A last-minute gift that's always welcome is a bottle of wine. But hold it right there, don't reach for the Charles Shaw or a generic California Cabernet. Put some thought into which bottle to give which person with the help of this guide, or your knowledgeable local wine merchant. If you've waited this long to run out and buy gifts, you'll want to do some one-stop shopping. I'm not talking big box store, but your charming well-stocked local wine shop. Look it up, if you don't know where to go. Find a friendly wine clerk and unload your list. The shop is sure to have something for every potential giftee, whether it's a grower Champagne, an American vermouth, a buttery Chardonnay or an obscure Italian varietal. Even a bottle of old Armagnac.
For the friend who bought that winning lottery ticket, a Syrah from Sine Qua Non
Manfred Krankl hit it out of the park with his first wine release and a whopping Robert Parker score. And each year and each release, the scores — and the demand — for his handcrafted wines stay right up there. Most of the bottles go to wine lovers who have been on the list since the beginning. A few make their way into shops and restaurant wine lists. Looking on winesearcher.com, it’s possible to find a number of vintages, with prices running from around $200 for 2006 Sine Quan Non Raven Syrah all the way up to $8,495 for a magnum of 2002 Sine Qua Non “Just For The Love Of It” Syrah. The labels, all designed by Krankl, are different each year. So are the names. True collectors’ items.
For the friend taking tango lessons, a gutsy Malbec from Argentina: 2011 Luca Malbec Uco Valley
Rich and full-bodied, this Malbec comes from older vines and was aged in French oak. Lovely dark berries, black cherries, chocolate and tobacco scents lead the way to this dense, lush red from Mendoza. A great wine to have with grilled steaks or chops, with a daube or stew. Not shy, this bottle needs bold flavors to stand up to it.
For the friend who can’t wait to go back to Italy, a bottle from Barolo country: 2010 Vietti Nebbiolo “Perbacco”
A youthful cousin of Barolo, Vietti’s Nebiolo “Perbacco” is made with the same grape from nearby vineyards — and from vines averaging 35 years old. So this isn’t exactly young vines, but a wonderfully structured, delicious Nebbiolo that doesn’t need the excuse of a big occasion to pop the cork. Actually, this wine has the same vinification and aging as Vietti’s Barolo Castiglione, so it’s a real bargain at $30 and under.
For the friend who is deep into organic, an Austrian white from an estate that’s been organic for, oh, a couple thousand years: 2011 Nikolaihof Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner Wachau
Think organic or biodynamic wines are new? Meet the Nikolaihof estate in the Wachau region of Austria, where wine has been made — organically — for close to 2,000 years. The Nikolaihof family are so committed that they only serve organic food at their farm restaurant on the property. The Wachau region, an hour’s drive from Vienna, is known for its Grüner Veltliner and Nikolaihof produces some of the best. This 2011 Hefeabzug (aged on the lees) is crisp and refreshing, mineral-driven and with the characteristic aromas of green apple and white pepper.
For the friend who considers herself a Pinot head, a great example from the Willamette Valley: 2010 J. Christopher Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
Founded by guitarist Jay Somers, J. Christopher really found its focus when Somers brought in German winemaker Ernie Loosen as partner a few years ago. This 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot made from grapes grown in four of the Willamette Valley’s AVAs -- Dundee Hills, Chehalem Mountains, Yamhill-Carlton and Eola-Amity Hills -- is everything you could wish. Silky and nuanced, it tastes of plums, blueberries and forest, an elegant expression of Oregon Pinot Noir. Keep an eye out for the winery’s more expensive single vineyard bottlings, too.
For the Rhone wine buff who hangs out at Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris, a stunning Roussanne from
Santa Ynez Valley: 2010 Stolpman Vineyards L’Avion Roussanne Santa Ynez Valley
Stolpman’s Syrahs tend to get most of the attention, but I’m more impressed with the Roussanne called L’Avion made by the renowned Sashi Moorman. Fermented in big French oak casks and aged on its lees for over a year, the 2010 L’Avion is rich and complex with scents of honey and jasmine. This is a gorgeous, subtle Roussanne, pale gold in color, with a beautiful mouthfeel. Over the course of an evening, the flavors reveal themselves slowly.