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All I want for Christmas

This week in Wine All the Time, Vin shares his insights on how best to get into a good bottle of wine and some good last-minute gift ideas
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As we head in to the final stretch, barring the chaos of the final weekend, here are some suggestions and observations for your Holiday gifting.

Knowing what people enjoy and what they could use always helps. With wine and spirits, there are thousands of options, both in beverages and in drinks paraphernalia.

Judging by my own habits, one’s real needs are relatively simple: something to open a bottle and something to pour it into. In terms of openers, the most important thing is that they be sturdy and have relatively thin screws.

waitersCorkscrewWaiter's corkscrew is available for about $10
Quite often I use a simple waiter’s corkscrew, and I find them more effective when they have a Teflon coating. A simple design that is easy to handle makes all the sense in the world. These are often available in the $10 range.

The “Rabbit” style of corkscrew which is much larger with two ‘ears’ that clamp on to the neck of a bottle and a lever which drives the cork in and pulls it out in two quick motions has its attractions – though I have found that some extra-tight corks can result in the screw being straightened and ruined. They are replaceable, and your purchase should contain a spare. These can run $20 to $25, or over $100. Again, you want something sturdy.

A third effective type involves a reversing screw, which has a twist dial on top. Placed over a bottle, it sends the screw into the cork, and then pulls it out as you keep twisting.

Generally, I don’t care for the corkscrew that has two side levers which extend out as you insert the screw, and then press down to remove the cork. They can break down in relatively short order, and are a bit fussier to use.

One other useful tool is a foil cutter. They often come with corkscrews, but otherwise are harder to find. But that is what the little knife in the Waiter’s corkscrew is there for, too. A foil cutter, though, can be squeezed on to the top of the bottle and with a twist or two, off comes the cover.

PumpAndCorksAvailable for about $12, you can get a little pump and two neoprene “corks” that can keep your wine from oxidizing over a few days
Some may disparage the use of a pump to preserve your wine if you have a partial bottle left over. (For others, it is never a problem…) Available for about $12, you can get a little pump and two neoprene “corks” that can keep your wine from oxidizing over a few days.

There are also systems to insert inert gases into a bottle of the wine, but they can run to hundreds of dollars. Aerosol-type cannisters also are available for about $15 a canister.  They are more effective that the pump, and a good option for keeping really good wines stable until you are ready to finish the deed.

If you can’t find these in stores, they are available on line at sites such as Amazon.

Aerators are devices that help to “open up” a wine as you pour thorough it into a glass. They can help to develop the taste, but likely aren’t as effective as decanting. Decanters need not be expensive, but they can really help a wine to express itself. They provide a greater surface area for the wine to “breathe” prior to drinking. The amount of time required depends on the wine, but there is no doubt that flavours of red wines improve with exposure to air. A decanter can cost as little as $10, and still do the trick.

As for wine glasses, they can be a good gift – if the recipient needs them. I like a crystal glass, and again, they needn’t be expensive. While some of the Riedel glasses from Austria can cost over $50 a stem, you can find good serviceable glasses for as little as $4 or $5 at places like Loblaws and Independent Grocers.

The shape can make a difference, as it changes the way the wine enters the mouth, but the common shapes available are usually just fine. As for stemless glasses, they are perfectly good to use. Purists may insist that holding a glass by the bowl warms up the wine too much. That may be true if you are at a cocktail party and not setting the glass down at all, but how often does that happen? Granted, it can be easier to grasp a glass by a stem than to hold it by the bowl, especially with the red-wine variety. For everyday drinking, stemless can work well, and they are more difficult to tip over!

P.S. “Flutes” have been the go-to shape for sparkling wine, and they certainly speak of elegance, but some now believe a regular wine glass allows the flavours to show through more completely.

So much for glasses. Now let’s consider something to pour into them. Here are some good wines currently on our shelves.

BertrandGérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Rosé, $16.95
Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Rosé, $16.95, comes in a most attractive bottle, complete with a glass stopper and a rose embossed on the bottom. It was just declared a Top-Value for 2018 by the Wine Spectator, and said to have “a delicate profile of white raspberry, cherry and lemon zest.” -90.

From Australia, the Yalumba Y Series Viogner 2017, $13.95, is another WS top-value in the “Rich White” category. Called “spicy and refreshing”, it is said to offer vibrant flavours of “lemon, chamomile and spicy nectarine.” 90

In its turn, Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2017, $19.95, was named #67 on the WS “Top 100” for its ”lively mix of peach, passion fruit, floral and pink grapefruit zest notes” -90.

At the Wine Rack stores, the Inniskillin Discovery Series East-West Pinot Grigio 2017, currently $15.45, is proof positive that Italy does not have exclusive claim to great “PG”s. Give it a standing ovation for its silky texture and excellent depth of peach and citrus flavour. This is basically off-dry with 15 grams of sugar per liter, but it works!

HiddenBenchChardonnayHidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016, $29.95,
Ontario’s Hidden Bench Estate Chardonnay 2016, $29.95, is described by Michael Godel of as “pure, unbridled and effortless genius” with “creamy fruit, fine acidity and finer-spun texture.” – 92. In other words, fantastic.

Until January 6, the Bodegas Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva is $3 off at $15.45.
The WS notes say “lean, firm and focused with cherry, tea, leafy, licorice and spice flavors.” -90

For a Bordeaux, consider Chateau Langoiran 2015, $17.95. Mainly Merlot, the wine earned a“Coup de Coeur”. With its “roasted and smoked notes, sweet spices, red and black fruit, [it] shows complexity and intensity throughout the persistent, ample, dense and powerful palate.”

Cline Contra Costa Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2016, $24.95, came in at #40 with the Wine Spectator,  which explained that grapes from 20 different vineyards are used in the blend, and that a judicious use of new oak and barrel-aging has resulted in a wine that is “lively and supple, with floral raspberry and fresh pepper aromas and sleekly appealing cherry and licorice flavors” -91

From Spain, the Bodegas Palacios Remondo Rioja La Montesa Crianza 2015, $24.95, earned a 92 in the WS ‘Elegant Red’ category: “silky and polished, this is graceful, lively and energetic, with cherry, raspberry and orange peel flavors.”

DomaineQueylusDomaine Queylus Traditon Pinot Noir 2015, $29.95
Domaine Queylus Traditon Pinot Noir 2015, $29.95 Winemaker Thomas Bachelder is an acknowledged wizard with Burgundy varietals, and this Niagara wine demonstrates why this is so. The balance is excellent, with plum/cherry fruit supported by cinnamon spice and earth notes. A wine with true style and elegance.

The Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, $44.95, has a WS 92. Our shelves now carry the 2016 generally, and though it is not the vintage that was ranked #80 in the “Top 100”, the wine will be consistent from year to year. The Wine Advocate gives this vintage a 90, saying that with its “wonderfully plush, fine-grained frame, it has a lively line cutting through the densely packed fruit, finishing long.”

WineFollyWine Folly Magnum Edition The Master Guide
In terms of understanding wine, the Wine Folly Magnum Edition The Master Guide caught my eye. It covers all the bases in terms of wine varietals and types primarily using images and only essential words. You can find information quickly and get a fundamental understanding very quickly. It is available in book stores and on line for roughly $40 or less. 

I trust these suggestions will help you through your gift-giving decisions. You might even enjoy them yourself!

Merry Christmas.