Ready … Set … Go! Wine Shopping for the Holidays

Written by Rick VanSickle

 Christmas is about the warmth of the season, sharing with family and friends. It’s a time of memories and anticipation, laughter, too much food, and everything sweet. Selecting the wine that accompanies all of that, whether giving, receiving or just sharing by a crackling fire, should never be a chore.

Bottom line: Don’t stress about the wine. Buy what you like, buy what you think they like, sit back and enjoy.

To help take a little of the worry out of holiday wine buying, we’ve put together a few suggestions for gifting, and for serving with that big, fat, juicy turkey (and a couple of alternatives if you choose to go the roasted prime rib or leg of lamb route).

A little something for the wine lover on your Christmas list:

I know shopping for the perfect bottle can be a daunting task for even the wine savviest of shoppers. You want to blow their minds. You Wow! factor under that tree. And it has to fit into your budget. Let’s break it down as we get ready to shop ’til we drop this holiday season.

First of all, shop NOW. In fact, I hope it’s not too late already. Have you ever been to a wine store in late December? It looks as if a bomb has exploded and left only the worst wine on the lower shelves — the cheap stuff, the really bad stuff. Let’s face it, December is the month of giving, and for a lot of people the giving starts with good booze.

So shop early and pay attention.

In Ontario there is but one wine store, the LCBO, and you are racing against millions of thirsty, savvy wine shoppers, all eyeing the same bottles.

Stay ahead of the fray and get in the know. Vintages has a twice-monthly publication that in this season brims with useful information on Christmas buys. The November 24 issue, the main “icon” wine publication for Christmas, features some of the finest wines in the world.

I like to be creative in my choices and scour the wine magazines and shelves for treasures that are unique and sure to please. I look for that wow factor with a dash of intrigue thrown in.

The Ravenswood Icon Native Sonoma Mixed Blacks 2008, Sonoma ($75) fits the bill of exactly what I look for in a Christmas wine. It’s different (a crazy blend of Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet from pre-Prohibition vines); it’s stunning on the palate with thick, concentrated fruits and layered spices; and it will age beautifully.

The Ruffino Serelle Vin Santo del Chianti 2008, Tuscany ($25 for 375 mL) also caught my eye. This is another wine that will have your recipient in awe of your wine-buying prowess. Vin Santo is a sweet Italian specialty where the grape bunches are slowly dried. The result is a gorgeous dessert wine with deep amber hues and complex flavours of candied tropical fruits, mango, marzipan, figs, citrus peel, honeycomb and sweet spices.

Looking for something a little more, shall we say, affordable? It has to be different and punch well above its weight class to be a true Christmas “wow” wine.

I’d suggest Bodegas Castano Hecula Old Vines Monastrell 2009, from Yecla ($12). This is a hidden gem from Spain with a bold nose of raspberry, violets, light spices and a touch of blueberry. It’s rich and complex on the palate with bountiful fruit and subtle spices.

And there’s nothing wrong with wrapping up wines with famous names under the Christmas tree. Try the Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) from Sonoma or the iconic symbol of Napa Valley, the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($35). Both are excellent choices.

Don’t forget Ontario wines. Here are a few that stand out from the crowd:

Foreign Affair Unreasonable 2008 ($163, winery only or online): This appassimento-style red from Niagara’s Foreign Affair is the bomb. Big, bold, brash, and as unique a wine as you’ll find in Canada. The grapes have been dried for 163 days. If you’re splurging, go no further than right here.

Inniskillin Sparkling Icewine 2011 ($70): This comes in a gorgeous decorative gold tube, but it’s the golden nectar awaiting in the bottle that will thrill your recipient. Think honey, peaches and apricot, all delivered flawlessly in a racy, tongue-tingling explosion on the palate.

Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2009 ($70): One of the benchmark Pinots in Canada, from one of the best vintages. Gorgeous plum and black cherries and toasted vanilla, with aging potential of ten years or more. Throw in a nice wooden box for $16, and Santa may never leave your house.



It’s always a mad dash to get that perfect wine to go with the Christmas dinner. What to match with all those amazing flavours is a challenge for many of us.

When matching wine to big turkey dinners, it’s crucial to think beyond the bird and look at all the fixings that will be on the plate — the stuffing, the cranberries, the root vegetables, the gravy, and all that other yummy stuff that crowds our plate.

To get any kind of a matching wine, think fruity reds and whites that are high in acidity, low on tannins, and big on flavour. Try to avoid overly oaked wines. The key is to keep it simple.

But not everyone thinks turkey when cooking for Christmas. Prime rib and lamb are two other popular choices, and for that you need a little tannin to mix with those red meats. Whichever your preference, here are some choices, all from our own backyard of Ontario:

Classic Turkey Dinner

The Good Earth Pinot Noir 2009 ($25) — This is a lovely Pinot with a nose of red fruits, earth, cassis, vanilla and clove spice. On the palate, the earthy bits, spice and cran-cherry flavours are delivered on a racy spine of acidity.

Strewn Riesling-Gewürztra­miner Terroir 2010 ($17) — Both Gewurztraminer and Riesling are perfect with turkey, so why not a blend of the two? A Riesling (60%) and Gewurztraminer blend, it’s the best of both grape worlds with an exotic nose of clove spice, tropical fruits and zesty citrus. This wine on the palate shows a balanced approach to both expressive grapes, with citrus, spice and vibrancy.

Slow Roasted Prime Rib

Reif Estate Winery Meritage 2010 ($27) — Aromas of black currant, raspberry and blackberry fruit notes integrated with a sweet oak of pepper spice. Smooth on the palate with pepper spice adding to complexity of layers of bush fruit. Fruit lingers on the finish with a balance of acidity and firm tannins.

Rack of Lamb

Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Estate 2010 ($25) —The nose reveals the beauty of this grape from the outset — aromas of wild berries, currants, bramble/underbrush, BBQ smoke and earthy tones all come together beautifully. The jammy, dark fruits are intense on the palate with touches of raspberry on the edges to go with balancing acidity and spices.

Season’s Greetings!

Rick VanSickle (@rickwine) is a free­lance wine writer. www.winesinniagara.com



About the author

Rick VanSickle

Rick VanSickle is the publisher of www.WinesInNiagara.com and can be reached at winesniagara@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickwine