by Michael Pinkus
IN THE IMMORTAL WORDS of Matthew McConaughey, “Alright. Alright. Alright.” My column dedicated to great gift ideas to give and receive went over so well last year, the folks here at LUXE have asked me to come up with another list of the wines, spirits and bubbles worth the same treatment. So here we go, it’s a little longer than last year, but you deserve it… I mean your friends deserve it, yeah that’s the ticket.
Let’s start right off the top with the big gun—sparkling wine—the reason everyone with any sense gets up in the morning. Many will say it’s coffee, maybe even tea, or those Kombucha drinks everyone is ga-ga over, but seriously, if it was readily available and socially acceptable we’d all start the day with a glass of Champagne (or two) and that would make every day just a little bit brighter.
Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut ($87.95; #384529) continues to be my bubbly of choice in the Champagne department, and it’s 007’s too. Elegant and always a treat, it’s one of those bubbles that’ll just put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. Love Champagne but still want a bargain? The Gardet Cuvee Saint Flavy Tradition Champagne ($43.95; #924654) is the budget conscious alternative without sacrificing any of that Champagne cache, or quality; I’m a big fan of this bubble and you will be too.
Looking to stay local in your bubbly ways? Look no further than two long-time producers in Ontario who have consistently nailed traditional method bubbles year-in and year-out: Trius Brut ($29.95; #284539) delivers time and time again. This multi-award-winning sparkling has won on many continents at many awards competitions and continues to be a flag bearer for Canadian bubbles—for those guests expecting the high-priced spread, hide the label and they’ll never know the difference. Another of my Ontario go-to fizzes is Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Rosé Brut ($32.95; #217505). I never seem to tire of having this one on hand and never hesitate to pour it. I have that much confidence in it. It does not disappoint, nor does it embarrass, and it’s pink, so it puts everyone in a good mood.
My final fizzy recommendation is an annual favourite—I currently have 20 bottles of this in my cellar and never fail to have less than a case kicking around (I won’t let myself get that low)—the Cono Sur Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé ($13.95; #365205). Another bubble that also never fails to impress and continues to be one of the most consistent budget-friendly bottles of bubbly on the LCBO shelves. Don’t let the price fool you, this sparkler delivers time and time again, and when this goes on for a couple of bucks off (twice a year) that’s the time when you’ll really want to stock up… they say you can’t have bubbles every day, with this one on hand you darn near could.
Over the course of the year I meet quite a few people who drink only white wine. Sadly, as Canadians we leave white wine behind during the colder months, in favour of those cockle-warming reds. But there are a couple I’ll recommend here if you’re in a white frame of mind or have someone on your list that needs pale liquid in their glass. Re-experience summer with the delightful Left Field Sauvignon Blanc from Te Awa ($20; #487496) both for its goofy label and the sunshine-kinda wine inside. It’s my house white and never fails to make us feel it’s sunny inside no matter what the temperature is outside.
Chardonnay seems to be available everywhere, but stock up on one of Ontario’s best value Chardonnays: Flat Rock Cellars 2017 Chardonnay ($19.95; #286278). Now that they are under the watchful eye of 25-plus year veteran of Ontario winemaking Dave Sheppard—maybe not a guy you’ve heard of but you’re gonna love the wines he’s making—pair it up with his Flat Rock Cellars 2017 Pinot Noir ($21.95; #1545) and you have a one-two punch that’ll be hard to beat. Buy them as a set for your “Burgundy” loving friends and get some for yourself while you’re at it.
TIME FOR THE RED STUFF
There are plenty of red wines out there I can recommend, some really high-priced, some mid-priced and some bargains. I’m going to recommend four here, one in each category and then a little something extra—your job is to go out and find them based on your price-point and likes.
My top-tier selection comes from a producer in Vento, Italy, and I am sure you have seen their wines on LCBO shelves regularly: Masi. Many think they only make wine in large batches, but their small batch stuff is really something to behold. They are “boutique” wines worth searching out, like their single vineyard Amarone output: 2012 Campolongo di Torbe Amarone della Valpolicella Classico ($129.95; #548677). Rich of fruit, great age-ability for 20-plus years or more, always a robust selection that just makes drinking wine worthwhile… it’s one for during or even after dinner with strong cheese or dark chocolate. This really is a bottle for gifting to that someone special or pour to impress.
Dropping down a step on price (never quality) I have to recommend the Montes 2016 Purple Angel ($62.95; #62364). It’s a wine made from the long-lost grape of Bordeaux (Carmenere) that was found in their fields and resurrected by the Chileans. Not often is it made at such a high level and with such finesse—not all Carmenere is made of this caliber, but if you’re going to get a wine to impress from a grape that doesn’t always, this is your wine.
My next offering drops down in price again, quite a bit, but this year it was one of the most rewarding Napa Cabernets I tried that didn’t totally break the bank or cost both an arm and a leg. It still offered complexity and layering from Napa without being too jammy and weighted down by its own fruit: Wente 2016 Wetmore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.95; #963397). As an added bonus, for you Chardonnay fans the current vintage of the Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay ($19.95; #175430) on the general list, is pretty amazing wine too and one of their best Chardonnays under this label in quite some time. Pick up both and this would also make an excellent gift pack for someone.
Finally, for those looking for a Rhone Valley (France) red that kicks some serious ass for under $20 try the Les Celliers des Princes 2016 La Couronne du Prince ($19.95; #010340). It’s not a wine designed to overwhelm you, instead it sneaks up sip after sip and shows off what a well-structured value-priced wine is all about. You’ll wanna keep this one for yourself. Call it a perk for going out and doing the shopping.
Last year I did not really include things for the cocktail hour, or the post dinner celebration past a little sherry or port. While the LCBO did release a pre-aged (circa 2006) port from Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha ($54.95; #189605) that was truly amazing without the need to have it sit in your cellar for 13 years, I’m talking about some spirits I tried this year that really got me thinking and re-thinking my stance on whisky/whiskey. As in, I was positive I did not like the stuff, but now I can’t totally say that with the fierce honesty I once did.
It started earlier in the year with a Dead Rabbit, the Dead Rabbit Irish Whisky ($49.50; #631887) which I found smooth and appealing. I was then wooed by a three-whisky tasting by JP Wiser and their hockey alumni series—I found I leaned more towards the Larry Robinson version ($44.95; #10568) but there was also a Darryl Sittler and Paul Coffey each with their own flavour profile. It would be nice to grab all three and do your own tasting. Finally, there was a bottle from the east coast, Signal Hill Canadian Whisky ($39.95; #572552) that I would not trade for love or money—it was just that good. And remember, I don’t like whisky, or at least I didn’t… so that is saying something.
There you have it, a list of readily available gift (or get) ideas for those on your list looking for wine and spirits. You just need to decide what you’ll get to give, get to keep or… both?