Some Wine Wise suggestions for gifts.

Doug’s gift wines for your Christmas list

Looking for an unusually tasty bottle of wine to give to a friend?  Start with these!

Italian reds are not all Sangiovese or even Chianti.  Softer and more approachable in its youth than the Nebbiolo used to make Piedmont’s famous Barolo wines, Barbera is a firm favorite among winemakers and consumers. It is also the region’s most widely planted red-wine variety.

From the Asti region between Turin and Milan. Pico Maccario Barbera D’Asti Lavignone (459024) $25.80 leads with a prococative bouquet of plum and cherry with earthy undertones of cloves.  All sassy fruit and spicy on the tongue, it finishes in a balanced medium-bodied style. Barbera d’Asti can be cellared for up to eight years to reach its mature peak.

The ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ crowd seem to have forgotten just how wonderful well-made Chardonnays can be.  Here in British Columbia we make a number of Chardonnays that are giving Burgundy a run for the white wine crown!

Joie Farm ‘En Famille’ Reserve Chardonnay 2012 (150862) $30.95 is so rich with bright lemon, baked apple and pear, with a creamy, buttery, vanilla and light caramel complexity in the finish that it puts your everyday Chardonnay to shame.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Okanagan Valley, Don Triggs and his family are making waves with their amazing wines.  From their vineyards high above the Golden Mile they are producing elegant, almost ‘Old World’ style wines with spicy and herbaceous Okanagan Valley grapes.

A blend of 57 per cent Merlot, 24 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 19 per cent Cabernet Franc aged 16 months in French oak Culmina Hypothesis 2012 (462606) $44.90 was clearly modelled on high-class red Bordeaux. Lots of plum and black currant, sage, soy and molasses flavours add up to a standout specialty red.

Further south in Washington State, they are also producing very credible rivals to far more expensive red Bordeaux.  Col Solare is a multi-award winning winery started in 1995 as a partnership between Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori and Washington State’s Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Col Solare’s second label is Shining Hill (41046) $53.85 is a righteous blend of 69 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 per cent Merlot, 4 per cent Petit Verdot, 3 per cent Cabernet Franc and 3 per cent Syrah. Look for aromas and flavours of black cherry, blueberry, chocolate and vanilla… and expect to be overwhelmed!

California has a long and varied history of winemaking starting with the introduction of grapevines by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 18th century.  The 19th Century California Goldrush encouraged expansion that was eventually restrained by the introduction of Prohibition in 1919.  Today, more than 200 wineries in California’s world-renowned Napa Valley produce Chardonnays.

More than 40 years ago Cakebread Cellars first commercial offering consisted of 157 cases of 1973 Chardonnay released in 1974. Today’s Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Chardonnay (191437) $59.80 oozes fresh, fragrant, golden apple, honeydew melon and pear aromas that lead into beautifully balanced fresh sliced nectarine, ripe peach and honeydew melon flavors with chalky minerality and spicy buttery vanilla oak notes.

Hard to imagine a selection of wines that would make great gifts that didn’t feature something from France.  Rather than defaulting to a wine from Burgundy or Bordeaux, consider one of the innovatively rich and spicy reds from the Rhône valley.

Chateau de la Gardine Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Peur Bleue (90332) $77.90 simmers with lush, ripe blueberry, blackberry, black olive and provençal herbs and a bouquet of intriguing fresh floral aromatics. There’s a soft, easy, almost organic feel to this sulphite free, unoaked blend of equal thirds of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.

When they think of Australia, most North American wine lovers think of red wines made entirely from Shiraz or Shiraz blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.  In actual fact, the range of wines and styles of wine produced in Australia is as wide and diverse as California.

A deceptively complex and surprisingly youthful nose Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2010 (90357) $98.90 features fresh pear, spicy apple and lemon blossoms.

Apples, pears, pink grapefruit and fresh nectarine fill the palate, which finishes with wet flinty minerality and a medley of caramelized vanilla oak.  As James Suckling put it in the Wine Spectator this is “… the Aston Martin of chardonnays, with sleek lines and plenty of power under the bonnet.”

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