Drink a toast to these 12 gifts for lovers of bubbly
Whether the gift recipient prefers a beautiful bottle of bubbles, a unique wine that is sure to appreciate, or one that will be poured that night at dinner, this selection of wines and special accessories — a custom-made Champagne sabre, for one — will please the connoisseur and host alike.
A perfect five
Price: US$50,000 ($A66,000)
What, you may wonder, should you do with a 3-litre bottle of Lokoya’s Mount Veeder or Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon?
Christopher Carpenter, the winemaker at Napa Valley’s Lokoya since 2000, suggests that you wait for a party with a really good group of 10 to 20 people and serve it then. And, he notes, because of the size of the bottle and the composition of the wine, you can wait a really long time for that party to take place.
This gift from Lokoya, a winery based in the Spring Mountain District that produces premium small-lot Cabernets from some of Napa Valley’s most celebrated mountain appellations, comprises two 3-litre bottles of five vintages (a total of 10 double magnums). Each vintage has received a 100-point rating from Robert Parker. Specifically, the wines are the 2005, 2012, and 2013 Mount Veeder and the 2003 and 2013 Howell Mountain. Of the 2013 Mount Veeder, Parker writes, “This 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon wine is utterly profound, and while the scoring system ends at 100, if I had to pick a single wine that may have been my favorite of all the tastings I did in Napa, this could have been my pick. Full-bodied, rich, with incredible integration of its component parts of acidity, tannin, alcohol, and wood, the wine is lavishly built, has compelling purity, richness, and density.”
Carpenter explains that wine in a 3-litre bottle will develop more slowly than wine in a 750 mL bottle. “The smaller the bottle, the faster the wine will age,” he says. “With a 3-litre bottle, you’ll probably get 30 percent more aging time.” And while the wine inside matures, the bottle can serve as a centerpiece for your cellar. “If you have a display cellar,” he says, “the 3-litre bottle can have a pretty impactful visual effect.”
Carpenter also notes that Napa’s mountain wines, including the Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain, will age longer than the wines sourced from the floor of Napa Valley because of a greater concentration of tannins, which give the wine its structure and also serve as a preservative. “The Mount Veeder is probably a 20- to 30-year wine,” he says, “and the 3-litre bottle extends that even more. This is a wine that you can pass down for generations.”
The gift also includes a dinner for as many as 10 guests hosted by Carpenter at Lokoya’s mountaintop estate. But don’t worry; there’s no need to bring one of the bottles from the gift. Lokoya will supply the wines — and they will be exclusive vintages from the winery’s cellar.
Three steps beyond
Price: US$2,300 ($A3000)
Some might consider Peter Gago, the chief winemaker at Penfolds, an intractable contrarian. About 5 years ago, Australia’s premier wine label decided to honor its country’s native artisans by enlisting four leading talents to produce an ampoule to house a rare wine. Gago, however, refused to put the brand’s flagship, Grange, into the receptacle: “ ‘You don’t mess with Grange,’ I told my colleagues.” Thus, when he proposed a limited edition consisting of three different vintages of that very wine, his associates were stunned. “It seemed to them contradictory,” says the winemaker. “ ‘You’re putting Grange in it?’ they asked. ‘Where’s the old Peter? He’s sold his soul!’ ”
There is method, however, to Gago’s apparent madness. The inspiration for this project, which yielded a modest 1,200 numbered bottles, came not from a focus group but from the history of Penfolds itself. Dr. Christopher Penfold and his wife, Mary, established the company in 1844 to produce fortified wines from multiple vintages, so Gago found the prospect of combining several of the cellar’s spectacular reserves irresistibly compelling. Some of the 2012 vintage had been held back from bottling and kept in neutral oak barrels; his wine, along with a cache of the extraordinary 2008, was married to a portion of the yet-to-be-released 2014 to yield g3, Penfolds’s most unusual creation yet.
“We knew what we had with these wines,” notes Gago, “but in blending, you find out what you don’t know. You can’t replicate this at home by putting the same percentages of ’08, ’12, and ’14 together, because once they mature as a blend, they’re a different wine.”
Indeed, the united trinity transcends the individual merits of its components. Priced at about $2,300 ($A3000) per bottle, g3 shows the youth of the 2014 in its notes of ripe black fruit and burgeoning spice, while the seductive character of the 2012 is present in its voluptuous mouthfeel. The formidable structure and depth of the 2008, however, serves to temper these hedonistic elements, making the experience of sipping this one-of-a-kind red a sensory-rich ascent into oenological paradise.
The beast of bubbly
Price: Starting at US$10,000 ($A13,200)
The tradition of sabering the tops of Champagne bottles is rumored to have begun on the battlefield with the Napoleonic hussar regiments, who sliced the bottles open while still sitting astride their steeds. This unique Champagne saber, with its handle sculpted in Napoléon’s likeness, “is a nod to the great little Frenchman from an Englishman,” says its creator, jeweler Stephen Webster. Webster, who prefers to limit his consumption of the effervescent elixir to “those special moments when no other beverages will suffice,” will make just five of these homages by commission only. Dubbed the French Beast, the saber will join a bronze handle to a blade forged from steel using the Damascus method — a process that makes every single blade individual, yielding a unique saber in the style of Webster’s Beast Knives collection released earlier this year.
The artist understands the balance required by such a tool after wielding one himself at the opening of the Chapel Down Bar, which he and his team designed for one of England’s new sparkling-wine vineyards. With such a custom saber in hand, the recipient of this gift will soon enjoy the drama and theatricality that go beyond the demure popping of a cork.
Available through Stephen Webster stores.
Price: US$62 ($A80)
If you want an elegant pairing with Stephen Webster’s Champagne sabre, Champagne Taittinger Brut La Française NV would be a smart choice. The wine comes in a 750ml bottle (US$62 ($A80)) as well as a just-right half-bottle format that neatly tucks into a stocking hung by the mantle (US$35 ($A45)). Like the maison’s other wines, this one has a fine, persistent bubble, and it is a beautiful pale-straw colour. For a non-vintage Champagne, it contains a high percentage of Chardonnay grapes (40 percent) combined with 35 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Pinot Meunier. The grapes are pressed in the field right after picking, capturing the freshest flavors, which come through in the delicate aromas of peach and white flowers. It undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle and spends a remarkable 4 years on the lees, imparting additional notes of vanilla and brioche on the nose and honey on the palate. It’s the ideal pour for toasting a celebration this holiday season.
Un Belle Boîte
Price: US$1,200 ($A1580)
For the first time in history, and for just this 2015 vintage, the renowned maison has created a special new bottle that celebrates 34 years of fine work by its late winemaker, Paul Pontallier as well as the new, modern facilities inaugurated in 2015 and, of course, the exceptional wine within. Rather than the traditional label, this bottle of Château Margaux 2015 Grand Vin has a more modern, gold, silk-screened image of the iconic château surrounded by one of the distinctive architectural features of the new addition, designed by architect Lord Norman Foster. This wine was the last to be produced under the supervision of Pontallier before his untimely death in 2016, and 2015 is predicted to be a legendary year of winemaking akin to those of 2005, 2009, and 2010.
Give them Carte Blanche
Price: US$65 ($A80)
The 2014 vintage for Carte Blanche Wine is the brand’s best yet across all releases. It was the first completely managed — from vineyard to bottle — by winemaker Helen Keplinger. While it was hard to choose a favourite, the Carte Blanche 2014 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, which is a new addition to the portfolio, stands out as a striking example of the varietal with scents of red fruit, juniper, and dusky sandalwood on the nose. It’s especially elegant and surprisingly delicate on the palate with notes of Luxardo cherry, cedar, and black tea. It’s both tightly structured and silky in the mouth.
The grapes were grown in the rocky and sunny Sun Chase Vineyard high atop Petaluma Gap, slated to become the region’s next distinct appellation. General manager D.J. Warner says, “This is an amazing vineyard, and Helen works with four clones of Pinot and four blocks from 426 metres to 518 metres, allowing us to layer the wine. The break in the mountain ridges there sucks in the fog, and it gets nice sun but has cool evenings.” Keplinger likes to pick a little early to capture the freshness of the grapes, and her artistry and precision are felt in every sip. For the Pinot Noir aficionados on your list, this wine is a must.
Wines that sing
Price: US$1,200 ($A1580)
The JN Wines 2014 12 Days of Christmas is a 12-bottle case of wine ideal for the oenophile who appreciates a little artistry on as well as in the bottle. The labels on these Cabernet Sauvignons — blended with just a touch of Malbec and Cabernet Franc to add some soft roundness — depict 12 different illustrations from the popular Twelve Days of Christmas carol, such as three French hens or 10 lords a-leaping. Nat Komes, the general manager of Napa Valley’s Flora Springs, commissioned children’s book artist Raul Gonzalez III to complete the drawings.
The fruit for the wine was sourced from JN Wine’s family estates in Napa Valley’s Rutherford region. The wine is bold and full of juicy fruit, with enough acid to age for years (if you can make it last that long). Blackberry, blueberry, chocolate, vanilla, and cedar present on the palate. The grapes were all hand-picked and then 10 percent of them were fermented in French oak barrels, while the rest fermented in steel tanks, before aging in French oak for 20 months. Only 100 cases of this special edition were created.
The Italian stallion
Price: US$35 ($A45)
This unusual varietal — Ruché di Coastagnole Monferrato — is one of the oldest grapes in Italy (and possibly the world) and believed to have originally been a French varietal that crossed the principalities into Piedmont. It is no longer grown in France and can be found only in Italy now. For Zinfandel fans, this wine is a discovery — it has the spicy, peppery notes beloved by Zin connoisseurs but the light brightness of a Beaujoulais. It’s silky in texture and all too easy to drink, as it pairs with many foods. The Ruché Limpronta, a family reserve from Montalbera Vineyards, is the best example and a wine that delivers value, with quality priced so reasonably.
A father and son duo
Price: US$200 ($A260)
Palmaz Winery was started by a cardiac surgeon who gained a reputation for innovation and engineering after inventing the vascular stent, which has saved countless lives. The founder’s son, Gaston, also has a passion for innovation and has used his technical savvy to track data meticulously throughout the winemaking process.
All this attention to data and detail pays off most handsomely in his namesake wine, the Palmaz 2014 Gaston Cabernet Sauvignon. This 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon wine represents the most premium of the grapes picked each harvest, and in this vintage, the 2014, the grapes come from three upper-elevation parcels. The clusters were all hand-picked from the hillsides at night to prevent too much sun and heat from causing fermentation before the grapes enter the tanks. The deep, red liquid is velvety on the palate with some black perigord truffle on the nose and deep black fruit notes, graphite, and a hint of cedar.
As a gentle companion, the family also makes a wine in honor of the third generation, which is still in grade school: Gaston Grand Cru (US$12 ($A15)) is a petite 375-mL bottle of grape juice made from Malbec and Merlot, fresh-pressed and cold-filtered — complete with a cork — to make the little ones feel part of the tradition of toasting and celebrating delicious grapes at the holidays.
A taste of Champagne Charlie’s legacy
Price: US$1,200 ($A1580)
Entrepreneur Charles-Camille Heidsieck nearly took his pursuit of perfection to the point of ruin. The scion of a winemaking family in the Reims region of Champagne, Heidsieck struck out on his own in 1851 at the age of 29, establishing his own label of fine sparkling wines. Not content to entrust others with the promotion of his bubbly, the headstrong Heidsieck traveled Europe, pouring his liquid wares for the most discerning palates before crossing the Atlantic to tempt less-tutored taste buds in the United States. He proved as refreshing to New York society as his wines, earning the sobriquet “Champagne Charlie,” and soon his agents in the New World were placing hefty orders on account.
Heidsieck, however, came to regret his promiscuous credit practices when the Civil War broke out. His efforts to recover sums owed him in New Orleans resulted in his being arrested as a spy and nearly shot. Back in Reims, he recovered sufficiently from his financial losses to purchase several old chalk quarries, or crayères, which he believed furnished perfect conditions for long-term aging. A handful of contemporary collectors will have the opportunity to judge this point for themselves thanks to Charles Heidsieck La Collection Crayères, a new program that celebrates these historic cellars with a series of library releases chosen by chef de cave Cyril Brun.
Available October 1, the first examples represent a handful of single bottles and magnums from the 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985 vintages. Among the highlights is the 1982 Champagne Charlie, only 18 magnums of which will be offered at US$1,200 ($A1580) each in the States. “It’s as though all the Incas’ gold were reflecting through the glass,” says Brun, who calls this vintage “the El Dorado of Champagne” — a description that would certainly have excited the adventurous imagination of the founder.
Price: US$55 ($A70)
The legend of Dr. Faust generally involves the protagonist trading his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge. Yet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe altered the pact slightly: His antihero instead condemns himself for the sake of pleasure and passion. These elements play a part in the liquid interpretation of the legend offered by Napa Valley vintner Agustin Huneeus and his son, Agustin Francisco Huneeus, who sought to produce a bold wine that offers a tasting tour of the region in a single glass. They did not resort to diabolical aid to achieve their goal, but if they had, the Faust 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon would have been worth the sacrifice. Rich as sin, this luscious red — with notes of black plum, chocolate, and licorice — would tempt even the most pious palate.
A gem of a stopper
Price: From US$6,300 ($A8300)
Crown your most elegant wines and decanters with an Art Deco–inspired stopper. The Regal Lion designs, by Cameron–Zemtsov Design Associates, are created in signed and numbered limited editions sculpted in elite silver, 18-karat gold, and 950 platinum. The lion heads are accented with diamonds or golden sapphires.