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13 special wines (and 1 special glass) for last-minute gifts

Michael Austin
The Pour Man

There is an idea in business, and in government, and — I don’t know, probably in absentee-parenting too — that to solve a problem when you don’t have a lot of time to think it through, all you need to do is throw money at it.

If, at this late hour, you are still looking for wine-centric gifts for some of the people on your list, throw money at the problem. It pretty much always works — in wine and some other gift genres. No one has ever opened a last-minute gift and said, “A Rolex? Why couldn’t you have just made me one of your customized gingerbread houses?”

Also, if a gift is snazzy enough, no one cares that you bought it with barely enough time to get it home and wrap it. You won’t hear anyone say, “Wait, you bought this $900 watch for me only two days ago? Forget it — just take it back and write me a haiku!”

Money doesn’t solve everything, but when you’re pressed for time, it can hide any idea-thinking-up difficulties, or time constraints, you might have been experiencing. If everything were the same price — if luxury items weren’t significantly more expensive than everything else — gift giving would be a snap. We’d all be drinking the finest wine and walking around with heavy watches on our arms.

You don’t have to put yourself in the poor house. Just go online and splurge a little to cover your bases — and choose “express delivery.” All you’ll have to do then is plop the stuff in gift bags. Not all of these wines, or wineglasses, will break the bank, but they are mostly on the pricey side. Most are $100 or more. Frankly, most are cabernet sauvignons from California too. Since the past month has been dedicated to budget wines, talking about some pricier offerings doesn’t seem like the worst idea. And California cabs are iconic.

When throwing money at a problem, go with recognizable quality or quirky exclusivity. Bring in the ringer that everyone recognizes, or the intriguing outlier. And don’t forget the nice little note to accompany the gift — even if you recite it to the delivery service. You’ve at least got time for that.

A big bottle and some big red wines

Take a good wine — any good wine. Put some of it in a standard 750-mililiter bottle, and put the rest in a 1.5 liter magnum bottle, the equivalent of two 750-mililiter bottles. The exact same wine in the magnum is going to be three times more enjoyable (not just two times), based solely on the size of the bottle. Trust me on that one, and order the 2015 Orin Swift Happy Birthday Billy, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petite sirah. Winemaker Dave Phinney walked Cubs pitcher Jon Lester through the winemaking process to come up with this proprietary blend that Lester gave to his teammates after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series. The name refers to William Sianis, whose goat was dissed at a 1945 World Series game. Sianis sent a telegram to team owner Philip K. Wrigley announcing the curse, in so many words, and the telegram has been reproduced as the label on this bottle. It’s a beautiful wine, with floral notes, plus ripe plum, jammy red fruit, incense, anise and a rich vanilla-caramel finish. The winemaker says it should age well for 10 or 15 years in the bottle. History would suggest that the Cubs won’t have another World Series win by then, but who knows. ($300/1.5 liter) www.orinswift.com

From the Stags Leap District in Napa Valley, the super-silky 2013 Shafer Hillside Select ($285) is made of 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. Aged 32 months in new French oak, it was full of plum and other dark fruits, plus earthy notes of smoke and coffee. The 2012 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($235) from Napa Valley’s Oakville appellation offered plum, vanilla, subtle marzipan, red fruits, incense, a bright burst of cranberry and a nutty finish.

Raspberry, plum, licorice, baking spices, cocoa, a hint of green pepper and grippy tannins sum up the 2014 Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($190), which was aged 20 months in French oak barrels. The 2014 Pahlmeyer Napa Valley Red Wine ($175) contains 87 percent cabernet sauvignon, with merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot in the blend. Smokey, with dark cherry, coffee, blackberry, raspberry, incense and cedar, this wine was a delight to drink.

A blend of 72 percent cabernet sauvignon and 28 percent cabernet franc, the 2014 Viader Liquid Cashmere ($150) offered plum, black cherry, clove, cigar box and pleasing earthy notes. Sonoma Valley’s 2013 Gundlach Bundschu Vintage Reserve ($125), made of 82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent petit verdot, was full of blueberry, blackberry, smoke, vanilla, forest floor, menthol and spice, with velvety tannins. The 2014 Clos du Val Hirondelle Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($120) is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, and packed notes of blueberries and other ripe blue fruits with vanilla, herbs, baking spices, toast and a layered finish.

From Paso Robles in California’s Central Coast, the 2014 J. Lohr Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($100) was aged 17 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels. This is the second vintage of the winery’s flagship red wine, a lush and rich melange of jammy fruit, fig, cedar, tobacco, chewy tannins and a kiss of caramel in its lingering finish. The 2015 The Setting Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) from Sonoma was floral with black and red fruits, and notes of vanilla, herbs and cedar coming out in layers in its slow-developing finish.

A port, a white, a bubbly and a glass to go with them

To the lover of bubbles interested in transitioning from flutes to fuller glasses, give the Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine Glass ($69/box of two, $34.50/single glass), which looks like a Bordeaux glass that has been tapered in even more, giving it the suggestion of a subtle egg-shape. I tried out a glass and it performed as promised, allowing for a full bouquet of aromas and a steady trail of rising bubbles. I filled it with 2010 Digby Fine English Reserve Brut ($75), a traditional-method sparkling wine from southern England. Made of 65 percent chardonnay, 18 percent pinot noir and 17 percent pinot meunier, it offered notes of apple, anise and rich bread crust, with a super-bright streak of lemon and minerality. Plus, the fact that it’s from England — a lesser-known sparkling wine locale — ups its cachet.

From Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, the 2014 Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay ($65) comes from vines that were more than 40 years old when the grapes were harvested. Made of 100 percent chardonnay, this elegant, mouth-coating wine featured balanced notes of red apple skin, bright acidity and the suggestion of butterscotch that was neither cloying nor overpowering. This is a chardonnay lover’s chardonnay.

How could we get through a gift guide without mentioning something sweet? The 2015 Graham’s The Stone Terraces Vintage Port ($200/750 milliliter), offered aromas of eucalyptus that led to flavors of plum and other concentrated, lush dark fruit, plus cedar, cocoa and tobacco — all of it wrapped up in surprising freshness. And as a bonus, you can tell your gift-recipient that the grapes used in the wine were crushed by a machine that replicates human foot-stomping.

food@chicagotribune.com
Twitter @pour_man

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