4 wines for the holidays that splurge on flavor


As if you need an excuse, there’s no better time to be indulgent in your wine selections than the holidays. So splurge.

When I say splurge I’m referring not to price, at least not completely — although you’re still liable to shell out a few bucks. And you could spring for a trophy here and a unicorn there, to impress a boss or a spouse, or to mollify an in-law whose cellar has worn thin. By all means, go for a trophy like The Judge, John Kongsgaard’s wildly weighty Napa Chardonnay, or David Ramey’s stylish Cabernet Pedregal, or John Alban’s exotic Syrah Reva, or Grange, or Colgin, or Marcassin.

The sight of any one of these on a holiday table will make any wine lovers lose their composure. Regardless of how much you decide to spend, make this the year to splurge on flavor, to choose wines that over-deliver in their texture, amplitude, and sensuality; that are generous, even indulgent in their flavor profile.



Krug Grande Cuvée 164 Ème Édition

To begin, bubbles. Sparkling wine elevates any occasion it’s poured for, but few hover, levitate, pirouette quite like Champagne, whose elegance and finesse are basically unparalleled in the bubbles genre. Having said this, the range of flavors in Champagne has itself changed dramatically, spurred in part by the emergence of smaller ‘grower’ producers, which are now imported in the hundreds, joining ranks alongside the grand houses of Champagne. So the styles of Champagne have grown exponentially from bone dry, lemony and racy to wines of incredible depth and opulence. For this latter end of the spectrum here are three exceptional choices: Charles Hiedsieck’s toasty, poised 1995 Blanc des Millenaires, Bollinger’s powerful, resonant 2007 La Grande Année, and not least, Krug’s Grande Cuvée, 164th edition, a multi-vintage wine rooted in the 2008 vintage but with components that go back to 1990; it yields the sort of depth and length that most white wines can only pine for wistfully. About $160, widely available and at


Ovum 2016 Rogue Valley “Since I Fell For You” Gewürztraminer

Gewürztraminer winemaker John House seeks out old Oregon vineyards that have escaped the attention of better known producers. Often they’re outside of the Willamette Valley, and devoted not to Pinot Noir, but to white varieties, obscure ones at that. The vines for his Gewürztraminer (the name comes from a line in a Nina Simone song) were planted in 1976 in southern Oregon, and have had 40 years to come into themselves, resulting in a wine so balanced and assured, so sensuous and balletic, that was one of the most thrilling white wines I tasted this year. About $30, at Lou Wine Shop in Los Feliz and, in glasses, at Bar Covell in Los Feliz.


Quintarelli Veneto Rosso Ca del Merlo Red Wine

The wines of Giuseppi Quintarelli are, without question, among the most extravagant of all red wines made in Italy. The late Giuseppi Quintarelli established his winery in the Veneto, where he made Valpolicella wines and heady, gaudy Amarones, this latter a wine made with partially dried grapes and unmitigated intemperance. The family makes some of the most luxurious Amarones in the world, and at $350-plus, the most expensive. A great alternative is their single vineyard Rosso Ca’ del Merlo, a blend made in a ripasso style, wherein the winemaker adds spent grapes from the Amarone to the must, providing a velvety cushion to a wine with natural firmness. The result is a wine with more structure, and more facility at table, than its more extravagant cousin. About $90, at the Wine House in West Los Angeles, Wally’s and Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa.



Royal Tokaji Wine Company 2009 5 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszu

Let’s not forget dessert wines, an indulgence we don’t allow ourselves often enough, but which seem like a worthy end to a holiday feast. The best dessert wines amount to lessons in the lost art of balance, where sugar sweetness and restorative acidity are held in such suspension that neither gets the upper hand, just pure, unfettered equipoise. Few wines do this better than the great Hungarian wine Tokaji Aszu. Since the revival of the region several very good brands have entered the market, including Oremus, Samuel Tinon, and Kiràlyudvar, but the Royal Tokaji Wine Company’s line of Aszus is perhaps the most widely available. You can get a bottle of 5 Puttonyos Aszu for less than $100, a wine whose texture is lean enough for the acid to actually have some play in the mouth, an expanse for all of those flavors — apricot, orange peel, leather, saffron, peach, espresso, burnt caramel and toast, all buoyed by rippling acids for a wine of almost maddening length and lasting flavor. About $70-90, at Mission Wines in South Pasadena, the Wine Country in Signal Hill, and K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood.