The ghosts of Christmases past live on in my wine cellar, cupboards and closet. There are all sorts of wine-related gadgets, decor pieces and apparel – corkscrew cufflinks, grape festooned ties and the like – that Santa and his elves saw fit to deliver as objects of affection.
It’s possible your intended recipient really longs for a T-shirt that broadcasts: “I NEED A HUGe glass of wine.” You know best. But I’d wager they’d also appreciate a thoughtfully selected bottle of Ken Forrester chenin blanc that costs about the same amount and won’t face scrutiny during a spring cleaning purge for whether it "sparks joy.” (The empty bottle will have long been returned for deposit by that point.)
Here is a range of current wine and spirit releases that stood out from the crowd as solid and interesting gift ideas, along with the latest edition of the wine bible for more scholarly wine connoisseurs.
Bearface One Eleven Series Oaxaca Release, $49.95
Canadian whisky regulations, which allow producers to blend 10 parts whisky with up to one part of another spirit, wine or sherry, inspired this innovative new label. Batch No. 1 is a smooth, spicy and smoky blend of single grain whisky with one part Oaxaca agave spirit, which is typically used to produce mezcal. The result is a mind-bending flavour profile that starts out like a conventional rye whisky before morphing into the earthy, smokey and peppery notes common to mezcal. The tail truly wags the dog here. Available at the above price in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.
Emiliana Coyam 2016, $29.95
The Coyam label has long been a favourite, one of the most impressive and expressive red blends coming out of Chile at any price. A blend of six varieties led by syrah, carménère and cabernet sauvignon, it offers an attractive mix of concentrated fruit and spicy complexity. It’s ready to drink now, but has the stuffing to develop nicely in the cellar over the next five to eight years. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $30 in Quebec, $35.82 in Nova Scotia.
Glenmorangie Original 10-Year-Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, $69.95
Glenmorangie delivers a mellow and delicate flavour, marked by orange, apricot and spice notes, that’s nicely integrated and crowd-pleasing. It lacks the complexity and intense flavours common in other popular brands, which is why I’m proposing it here. That straightforward freshness and purity of expression isn’t going to alienate or disappoint any Scotch lover on your list.
Available in Ontario at the above price, $67.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $69.48 in Manitoba, $61.99 in Nova Scotia, $69.58 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Ken Forrester Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2018, $17.95
The new vintage of Ken Forrester’s fresh and fruity old-vines chenin blanc is the perfect bottle to have on hand for entertaining or gift giving. Made from grapes grown on 38-year-old vines, with a portion fermented in barrel for added weight and complexity, this stylish white always makes an impression. At the winery recently, owner Ken Forrester was pouring the 2007 vintage to show how well this wine can develop in bottle. The flavours become richer, with more honey and dried fruit notes. I’ve never had the patience to wait.
Available in Ontario and Quebec at the above price, $21.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Kvas Fine Beverage Co. The Ultimate Kvas 4-Pack, $60
Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting Wayne Gretzky Estates winery and distillery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., has likely experienced the talents of Zac Kvas, the mixologist who leads the bar team and runs Kvas Fine Beverage Co. with his wife, Amy. The Niagara-based couple established their business with a range of simple syrups, which are made in small batches and come with recipes to empower customers to make exceptional cocktails at home. I’m partial to the Northern Maple Old Fashioned Syrup, which offers a balanced mix of maple, hickory smoke and spice that really dresses up a shot of bourbon or rye. Kvas also recommends adding an ounce to your coffee or espresso, which sounds like a luxury to be enjoyed over the holidays.
Individual 360-millilitre bottles sell for $17 each. A four-pack of the range of simple syrups is available, including the old-fashioned syrup along with their cherry hibiscus, ginger wildflower and lavender jasmine products for $60, which includes free shipping. Products are available online at kvasfbco.com
Grand Marnier Cuvée Louis-Alexandre Liqueur, $89.95
This rich and warming spirit, which blends 82-per-cent VSOP cognac and 18-per-cent bitter, aromatic bigaradia orange liqueur, is named after Grand Marnier founder Louis-Alexandre Marnier. Rich and smooth, the palate offers notes of candied orange, vanilla and zesty citrus that call to mind chocolate orange Christmas confections.
Available in Ontario at the above price, $79.99 in British Columbia, $85.48 in Manitoba.
Hennessy VSOP Privilège Cognac, $107.05
By special order of the Prince of Wales, Hennessy created the “very special old pale” category in 1818. Since then, this complex and spicy spirit has been best enjoyed served neat or on the rocks. It’s the quintessential meditative spirit to sip at the end of a meal or unwind near the fire (or screen broadcasting the traditional fireplace channel, as the case may be).
Available at the above price in Ontario, $99.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $104.04 in Manitoba, $82.76 in Nova Scotia, $104.98 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
It’s worth noting some retailers still have inventory of the special Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 3 ($180.70 in Ontario and Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec), a limited-edition release that blends 20 cognacs that are a minimum of seven years old into a silky smooth and fruity spirit that can be served over ice or even in cocktails.
The World Atlas of Wine, 8th edition, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, $70
Along with the Oxford Companion to Wine, this remains the essential reference book for students and connoisseurs. Since its debut in 1971, the atlas has expanded to a 416-page tome that is thoughtfully illustrated with enhanced photography and detailed maps, including some that show the influence of geographical features, such as mountains, oceans and wind currents. Canada is given more exposure thanks to a new feature page on the wines of British Columbia (alongside one on Ontario’s industry with revised information from its seventh-edition entry), which should do wonders for the reputation of domestic wines internationally. The world of wine is evolving rapidly, which makes the new atlas a useful tool to navigate the changes afoot in wine styles, farming techniques and trends. As co-author Jancis Robinson notes in her introduction: “I can report that this particular universe is in greater flux than I have ever known it during my 44 years writing about wine. This makes it extremely exciting to be presenting a geographical audit of this melting pot of cultures, natural phenomena, and, above all, wildly varying ambitions.”
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