I will gladly be first in line to bust the myth that says wine must be expensive to be good.
Much time and energy is spent seeking out wines that over-deliver, especially those well-made, honest and outright delicious ferments that clock in at under $20. The caveat here is the time of year when the exception to that value rule is personified by the need for luxuriance, surfeit and speed. The December holidays are embroidered of an entirely different import. Folks just seem to want to join the appliqué party, to take advantage of the generosity of the season, to drink the good stuff. Champagne, certainly, but also big wines, the kind that stick to your teeth for a week.
Gift giving is the other rampant and obvious part of December. No one wants to look cheap, ungrateful and thoughtless when gifting a bottle to an employee, a friend or a loved one. So I’ve made this list, checked it twice and formulated plenteous if euphuistic tasting notes on 10 meaningful and expensive wines to look for this coming weekend. Be proactive, track down one of these wine gems and prepare to channel your inner St. Nick, or if you like, your Ded Moroz, La Befana, Tomte, Jolasveinar or Pere Noel.
TALBOTT LOGAN SLEEPY HOLLOW VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2011, SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS, MONTEREY COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, USA (716290, $27.95)
Slow glazed, golden cream velvety nose, of a demurred beauty’s proportion, arced yet elongated. An island of Chardonnay enchantment, where the wood is soft, “there is no suffering” and sweet lemon sherbet flows. Frank yet curtailed extraction, good acidity and a relaxed Surfer Rosa tension. That soft buttery oak only comes through on the finish, which drifts and lasts. 91 Tasted Oct. 25, 2013
URBINA GRAN RESERVA ESPECIAL 1994, DOC RIOJA, SPAIN (355743, $46.95)
Will not be your wine of the year but you absolutely must give it a try. Holding strong 19 years on, surely something to hang a hat on. There is some must, but it’s as much attributed to a classic, 90′s Tempranillo temperamental style as it is to the barrel and the bottle. Some prune and lingering alcohol detracts from the now waning fruit. That Rioja character, once obvious, now harder to recognize, maintains its weight and import. Some grain and chalk lingers due to oak that has not fully worked its way in and out. Wonderful study if not pure or gorgeous and alone. 90 Tasted Oct. 25, 2013
SELLA & MOSCA MARCHESI DI VILLAMARINA ALGEHRO 2008, DOC ALGHERO, SARDINIA, ITALY (954081, $46.95)
A Cabernet Sauvignon with an undeniably high level of unconventionally modern and stylish set of aromas. A very specific Italian smell mostly absent today, pushing the question “has it gone for good, or is it coming back around?” Acetate, wet hay and dried brick funky monkey that could endanger and render it non-negotiable, but it manages to walk the safer side of a fine line. Like great old school Brunello, herbaceous, tarred and feathered, stuck with thorns of roses and a waft of vanilla cherry coke, cough drop alcohol. Shouts Sardinian somewhereness in a way that is just so appealing. The iron, the sanguine, the Italian, the fireside, it’s all there. Sure it’s nearly balsamic but it will likely stay exactly this way for years. 93 Tasted October 25, 2013
PALLADINO BAROLO PARAFADA 2008, PIEDMONT, ITALY (280412, $68.00)
This just has the look, the look of love. “A look that time can’t erase.” Nebbiolo you can see right through, this impossible light, this impossible life. Tea, tar and roses. A mineral spring, iron-earth field, where the game runs wild. You can relate to this Barolo, love it, relish it now but it will give pleasure for years. Not necessarily 25 but certainly 10-15. “Well, it takes my breath away.” Great vineyard. 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
M. CHAPOUTIER LES BÉCASSES CÔTE-RÔTIE 2010, AC, NORTHERN RHÔNE, FRANCE (280420, $82.95)
Strictly beautiful Syrah. The offspring of the Côte Rôtie’s two necessary points of view. First, the schist, silt and shingle of the Brune. Second, the silica and limestone of the Blonde. In combination they produce an iron-rust wine of a ferruginous nature, in colour and in aroma. Seeping, exotic Rooibos tea, Provençal tapenade and smouldering flowers send smoke signals clear as day. Smells so rich though it’s full of grace and bathed in ultra-elegance. 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
This Nicasia is the more monstrous of the two Catena single vineyard Malbecs coming to VINTAGES. So set in the future of its dreams and as a result hard to assess what it means to drink right now. A mountain of licorice, anise and Andean aromatics, in Jacaranda and Lupine, gorgeous in giant alpine bloom. Rich, unctuous, magnetic and in perpetual unfolding motion. If the chalk and circumstance come on too strong you might switch to the La Gualtallary Adriana Vineyard, for she is quieter, more accessible, wanting love earlier and unconditionally. Still the structure of the Nicasia cannot be denied, especially if it is allowed five plus years in time and space. Will be unbelievably memorable in 15. Mean it! 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
This refreshing and right proper vintage of Beaucastel dramatizes the Rhône epitome of elegance. Sure, the Kirsch and the ripping ripe berries are there but they are stirred, not shaken. Confident, full of tart, hubristic and racy energy, this CdP is great, hopping fun. Has an underlay of classic rocky and subtle pernicious tones. Pure pleasure, good chain of command, tannic as it needs to be. 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
MASI MAZZANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, DOC, VENETO, ITALY (215764, $99.95)
If a wine clocking in at 16 per cent alcohol by volume can be considered elegant and restrained and if that’s even possible, the Mazzano is the one. Though there is nothing outright prune, dried raisin or fig paste about it, this single-vineyard Amarone is enormously tannic. Any attempt at cracking its hard shell inside of 15-20 years should be thought of as counter-productive. Smells like the aforementioned fruit just picked at maximum ripeness so there is nothing cooked, roasted or overdone here. You simply have to wait for tertiary complexity to see what it will become. I sense great. Near-perfect vintage. 96 Tasted October 25, 2013
MASI CAMPOLONGO DI TORBE AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2006, DOC, VENETO, ITALY (548677, $99.95)
Speaks in similarly heavy and futuristic tones but is not nearly as demanding and obtuse as brother Mazzano. Reduced red plums, riper, drier raisins and licorice here, sweeter and rounder, though that’s just a tête-à-tête relative observation. Will require 10-15 years patience for the purpose of proper scrutiny and the definite probability for enjoyment. 94 Tasted October 25, 2013
The label, celebrating the iconic IGT’s 25th anniversary, intimates the kitsch of say, Marilyn Merlot. Not exactly fitting for this perennial lady-killer from Bolgheri. Does it make you think about what it was like when you were young? Peering past appearances, cracked pepper highlights the turned up to 11, ever-present alcohol nose. The enormity of this Ornellaia is obvious and currently overwhelming. Pitchy, black as night, and bent of collector Napa-like extraction. Not exactly a red berry vintage for Mr. Brightside from Bolgheri, this has chalk, grain, funk, dark blackberry, kirsch, anise and mephitic fight. It’s a hugely serious, dank and brooding Cabernet-controlled Tuscan. The ’10 is “burning down the highway skyline, on the back of a hurricane.” Killer on the teeth, the mouth and the tongue. Twenty-five lashes for every vintage. 94 Tasted Oct. 25 and Nov. 3, 2013
Good to go!