Christmas is drawing closer, and if you’re tough to buy for like me, you’ve likely left your loved ones scrambling for gift ideas.
Recently, I gave you my thoughts on some sparkling and white wine selections that would please the wine lover in your house. Today, my focus is on red wine picks and a couple other interesting picks outside the vinous world that caught my eye.
Since not everyone likes the same style or weight of wine, I’ve divided my selections into two categories — light to medium-bodied and fuller-bodied. I’m sure there’s something on my list for nearly all the wine lovers out there.
Light to medium-bodied red wine
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This is one of my favorite wine categories. I could have easily loaded this up with Pinot Noirs from Oregon and the Central Coast, nearly any red wine from Chianti Classico or Montecucco, and all the Chilean Carmeneres I could get my hands on. Instead, I’ll color a little outside the lines.
The Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo fits that description. Both a mouthful to say and to consume, this Montepulciano is a complex and weighty wine. Made from 100 percent Montepulciano grapes and aged 36 months in French oak barrique, the wine delivers flavors and aromas of vanilla, dark chocolate, raspberries and red roses.
At $28 retail, the Masciarelli is a bit pricier than some of my other wine picks, but for its sheer joy and unique expression of the grape, I think it’s well worth the price.
I made another Montepulciano discovery recently — the Ciu Ciu Oppidium. Hailing from the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast, Oppidium is bio-dynamically farmed and 100 percent Montepulciano.
Picked late in the year, the wine has a slight “ripasso” character to it, which I love. The later harvest of slightly overripe grapes also soften the tannins, which I also appreciate. More delicate and elegant than the Masciarelli Montepulciano, the Oppidium is softer, sweeter, and ready to drink right now.
For those who prefer Jackson Pollock to Rembrant, there is the Domaine Skouras Grande Cuvee Nemea. Yes, a Greek wine, which I’ve heard and read are rapidly growing in quality and popularity.
The Skouras Cuvee Nemea serves up an intriguing combination of fruit, spice, and herbs, each playing its role in the medium-bodied, complex wine. You could pop the cork now, but the wine’s tannins suggest it could benefit from a few years of bottle age. At $27, The Grande Cuvee Nemea is a unique opportunity to try something different, perfect for the wine lover who likes to experiment.
Full-bodied red wine
I’ve got a whole article I’m working on evaluating Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, but I thought I’d toss two in on this go around as well — the Hindsight Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the Sequoia Grove Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hindsight is a new name for me, and at $40, it’s a Napa Valley bargain, something you can’t say very often. Combining Cabernet from the southern part of the valley with Cab from Rutherford and Spring Mountain, the Hindsight Cab is loaded with dark berry flavors balanced by touches of oak and rounded tannins. If you’ve got a Cab lover on your gift list, the Hindsight Cabernet Sauvignon is a perfect fit.
Another relative bargain, also at $40, the Sequoia Grove Winery Cabernet Sauvignon has been a longtime Napa Cab favorite of mine, dating back to the days when I taped with the winery for a segment of my television show, “Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert.”
In many ways, the Sequoia Grove bottling is a classic Napa Valley Cab with aromas and flavors of dark berry fruit with hints of mocha, chocolate and just a little touch of herbs. Well-balanced and approachable, I might be tempted to open this to compliment my standing rib roast or beef tenderloin should either of those happen to be on the menu.
I wasn’t sure where to put the Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano as it’s somewhere in the middle between medium and full-bodied. Given its structure and tannins, and its affinity to heavier cuisine (think osso buco), I determined it belonged here with the big boys.
Avignonesi is one of my favorite wine producers in the world, and this is one of my perennial favorites, chocked full of bright red fruits with touches of dried flowers, spice, and a little earth. Drink it now if you wish, but make sure you have the proper dish to pair it with as its acidity and tannins are formidable. At around $28, the Avignonesi Vino Nobile delivers the goods.
There’s no doubt where the Fontanafredda Barolo belongs with the full-bodied wine selections. Made of 100 percent Nebbiolo by a winery boasting more than 150 years of history, this classic Barolo bottling is a standard bearer for the grape, the appellation and the region.
Loaded with classic flavors and aromas of dried roses, subtle fruit and touches of earthiness, the Fontanafredda Barolo needs some time to open up and show its true colors. When it does, I’m looking for dishes that feature mushrooms or truffles or almost any full-bodied mature cheese. At under $30, this is also a bargain in the Barolo world. What a treat!
Odds and ends
I’ve been looking for the chance to write about the Ty Ku Sakes I unearthed. Maybe I’ll do a sake and food pairing down the road, but for now, I thought I’d give these two rice wines a little love for the holidays.
I tried the Ty Ku Sake Silver and the Ty Ku Sake Black. The silver is lighter, meant to be served chilled or in a cocktail. The Ty Ku Sake Black is more complex with hints of peach and vanilla. You could sip it on its own or pair it with seafood. A poached or roasted salmon seems like a good fit to me.
Lastly, I stumbled upon a great gift idea for the person who loves to finish a meal or an evening with a glass of Cognac or Armagnac, a gift box featuring the Larressingle VSOP Armagnac.
With two centuries of tradition, Larressingle VSOP Armagnac is produced from a vintage blend of no less than eight years, three years more than the legal minimum. The Larressingle Armagnac is fruity with rich and smoky aromas. I’m not a huge Armagnac lover, but I like this one a lot!
The gift pack, priced at $60, includes a bottle of the Larressingle VSOP Armagnac in a beautiful package — a perfect holiday gift your spirits lover will be forced to share!
Happy Holidays. Here’s hoping your are filled with delicious flavors!
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.