XMas 2011: Top Secret Santa Wines

5 12 2011

Yep, that time again.

Over the last week I have somehow found myself volunteered to be a part of not one but TWO Secret Santa gift swaps at work.  I’m not really sure how I feel about this.  The office Secret Santa pool is always fraught with dangers because (1) you often don’t know your co-workers well enough to get them anything truly personal that you know they’ll like, and (2) there is usually a spending limit imposed on your shopping (in my case, $15 for one pool and $25 for the other) that prevents you from buying most types of gifts that would be winners with just about anyone.  Since I feel that Secret Santa-ing chocolates is basically an admission of defeat, this year I’ve done the logical thing and decided to stick with booze.  I may not know if my office-mates read Malcolm Gladwell fan or listen to Johnny Cash or could get any use out of tree ornaments or candle holders or plants or winter gloves, but I do know that if they’re remotely sane and not prohibited by religious or medical reasons, they will enjoy a good bottle of wine, so I’m going to get them one.  Or two.  And since you might be in the same situation I am (hell, you might even work in my office; there’s 2,000 of us in there), I thought it might be useful to run down a few can’t-miss bottles that will have everyone hoping you pull their name out of the hat next year.  Without further ado, here are PnP’s Top Secret Santa Wines for 2011 in the $15-and-under, $20-and-under and $25-and-under categories:

$15 & UNDER

1.  Loosen Bros “Dr. L” Riesling (REVIEW HERE — $11 to $15):  Not only does the Dr. L rule, but it’s also available at the two cheapest places to buy wine in Calgary (Costco and Superstore), which means you’re guaranteed to over-deliver on your budget office gift.  Bright, versatile, food-friendly and crowd-pleasing, this bottle will win over the casual wine drinker with its slight sweetness and warm fruit, but it will also leave an impression on more educated palates as a balanced, varietally-correct, quality example of Mosel Valley German Riesling at a bulk price.  The real gift won’t be the wine itself (although it will go down easily enough); it’ll be the introduction to a bargain that’s this good and this widely available.

2.  Campillo Rioja Reserva (REVIEW HERE — $15):  This will push the $20 mark anywhere but at Costco, but even at that higher price it’s well worth seeking out.  While many producers in Rioja are now steering away from the traditional regional winemaking approach of long barrel and bottle aging pre-release and an emphasis on oak- and time-induced complexity and delicacy over primary fruit flavour, Campillo continues to embrace the old ways, giving drinkers a taste of history at incredible value prices.  I had the ’02 Reserva from Costco a few months back for $15, which meant that Campillo had to spend NINE YEARS creating and aging this Tempranillo-based gem until they felt it was ready to drink, all for a price that would get me change if I paid with a $20 bill.  In Calgary, I’ve also seen Campillo wines at the Ferocious Grape and Co-op Wine & Spirits.

$20 & UNDER

1.  Sister’s Run Shiraz (REVIEW HERE — $19):  The new 2009 vintage of Sister’s Run is now out (my review from August was of the 2008), and if it’s anything like its predecessor it will be an impeccably balanced and well-rounded Aussie Shiraz, not at all the jammy fruit bomb that you might expect from this country and this grape at this price.  As a single-vineyard wine from one of the top Shiraz regions in the world, the Barossa Valley, the SR screams “value wine”, and when I cracked the ’08 I was amazed at the layers of flavour that greeted me — I guarantee it was the only sub-$20 wine I reviewed this year that spawned tasting notes like “allspice”, “dried meat” and “gingerbread”.  One key tip though:  tell whoever is the lucky recipient of this bottle to stick it in the fridge for at least a half hour before drinking.  It’s better if it’s a fair bit colder than room temperature (true of most red wines, but this one especially), as the lower temp helps keep the alcohol in focus.  I’ve bought bottles of Sister’s Run from both Highlander Wine & Spirits and the Ferocious Grape.

2.  Kung Fu Girl Riesling (REVIEW HERE — $18 to $22):  I drink this wine all the time; I actually had it tonight and last night with pork katsu Japanese curry (a totally pitch-perfect pairing IMO) and, as always, it punched above its weight class in terms of value.  You can pick up a bottle at Superstore for less than $20, and if you can get your Secret Santee to look beyond the cartoony marketing, they will find a shockingly polished and serious wine full of potent acidity and striking minerality.  Almost Germanic in nature (which is about the highest compliment I can pay to any Riesling…if you know me or know Riesling, you’ll understand), this cool climate single-vineyard bottling can easily be underestimated because of its name and label, but it is an absolute rock star once you crack the screwtop.

$25 & UNDER

1.  Juan Gil Monastrell (REVIEW HERE — $18 to $25):  Even more exciting than a bargain wine is a bargain wine for which vintage does matter.  I reviewed the 2008 vintage of this Monastrell from Jumilla, Spain and was impressed at its robust and pure drinking style but a little hung up about how much of the alcohol showed through on the finish.  Then I (literally) got a sneak peek of the 2009 vintage when I blind-tasted it in WSET Advanced class and thought it was a $50-$60 high-end red blend from Priorat, one of Spain’s trendiest and most celebrated wine regions.  Once it was revealed as a bottle that I could buy at Costco for $18, I made a mental note to pick some up every time I’m there.  Even better for gifting purposes, it has an absolutely KILLER label and looks both exclusive and expensive.  It’s neither, but it fooled me blind and could do the same for anyone on your buying list.  It’s also available at Wine Ink (and elsewhere, I’m sure).

2.  Cameron Hughes Lot 179/Lot 208 (REVIEW HERE — $25):  When I wrote the review for CH Lot 179, I lamented that it probably wasn’t available in stores anymore, but I’ve since been corrected, as I happily saw it at Co-op Wine & Spirits a couple months ago.  Lot 179 is actually a premium wine in disguise:  the label says Cameron Hughes, but the bottle is actually the 2007 vintage of Black & Blue, a proprietary Cabernet/Syrah blend made by the boutique Havens winery in Napa Valley that used to retail for $50ish US.  It’s the first wine that I’ve ever bought by the case and was my de facto house wine until I started running out of it; thankfully, Cameron Hughes also released the 2008 vintage of Havens Black & Blue as Lot 208, which is currently on sale at Highlander and may also be found at Aspen Wine & Spirits.  Truly an insane value at $25.

There you have it — six of my favourite killer values from 2011.  Happy shopping!!



3 responses

6 12 2011
Tyler Philp

All good choices Peter and a few familiar faces too.



6 12 2011

Thanks! I have you to thank for indirectly introducing me to the Sister’s Run (via Tasting In Stereo) and for revealing the importance of the chilling caveat mentioned above with respect to it!


6 12 2011
The Sediment Blog

Santa’s really secret wine is the one he drinks before driving that sleigh…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: