Shoppers for wine and spirits during the holiday season are faced with an overwhelming selection. There are glittering displays of novelty bottles and collectible packages to consider amongst the jolly abundance of red, white and sparkling wines and merry miscellany of distilled spirits from around the world. In the coming weeks, liquor stores aren’t hospitable places for anyone shopping without a game plan in mind.
As the holiday season approaches, I am asked to suggest good red wines and whiskies more than anything else, so that’s the focus for this week’s recommendations. I took the liberty of adding a Champagne because it’s too delicious to wait and share with you for New Year’s Eve.
The red wines and whiskies offer a range of crowd-pleasing styles at a variety of prices, right up to the stratospheric price tag for the Glenfiddich Grand Yozakura, which was included because it is the highest rating I have given to a spirit this year. The others are creative and reliable bottles that are sure to be well-received as gifts or in a glass during the festive season.
Beronia Gran Reserva 2015 (Spain), $37.95
This is a nicely integrated tempranillo blend from Rioja with rich and complex flavours suggesting dark fruit with cedar, nutmeg and sandalwood notes. The plush and fruity flavours are balanced by the structure and character derived from more than two years aging in French oak barrels prior to bottling. This is a serious, harmonious red wine that overdelivers for its price. Drink now-2040. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in Alberta, $42.99 in Manitoba, $38.25 in Quebec.
Flowers Pinot Noir 2021 (United States), $69.95
Based in Healdsburg, Calf., Flowers is a name to know for top quality Sonoma County chardonnay and pinot noir. This 2021 pinot noir is a blend of grapes from various Sonoma Coast vineyards, including estate and independent vineyards. It’s made in a ripe and juicy style, with blueberry and cherry and some savoury and spice notes. The texture is silky, which carries through to a long finish. Drink now-2028. Available at the above price in Ontario, $79.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Luce 2020 (Italy), $125.95
Originally created as a joint venture between the Mondavi and Frescobaldi families, Luce can be counted on to be a sleek and stylish red wine from an estate vineyard in Montalcino, Tuscany. Independently operated by the Frescobaldis since 2004, the focus remains on blending sangiovese and merlot, with extended aging in French oak barrels. The 2020 vintage shows a ripe core of red fruit with earthy, tobacco and savoury notes as part of a nicely structured and age-worthy wine. Drink now-2040. Available at the above price in Ontario, $126.50, $145.99 in British Columbia, $126.50 in Quebec, $127.99 in New Brunswick.
The Balvenie 12 Year Old Doublewood Scotch Whisky (Great Britain), $140
Consistently once of the most approachable and enjoyable single malts on the market, Balvenie Doublewood is a rich and harmonious whisky aged in used bourbon barrels before being transferred for nine months to barrels formerly used to age oloroso sherry. The flavours are a satisfying mix of ripe and dried fruit with honey, spice and vanilla notes. Best enjoyed neat; a drop of water will bring out more nutty notes. Available at the above price in Ontario, $110.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $104.99 in Saskatchewan, $139.99 in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, S134 in Quebec, $134.09 in Newfoundland.
The Chocolate Block 2021 (South Africa), $41.95
Don’t let the name fool you into thinking this is a sweet and chocolate-flavoured red wine. Now in its 20th vintage, Chocolate Block has long been one of South Africa’s most successful red blends, based on syrah and other grapes grown in some of the best vineyards in Swartland. The 2021 offers impressive fragrance and flavours, including abundant dark fruit, floral and earthy notes. The style is robust, savoury and rewarding. It’s ready to drink now but has the structure to age if you have the patience. Vegan. Drink now-2035. Available at the above price in Ontario, $44.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $47.99 in Manitoba, $42.75 in Quebec, $42.99 in New Brunswick.
Glenfiddich 29 Year Old Grand Yozakura (Great Britain), $4,499.95
As the price suggests, this rare whisky is marketed as the height of luxury. Glenfiddich Grand Yozakura was matured in American and European oak for 29 years before spending six months in barrels used to age awamori, a rice spirit produced in Okinawa, Japan. The finished spirit shows remarkable fresh citrus and green melon notes alongside rich vanilla, marzipan and spice notes. The complex and refreshing character makes this stand out amongst the Glenfiddich range and is sure to please collectors. Others might consider the rich, flavourful and relatively affordable Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($105.99 in British Columbia, $119.99 in Manitoba, $120.95 in Ontario, $110.75 in Quebec, $120 in New Brunswick.) Available in Ontario.
Signal Hill Founders Select Overproof Whisky (Canada), $59.95
Blended and bottled in St. John’s, this limited release from Signal Hill has 56.3 per cent alcohol (compared to the 40 per cent in the classic label), which contributes to its richer and bolder character. Aged in a selection of used bourbon and Canadian whisky barrels as well as new white oak casks, this impressive whisky shows vanilla, fruit and spice notes, with a subtle warmth on the long, lingering finish. Best enjoyed with a few drops of water or with ice. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in Alberta, $59.99 in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.
Vilmart et Cie Grande Réserve 1er Cru Champagne (France), $80.95
Grande Réserve presents a rich and refreshing character based on a 70/30 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay from vineyards classified as premier cru sites in Champagne, with 10 months of barrel aging before secondary fermentation in the bottle. Complex toasty and nutty aromas and a mix of savoury and zesty flavours make this an appealingly flavourful sparkling wine with elegant acidity and a persistent finish. Drink now-2026. Available at the above price in Ontario, $68 in Quebec.