The one question I dread the most is "What's your favorite wine?" It's nearly impossible to answer because my feelings change from day to day, meal to meal, and mood to mood.
The truth is that when it comes to wine and spirits, I fall in love frequently and not exclusively. To my longtime squeeze, Alsatian Riesling, I am a very bad girlfriend indeed. But I'm hardly alone. In fact, I've noticed that playing the field is somewhat common among other wine geeks, too. Most of us have at least three till-death-do-us-part picks--Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Nebbiolo are stalwarts--but we're also playing around on the side with, say, Alto Adige whites, boutique gin, and some sort of craft beer. Our capricious and evolving tastes make us a difficult lot to shop for, particularly during the holiday season.
So how to keep the love alive with the wine lovers on your list? Give them what they really want and mix it up. Here are twelve of the most bewitching bottles I've tasted over the past year. If you're feeling really generous, treat your favorite drinker to all twelve. But even one of these bottles will make the season festive.
Anchor Junipero Gin (San Francisco, $30). I'm an unabashed gin girl, and while conventional wisdom would lead us to the British Isles for this most British of spirits, my favorite gin hails from San Francisco. The aptly named Junipero is heavy on botanicals, most notably juniper, which balances the sweetness in a gin and tonic, or plays up the savory in a Gibson cocktail.
R. Lopez de Heredia 2000 Rose (Rioja, Spain, $30). Not everyone will fall for this complex, nutty Spanish rose with almost Sherry-like nuances, and that's a good thing, because there's not that much of it around. R. Lopez de Heredia does not produce a rose every year, and so when I see it, I buy it. Who knows when next we'll meet? I've enjoyed this beguiling bottle with tapas on a hot August night, and at our Thanksgiving table, where it was heavenly alongside turkey and stuffing.
Grosset 2009 Polish Hill Riesling (Clare Valley, Australia, $35). The first time I tasted a Grosset Polish Hill Riesling years ago, I was sitting at a window table overlooking the Sydney Harbor, having just seen Madama Butterfly. I attributed my rapture for this bone-dry Riesling full of gorgeous lime and mineral notes to the romance of the evening. But it turns out that--regardless of when and where you uncork it--year after year, Jeffrey Grosset consistently produces the finest Rieslings in the New World.
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Westvleteren 12 (Belgium, $40). After driving all over Belgium last summer trying unsuccessfully to hunt down a bottle of this fabled Trappist ale, I finally caved and bought some online at the jaw-dropping price of $40 for a twelve-ounce bottle. Which seems sacrilegious, really. But the beer's complex caramel and coffee notes with dried fig and plum flavors will convert you.
Rippon 2007 Pinot Noir (Lake Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand, $50). I blind-tasted this wine last year and loved it, which was lucky, because I was sitting next to the winemaker, Nick Mills. Never in a million years would I have guessed this biodynamic old-vine Pinot was from New Zealand. It's an elegant wine with dark fruit flavors and mineral notes balanced by black pepper and spice.
Cantina Terlano 2007 Quarz Sauvignon Blanc (Alto Adige, Italy, $55). When we think of Italy, it's usually the reds that capture our imagination. But recently I've fallen under the spell of Italian whites from the far northern Alto Adige region, which borders Austria in the southern part of the Alps. Thanks to higher elevation, Sauvignon Blancs from the area are crisp and citrusy, two traits that make them ideal for summer sipping. My favorite example is from Cantina Terlano, for its unusual richness that earns it a seat at the table year-round.
Los Danzantes Mezcal (Mexico, $55). Perhaps, like me, you thought you didn't like mezcal. All that changed when I tried a sip of Los Danzantes, a smoky, smooth top-shelf mezcal with vanilla notes and a spicy finish. My neighborhood taqueria serves the stuff, and there is little that is more satisfying after a plate of tacos de camarÃ³n in a fiery morita salsa.
Domaine d'Eugenie 2007 Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru Aux Brulees (Burgundy, France, $115). If I were being truthful and outrageous, I would have asked Santa for a case of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache at over $1,000 a precious bottle. Which is why my favorite reality check of the past year has been Domaine d'Eugenie's Vosne-Romanee aux Brulees--a classic premier cru Pinot Noir from the same village as La TÃ¢che, at a tenth of the price. Talk about a deal.
Ardbeg 2010 "Supernova" Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland, $125). Bon Appetit's resident Scotch expert is managing editor Katie O'Kennedy, and I have her to thank for my Ardbeg obsession. Peaty, smoky, salty, and sublime, this bottle of "Supernova" is about as rare as its celestial namesake.
Quilceda Creek 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington, $125). Last spring at Taste Washington, I had the great honor of sitting on a panel to taste and discuss the past decade's worth of these exceptional Cabernet Sauvignons. Seductive, with luscious notes of dark plum, blackberry, and spice, this wine begs the question, Is the best Cabernet in the United States coming out of Washington State?
Vega Sicilia 1991 Unico (Ribera del Duero, Spain, $300). You can't believe everything you read, like rumblings from critics who initially panned the 1991 vintage in Northern Spain. A few months ago, I found myself besotted at the hands of Vega Sicilia's Unico, a cult favorite among wine lovers. Believe this: Full-bodied and intense with layers of black cherry and cedar, this wine has a date with destiny and an aged standing rib roast at Christmas dinner this year.
Dom Perignon 2000 Rose (Champagne, France, $350). As the final hours of 2010 slip away, I can only hope to be surrounded by the ones I love, and that includes the most memorable wine I tasted this year. This spectacular Champagne is rich and ravishing, with intense floral and red berry notes.