As published in Forbes on December 18, 2018.
The Best Holiday Gifts For Wine And Spirit Lovers
With Christmas a week away, and New Years coming up soon after, this is the perfect time to double-check your gift lists and make sure that you’ve done right by the people in your life who enjoy a glass or three every once in a while. From inexpensive presents to the kind of items that could theoretically be passed down through the generations, these are my 2018 recommendations for the wine and spirit fans in your life.
Wine lovers are a relatively easy lot to buy for—much like golfers, we love gadgets and books and anything else that will allow us to indulge our passion even when not hacking our way around the links…or, in the case of wine, popping a cork and sharing a favorite bottle with friends and family.
To start, I strongly recommend Ten Grapes to Know by Catherine Fallis MS (The Countryman Press), a deeply informative book that covers ten key grape varieties, including what to expect from the various regions in which they’re produced, how to pair them with food, recommended bottlings, if-you-like-this-then-try-that alternatives, and much more. It’s a great volume for beginners, as well as for seasoned oenophiles who are looking for a handy, informative reference guide that’s also a whole lot of fun to read.
Jason Wilson’s latest book, Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine (Harry N. Abrams), cements his well-deserved reputation as one of the most indispensable voices in American wine and spirits writing today. With wit, humor, and a deep well of knowledge, Wilson’s newest is worthy of a spot on every bookshelf.
To pair with all of that wine, check out Season: A Year of Wine Country Food, Farming, Family & Friends by Justin Wangler and Tracey Shepos Cenami (Cameron + Company). It’s a massive, gorgeously photographed tome from Jackson Family Wines with recipes that range from the deceptively simple (“Janet’s Mom’s Dill Pickle Dip” has become a Freedman-family favorite) to the more involved. Everything I’ve cooked from this book so far has been more than worth the effort.
To accompany that pickle dip, which I scoop up with (usually way too many) potato chips, I love opening a bottle of Champagne. And this time of year, I prefer to do so with a flourish…and a saber. Over the years, I’ve used everything from a chef’s knife to a butter knife and more. This past Thanksgiving, I finally used what I’m confident could be the only tool I’d ever need again for the job: The Berkel Superior Champagne Saber. The business end is a perfectly weighted, forged stainless steel blade that, at nearly 11.5 inches long, allows you to generate just the right amount of speed to pop the top of the bottle. It comes in three different handle materials, too, but the one I used, crafted from gorgeous black buffalo horn, convinced my nephews that I was some sort of superhero villain. Which was all I really needed to kick off my holiday season right.
If a saber isn’t quite right for your last-minute shopping, then you can’t go wrong with the Louis M. Martini gift box (available on their web site) that includes a bottle of 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Monte Rosso Vineyard, which they’ve owned since 1938, and two Riedel glasses specifically chosen for their Cabernets. It’s a great, age-worthy wine, and the massive glasses are gorgeous.
For spirits and liqueurs—and who doesn’t love receiving a bottle or two of something great this time of year—there is a veritable embarrassment of riches right now. Tequila Enemigo, a fairly new company that was co-founded by young entrepreneurs Robin Clough, Sebastian Gonzalez, and Max Davies-Gilbert, is producing incredibly exciting, thoroughly idiosyncratic tequilas. Their Enemigo 89 Añejo Cristalino bottling is aged in American oak, which lends it a beautiful sense of richness yet doesn’t overpower the brighter, greener notes of the agave itself, and is then filtered in such a way that it’s left totally clear, upending, in the process, perceptions of what aged tequila looks and tastes like. (It’s called Enemigo 89 because this version is the 89th that they tasted before deciding that they’d finally found the right balance.) Their Enemigo 00 Extra Añejo, too, is a deeply rich spirit with ambrosial notes of caramel and butterscotch, a velvety texture, and an amber-mahogany color that practically demands to be sipped by a fireplace.
For the vodka lovers in your life, Broken Shed is a great option. It’s from New Zealand (fairly unusual) and distilled from whey (even more so). As a result, it shows a creamy texture and a gentle palate that will take well to cocktails or to sipping on its own. So, too, will Fair Quinoa Vodka, a French-distilled spirit founded by entrepreneur Alexandre Koiransky that relies on fair-trade quinoa for its uniquely smooth, very subtly sweet character. (Fair also produces a line of liqueurs that’s worth seeking out–I particularly like their kumquat and coffee bottlings; this is a company with a deep social conscience and strong products to back it all up.)
The Copper & Kings Destillaré Intense Pomegranate is a copper-pot-distilled gem that rings in at 90 proof and is a thoroughly, deliciously different sort of liqueur than I’ve ever tasted before. It’s concentrated and generous, yet not at all fruity-sweet like you might imagine. The cocktail possibilities with this product are infinite.
So, too, are the options with a new line of cordials from Tamworth Distilling. Their Von Humboldt’s Natur Wasser Turmeric Cordial, gloriously bitter and subtly perfumed, and the Blue Lion Chicorée Liqueur, just might make you feel like you’re doing something good for your body with all this holiday cheer. They’re great to keep on hand as the party season continues.
Sometimes, of course, you just need a classic cocktail, and this is the perfect time of year to experiment with different components than you usually do. I’m a dedicated fan of Carpano Antica Formula and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino for my Manhattans and Negronis, for example, but the Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Ambrato and Rubino Vermouths di Torino (yes, that Martini & Rossi) have become welcome additions to them this holiday season. The tightrope walked here between bitter and sweet and herbal lift in them both is remarkable.
For someone very special, who you want to treat to a deep sense of luxury, the Grand Marnier Cuvée du Centenaire is tough to beat. Crafted from a blend of Grand Cru XO Cognacs that have been aged for as long as a quarter century, this is a bottle that offers all the complexity and nuanced layering of older Cognacs—the tobacco note here is utterly haunting—accompanied with the inimitably sweet Grand Marnier hit of orange that frames it all with grace and generosity. I don’t tend to have much of a sweet tooth in general, but this one won me over immediately. For pure Cognac, I’d love for someone to buy me a bottle of Frapin’s Château Fontpinot XO: It’s expressive stone-fruit notes are anchored by a real nuttiness, all of it beautifully structured. This is a serious, and seriously enjoyable, Cognac.
And sometimes, you just need to take a break from all of this spirited holiday celebration. Fortunately, non-alcoholic options abound. I love the Seedlip Garden 108, a distilled, non-alcoholic “spirit” which plays a key role in the no-gin Negroni alternative that I serve. Portland-based Steven Smith Teamaker’s No. 007 Olympia Royale, an alcohol-free “liqueur” made in collaboration with Olympia Provisions whose complicated herbaceousness (think artichoke leaf, star anise, rooibos, and more) is astounding on its own, over ice, or with a splash of soda water. If anyone in your life tries to consume less alcohol in January, as is becoming increasingly popular, this is a fantastic product. Of course, it works wonders when smartly mixed into a proper cocktail, too.
No matter who you’re buying for this holiday season, or what their tastes may be, gifting something exciting, delicious, unexpected, and conversation worthy is always a good move. All of these will accomplish just that.♢