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Yo Ho Ho And A Bottle Of Rum: A last-minute guide to Christmas wine/spirits/beer shopping

christmas balls

With Christmas just a week away, don’t panic, and whatever you do, don’t give into the temptation to get her (or, shame on you, him!) that No! No! Hair removal kit. Be calm, there’s still time to light up their life with some delicious and thoughtful gifts of the liquid kind before you go and ruin all those hairy parts of your body.

At this holiday time of the year there is plenty of advice to help you with your trip to the nearest LCBO Vintages stores.

One of my favourite lists is put out every year by the writers of Spotlight Toronto, a good cross-section of the website’s writers’ favourite Ontario and international wines plus a nice sparkling selection. I’m told by publisher Suresh Doss that the selections will be posted early this week.

I usually contribute to the list and here is what I recommended:


Hidden Bench La Brunante 2010 ($75, winery only, free shipping until Christmas, Beamsville Bench, Niagara) — La Brunante is the flagship Bordeaux style blend from Hidden Bench and is made only in the best years where optimum maturity and flavour development are achieved in the vineyard. This is the third vintage (the others were 2007 and 2005) of this 33% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Malbec blend from the estate’s highest performing grapes. This blend, one of my highest scoring reds of the year, starts with an explosion of red berries on the nose followed by currants, dark plums, blackberries, anise and a mélange of spices and smoky wood notes. It is no doubt powerful on the palate with evident tannins and oak influence but it is equally met with a wave of fruit flavours and bits of licorice, tar, bramble and peppery spices that linger on a long-lasting finish. It has such depth of flavour and pleasure that will reward over and over if cellared properly for many years to come. A perfect gift for the most discerning wine lover on your list.

Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2011 ($40, for sale at Jackson-Triggs winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake) — Claystone Terrace is contiguous with the top Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard yet turns out wines that are profoundly different. The clay and limestone soils of Claystone help shape the wines that are the most distinct, in my opinion, of the Le Clos portfolio both in the Chards and Pinot Noirs. The nose is already rockin’ with McIntosh apple, lemon tart, apricot, soft spice and subtle toast and vanilla. It is a substantive Chardonnay on the palate with weight and power but not at the expense of its core of poise and elegance. The apple-pear fruit melds gorgeously with tropical notes and citrus zest through a lively finish that combines a delicious core of oak and vanilla toast with stony minerality. It is a beautifully integrated wine already with room to improve further with some bottle age.

0017541Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis Cote de Lechet Reserve 1er cru 2010, France ($34, Vintages) — Fans of the bigger styled Chardonnays of Chablis in France will adore this wine that sees some oak aging. The nose is complex with citrus, salty sea breeze, flinty minerality and just a whiff of smoke and oak. It is tight and nuanced on the palate and built in a perfectly austere and dry style. The hallmark of this impressive Chablis is the mineral structure and the subtle fruit that builds with each sip. I can’t help but think this will evolve and open up over time. If you are looking for a style of wine to impress that special loved one on your Christmas list, I highly recommend the wines of Chablis. If you can’t find this one, look for any of these at select Vintages stores:

Jean-Marc Brocard Montmains Chablis 2011 ($30, Vintages)
La Chablisienne Chablis Montmains 2010 ($29, Vintages)
Domaine du Chardonnay Chablis Montmains 2011 ($29, Vintages)

A couple of other choices:

Domaine Jean Hauller Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg 2011 ($20, 91 points, Vintages) — The wines from Alsace are superstars in my books and still an undervalued region. This is a particularly good bargain considering this is a grand cru with a not-so-grand pricetag. It’s pure and fresh on the nose with pineapple, citrus and peach blossom aromas. On the palate look for lovely texture to go peachy-citrus fruit and a touch of smoke and minerality through the finish. Very well balanced and perfect with Christmas turkey, by the way.

0045195-1Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale 2009 ($25, 90 points, Vintages) — Vintage to vintage, one of my favourite Chiantis. A classic nose of savoury cherry, leafy tobacco, vanilla, cassis, spice and bramble bush. This is delicious on the palate with juicy red fruits, herbs, tar and spice delivered on bed of smooth and fine tannins. Drink now or hold for further development.

Who doesn’t LOVE Riesling?


There are a lot of great Rieslings made in Ontario but none more satisfying than what comes out of the St. Urban Vineyard.

Nestled on the northern edge of Vineland Estate,  and bordered to the west by the laneway and east by the lowest watershed trough, is “Field D.” It is here that Vineland’s top Rieslings are born. Rieslings that have personality; Rieslings that have distinct flavours capable of stirring the soul vintage after vintage.

Winemaker Brian Schmidt decided in 2009 to exploit the unique features within Field D by creating four different Rieslings from three parcels (the fourth one is a combination of the three) divided by east, centre and west plantings.

He would call his project the Expressions in D Riesling Series. They sell at the winery for $30 each or as an attractive package in a wooden box with a book explaining the wines and special poster of the original art created by in-house graphic artist Melissa Proudlock ($135).

If you are a Riesling freak like I am, you will love this experiment.

Schmidt says the Expressions in D project “gives you an understanding of the art of the possible” and, ultimately, “the art of the blend.”


Vineland Estate Alto Riesling 2009 ($30, 92 points) — From the west block with topsoil consisting of gavel, this is the most expressive wine, the early bloomer, and the most attractive of the four wines out of the gate. The nose is vibrant and soaked in all manner of citrus fruit with just a touch of green apple and petrol beginning to emerge. It is marked by high tension on the palate with ripe citrus balanced on a razor sharp beam of acidity. Enthralling from sip to swallow.

Vineland Estate Soprano Riesling 2009 ($30, 91 points) — I call this one, grown on sandy soil, “the wall flower” — it’s a little shy at the moment but promises to explode if you listen to the palate. The nose is tighter than the other two with shades of pear, citrus, apple and a lovely floral/mineral note emerging. It sheds a lot of that shyness on the palate with tremendous fruit power, racy acidity and laced with stony minerality. A silent beauty waiting to spread her wings if you give it time.

Vineland Estate Falsetto Riesling 2009 ($30, 93 points) — Best described as “the tweener,” this eastern block Riesling grown in loamy soil has a wonderful and expressive nose of grapefruit, tropical fruits, summer apples and drenched in minerality. The lush fruit on the palate is harmonious and rides a firm beam of acidity with a supporting note of ginger spice. It’s in the finish, which lasts over a minute, that a find the impetus for what I think will be the longest-lived wine of the three. Sensational Riesling.

Vineland Estate Concerto Riesling 2009 ($30, 92 points) — Bringing, obviously, all the elements of the above, with a nose of citrus, apples, minerals and subtle peach and pear notes. It’s refreshing, lifted by mouth-awakening acidity, and a showcase for the St. Urban Vineyard. Even though it’s already nicely aged for you, if you give it time, a sweet petrol note should add complexity over time.

Sparkling and sweet wines

13th_Street_Winery_Grande_Cuvee_2007_web13th Street has worked hard to put itself among the top tier of the sparkling wine hierarchy in Niagara. The Grande Cuvée Blanc de Noir represents the most rare of the winery’s fine bubbly program and is only made two or three times a decade in exceptional sparkling wine vintages.

It is made with 100% Pinot Noir sourced from two of the estate’s best vineyards in Niagara.

13th Street Grand Cuvée Blanc de Noir 2007 ($59, Vintages, winery in Niagara) — A gorgeous and generous nose of lemon and brioche, green apple and fresh baked bread with creamy vanilla and toast accents. It’s built in an austere style with chiselled acidity and a fine mousse that tickles the palate and gives way to fresh apple and lemon flavours. Tertiary notes of warm toast, custard and tangy minerality add to the complexity of this well-built sparkler. Drinking rather well right now but can cellar a wee bit longer to draw out further nuances.

Transparent-Sparkling-Cabernet-FrancInniskillin Cabernet Franc Sparkling Icewine 2012 ($120 for 375 ml, Inniskillin winery only) — Winemaker Bruce Nicholson has created the most fascinating version of sparkling icewine to date — the 2012 Sparkling Cabernet Franc Icewine. It is pure joy in a bottle. All that glorious sweetness combined with electrifying effervescence on the palate seems to balance the sweetness of the icewine without losing any of the viscosity and texture. This is such a beautiful and unique wine that will be worth the trek to Niagara’s Inniskillin in Niagara-on-the-Lake to get it. This is an extremely rare style of icewine that is expensive because it’s so difficult to make. The nose is explosive with raspberry, cherry, strawberry and rhubarb that jump from the glass. It is highly concentrated on the palate with an electrifying jolt of sparkling bubbles and finesse on the palate to go with super-concentrated, super-sweet red fruits and balancing acidity. This is a decadent and splashy style of icewine to be enjoyed by a roaring fire with a little bit of dark chocolate or even paired with cocoa-dusted duck breast. It’s finished with 9% alcohol.

Chateau des Charmes Rose Sparkling Wine Methode Traditionnelle Estate Bottled 2010 ($29, 89 points, Vintages) — A delightful wine to have on hand during the holidays. This sparkling wine is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with extended skin contact to extract the bright colour. The grapes were sourced from all four of CdC’s vineyard sites from vines that were planted as early as 1991 through 2003. It spent over two years on the lees. This sparkler is a product of the warmer growing season of 2010. The nose shows ripe raspberry and cherry fruit with just a hint of citrus. On the palate the wine is sweeter than I remember previous vintages with fleshy, ripe fruits and a persistent bead of lively bubbles.

1Flat Rock Riddled Sparkling 2008 ($30, 90 points, Vintages) — A blend of 71% Chardonnay with the rest Pinot Noir. A fantastic follow up to the more fleshy 2007 vintage. I truly adore the no-fuss beer-bottle style crown cap that simply pops off with no spillage whatsoever. The nose is all about clean, fresh apple, lime-citrus, toast and mineral. It’s vibrant and lively on the palate with an energetic mousse, lemon-lime zest flavours and razor sharp acidity.

Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvee Rose ($35, 93 points, Vintages) — This is made with a dosage of Cabernet Franc and Vidal icewine added in for added sweetness. This is such a magical wine with strawberry, citrus, watermelon, raspberry, spice, honey and toast on the nose. Simply delicious in the mouth with a sweet, vigorous bead of bubbles, lush red fruits of raspberry and strawberry and just a kiss of sweetness to balance out the acidity.

Hungaria Grande Cuvee Brut ($12, 87 points, LCBO) — Not all bubbly has to cost you an arm and a leg. This value sparkler from Hungary packs a lot of punch for $12. The nose shows bright citrus and apple fruits with lovely toasty-yeasty notes. It provides plenty of pop in the mouth with zesty citrus fruit in a dry and refreshing style. A party pleaser.

Check out these suggestions

Another nice list out there is from wine writer Michael Godel under the title 13 Canadian Wines That Rocked in 2013 Not all these wines are available for purchase but the ones that are current listings certainly are worth seeking out.

Beer, yah! Beer


There is so much beer out there now. I’m talking about good Ontario craft beer. It’s hard to even zero in on one brand to recommend but I did just taste through a couple of unique craft beers from Lake of Bays brewery, located in Baysville near Algonquin Park, that have a limited run at LCBO stores. I quite enjoyed both bottlings.

Lake of Bays China Wall — Johnny Bower Vienna Dark Lager ($12 for 750 ml, 7% alc., LCBO) — This Vienna Dark Lager pours a big ivory foamy head and reveals a nose of malt, almonds, brown sugar and roasted grains. It is clean and delicious in the mouth with dark fruits and hints of vanilla and mocha and a refreshing finish.


Lake of Bays Old North Mocha Porter ($9 for 750 ml, LCBO, 5.2% alc.) — I must say, my wife really loved this unusual craft brew that’s blended in collaboration with Diesel House Coffee Roasters. The pour is thick and rich with robust aromas of Espresso, malt, hops and dark chocolate. It’s a holiday treat that has flavours perched between dark chocolate and roasted coffee bean with a touch of nutty goodness.

Spirit of the season


Looking for a decadent treat to bestow on the spirits lover on your Christmas list? I can’t imagine a more perfect choice than a good Cognac. My go-to Cognac is the Hine Rare VSOP, A terrific elixir that is classed as Fine Champagne, meaning that the eaux-de-vie used are all from the Grande or Petite Champagne areas, with at least 50% from Grande Champagne.

Hine Rare VSOP ($83 for 750 ml, Vintages) — Such a rich and refined nose of acacia, vanilla oak and medley of compoted fruit. The palate shows heat but still delivers a smooth and mellow sip that warms the soul.

Perfect Egg Nog

EGG_NOG-Harmony_Organic_Returnable_Glass_Milk_BottleOK, here’s the deal. You need a perfect egg nog recipe to get through the holidays. I begin making this drink as soon as the first egg nogs start appearing on shelves and end the ritual come Boxing Day.

The ingredients:

El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum
Harmony Premium Organic Egg Nog
Nutmeg, cinnamon
Ice cubes

In a tumbler, pour 1.5 oz of the rum over a generous collection of ice cubes, add spices and top with egg nog. Stir vigorously. Drink. Repeat.

Merry Christmas,