Put these terrific tipples on your Christmas list
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/12/2021 (249 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Whether you’re looking to stock up before guests come for the holidays or are hoping to grab some gifts for friends and loved ones, there’s no sense in waiting to the last minute to cross off the holiday to-do list.
Consider what follows, then, a rough gift guide to some can’t-miss options when it comes to wine, beer and spirits…
On the beer front, the Farmery Foraged Berry Lager, infused with cranberries and crowberries foraged from the Churchill tundra, can be found exclusively in its Fa-La-La Lager Estate Select Pack of 15 beers (three each of five different beers, and four bucks off for $35.95 until the end of December at Liquor Marts, beer vendors and from the brewery) as well as in the Neepawa-area’s beer advent calendar. It’s medium gold in colour and clear, with a very slight reddish hue, while aromatically the berry notes work well with the malty component. There’s just a hint of sweetness on the light-bodied palate, allowing the berry notes to shine through without the tartness one might expect. There’s virtually no bitterness from hops to speak of, and the four per cent alcohol means the beer won’t go to your head too quickly. Worth picking up the mixed 15-pack while it’s on sale — enjoy this limited-run brew for yourself while it’s around, and serve the other lagers up to house guests… two birds, one stone. 3.5/5
If you’re in need of some no-nonsense sparkling wine — for hors d’oeuvres, a quick toast or mimosas — the Sette Ventiquattro NV Prosecco Extra Dry (Treviso, Italy — around $17, private wine stores) should fit the bill. Pale straw in colour with fine bubbles, this prosecco offers pear, red apple skin and hints of fresh flowers and lime zest aromatically. On the dry, lean, light-bodied palate those flavours persist, albeit slightly muted, with moderate acidity that provides some zip. Not overly complex, but decently tasty. 3/5
For those looking to go off the beaten track yet keep things fresh and fun, the Kutjevo 2020 Kutjevacki Rosé (Croatia — around $20, private wine stores) is a pink Croatian blend of Zweigelt, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, pale pink in colour and with bright peach, floral, strawberry and melon notes aromatically. It’s light-plus-bodied, with just the slightest hint of sweetness that accentuates the peach and strawberry flavours, some zippy acidity that brings a ripe lemon note, and a moderate finish. A nice value on its own or try with lighter salads, mild cheeses, grilled poultry or whiter fish. 3.5/5
Those looking for killer Sauvignon Blanc may have noticed the many empty spaces in the New Zealand section of Liquor Marts and private wine stores, a combination of supply-chain issues and a tough 2021 vintage. Thankfully, the Errazuriz 2018 Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc (Aconcagua, Chile — $22.99, Liquor Marts and beyond) is a more than adequate replacement. Pale straw in colour, this Sauvignon Blanc from cool-climate coastal Chile brings loads of grapefruit, lime pith, herbal and chalky aromas. It’s bone-dry, lean and racy, with bright citrus, lychee, herbal and modest bell pepper notes, a lovely mineral note that runs throughout, bright acidity and a long finish. Delicious. 4.5/5
For a red that’s uniquely Canadian and totally tasty, the Henry of Pelham 2019 Old Vines Baco Noir (Ontario — $19.99, Liquor Marts and beyond) is what you want. Plum, blackberry, savoury spice, black tea and hints of cedar show very well on this dark purple Ontario red made from the Baco Noir grape, a variety that does well in cooler regions. It’s full-bodied and jammy, with the dark berry/fruit flavours singing in the glass, a hint of that meaty spice coming through and just the right amount of grip from oak and tannins. Drinking great right now on its own, or serve with a steak. 4/5
Aussie Shiraz is popular with a wide range of wine drinkers, and the Tyrrell’s 2018 Shiraz (Hunter Valley, Australia — $24.99, Liquor Marts and beyond) is one of the best buys in our market. From Australia’s Hunter Valley comes this red, bursting with all manner of brambly black fruit, fresh cherry and raspberry aromas, a hint of iron and a delightful meaty note. It’s dry, medium-plus-bodied and punchy, with vibrant red and black berry flavours, a slightly viscous texture, very subtle spice from aging in larger oak vats, modest tannins and a long but not-too-hot finish. It’s approachable yet with plenty of depth — great bang for the buck. 4.5/5
For those looking to truly impress, the Tommasi 2016 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (Veneto, Italy — $64.99, Liquor Marts and beyond) does so in spades. It’s a blend of indigenous Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Oseleta grapes, which are dried for four months before vinification. The result is a more powerful, concentrated red, immediately evident aromatically via raisin, dried blueberry and cherry, anise, white pepper and earth notes. It’s a full-bodied red with deep berry flavours, a hint of pepper and earth, light but chewy tannins and a long, warm finish, thanks to the 15 per cent alcohol. Drink now after some decanting or cellar for five to eight years, easily. 4.5/5
On the spirits side of things, those who like their whiskies peaty — very peaty — will find plenty to love in the five-year-old Ardbeg Wee Beastie (Islay, Scotland — $79.99, Liquor Marts and beyond). The pale gold colour is a bit deceiving, as aromatically it packs piles of peppery, smoky peat. And while it’s dry and light-bodied, that smoky, peaty note comes through full-throttle, with peppery, herbal notes bringing a one-two punch on the palate. At 47.4 per cent alcohol there’s a long, spicy, peaty finish to the Wee Beastie that will satisfy most serious scotch drinkers; for the faint of heart, a couple of drops of water will mellow things out. For those who don’t like their whiskies on the peatier side, tickets to the Winnipeg Whisky Festival, which returns March 4 and 5, 2022, at the Fairmont Winnipeg for its 10th edition, are always a nice stocking stuffer.
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.