Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Some holiday gifts for the wine lovers in your life

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I can tell because many of the people I know are calling asking me to suggest a wine gift or two for the special people in their lives.  Even though I probably won’t be considered  “special” enough to benefit from my own advice, I do experience a kind vicarious enjoyment in being a part of this process.

So today, I’ll share with you some gifts I would love to have this holiday season,  and hope that you will pass these ideas along to my family and friends. Of course, depending upon your bank account, you can spend just about as much as you choose on wine and related gifts. However, my budget is not unlimited so we’ll stick with gifts you may acquire for under $100.

Let’s begin with wine.  Here are some bottles that should please the palate of just about every sipper: 2005 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir ($60) – I have collected wines from this Oregon producer since their first vintage in 1990, and the 2005 Evenstadt is among their best wines yet. If you like earthy, black cherry and mocha flavors overlain with aromas of spice and vanilla, then you’ll love this wine.  The Wine Spectator rated it among the top 100 wines of 2008 and, while the ‘05 Evenstad Reserve is enjoyable today, the balance of this wine will enable it to continue to improve in the bottle for another 10 years.  Match it up with this year’s holiday prime rib roast.

2004 Pio Cesare Barolo ($58) – Pio Cesare is one of the tried and true estates in all of Piedmont (in northwestern Italy) and their 2004 Barolo is a wonderful example of why Barolo is considered one of the greatest wines on the planet. Deep, dark fruit flavors with coffee, mushroom and earthy aromas, this relatively soft (for Barolo) wine will, if consumed now, need to be decanted for at least three hours. However, if you can wait, it will benefit from several more years of bottle age. This would be a wonderful accompaniment to a crown roast of pork sliced and served on top of porcini mushrooms sautéed in olive oil (with a few drops of truffle oil) and seasoned with salt and black pepper.

Rene Coutier Brut Champagne ($48) – This relatively small producer is located in the Grand Cru Champagne village of Ambonnay and this sparkler is a real pleaser. Full of toasty, rich, brioche flavors with a silky texture, this Champagne is a wine you can use as both an aperitif or with a seafood entrée such as mussels cooked in a spicy broth of white wine, garlic and tomatoes.

2006 Lafond Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay ($25) – If you prefer a well-rounded, nuanced chardonnay with plenty of fruit and balancing acidity, then you need to lay your lips around the Lafond. From the famed Santa Rita Hills AVA, this chardonnay has just the right amount of oak to balance out the fruit. Lovely with Chilean Sea Bass, sautéed with a little butter, salt and pepper and finished off in the oven for about five minutes.

2006 Hedges Three Vineyards Red Mountain ($28) – Washington State is a terrific venue for merlot and cabernet and the ’06 Hedges Red Mountain is blend of those two grapes,  producing an approachable wine that is ready to drink right now. Soft tannins and balancing acidity make this complex wine a joy to consume with your holiday meal such as roasted turkey or Cornish game hens. Here are a few more vinous picks for your holiday gift giving (sans notes) that should be real pleasers:  2006 Owen Roe Ex Umbris Syrah ($30); 2006 Carabella Chardonnay (Oregon $35); 2005 Stuhlmuller Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($41); and 2006 Live Wire Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). Now here are couple of gifts that all wine lovers should appreciate. To truly enjoy that special bottle, there is nothing more pleasurable than drinking your wine from crystal stemware. You can get truly excellent stemware by purchasing your wine glasses and crystal decanters right here in West Virginia. Masterpiece Crystal in Jane Lew produces magnificent handmade, lead-free crystal wine glasses and carafes. Go to and check out these works of art or call 1-800-624-3114 to order direct from the factory. One of the neatest and newest wine-related gadgets is something called the Vinturi Wine Aerator. Having a working knowledge of fluid dynamics and the Bernoulli Principle may help you understand how this gizmo works, but thankfully you don’t need a degree in quantum physics to use it. Pouring wine from the bottle through the Vinturi (which is essentially a small glass tube) into a glass supposedly has the same effect as aerating your wine in a decanter for an hour.  I have one and I love it. You can find these online for under $40. Happy Holidays!

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