Star farmers by Pamela Walker (family to F&W's Ray Isle).
Great for: Farm lovers, CSA subscribers, Texans, Texan wannabes.
4) Appetite City
A sharp, funny and illustrated history of New York dining by William Grimes, former dining critic of the New York Times.
Great for: Big Apple lovers, history buffs, aspiring writers.
© North Wood Blanket Co.
Hooray! We've made it the twelfth and final bag in this holiday wine carrier spectacular! I've had a fun time tracking these things down, and it's been exciting to see the endless design possibilities for carrying a bottle of wine.
Which brings me to today's wine-bottle gift-bag: Ontario designer Lori Norwood of North Wood Blanket Co. repurposes the sleeves of old sweaters, turning them into vibrant, cozy, little wool bags that will hug your wine just like a sleeping bag.
Now, what to go in these bags? This time of year I gravitate toward Loire Valley Cabernet Franc for the herbal qualities it takes on—when it's good—and for the brambly berry notes it almost always has. Lately, I've been particularly into the rosemary-scented 2007 Charles Joguet Cuvée Terroir Chinon ($18, find this wine), perfect for holiday roasts and sipping by the fire.
© Container Store
What does this have to do with 12 Days of Wine Bags, you ask? Well, while sitting in the Breslin waiting for my friend, I was able to really investigate all of the little details of the place—including the excellent little red tartan plaid lampshades, which reminded me of these terrific plaid wine totes from the Container Store. Plaid seems to be a pretty big fashion fad these days, and these let you take your wine in style, too. I'm mostly opposed to paper and plastic bags but these are sturdy enough to be gifted and regifted over and over again. And for a mere $4 a pop, you can outfit all of your colleagues in the office with them.
Combine this bag with a bottle of crisp, peachy 2008 Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($12, find this wine) from American Wine Awards-winner Charles Smith and you have a slam dunk gift for under $30.
Snowflake Wine Cylinder by Roost