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Twelve Wines for Christmas

Three Chilean labels, two French picks and a picpoul in a pear tree
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By the time you read this there will be fewer than the proverbial 12 days of Christmas to go, but I'm going to take a some poetic license and put together a dozen wines that your true love should give to you.

After 50-some weeks of work, over 100 airline flights, and scores and scores of tastings and winemaker meetings I've selected 12 of the most interesting wine tasted this year. I've even checked out the availability so that you should be able to locate most selections in government wine shops, if not in your favourite private wine store.

On the first day of Christmas... We begin with an amazing sauvignon. The Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2011 is a huge value at $13. It hails from the heralded Valle de Leyda on Chile's Pacific Coast. I love fresh acidity and minerality in this wine with its light seawater, grapefruit and watermelon flavours. Both refreshing and food-friendly without any aggressive, bitter asparagus notes. Extreme value, it should star at holiday parties.

The bookend red, pricewise, from Europe is the Beso de Vino Selección Syrah/Garnacha 2009 $13 from Cariñena Spain. You will love the round, supple, full warmth with juicy acidity. Plum jam, orange, meaty, peppery, chocolate, black cherry, liquorice, savoury flavours. Big and bold so there's lots of stuff here for that lamb stew and pork chops. Drink now. Excellent value if you like it big.

One of the best white wine finds of the year is the Ormarine Picpoul de Pinet 2010 $14. This southern French white is under cool to be seen with and it's delicious to boot. A perfect party appetizer from its Meyer lemon, honey, spicy, quince and ginger aromas to its fresh juicy lemon oil, grapefruit, ginger and pear skin flavours. Money in the bank under screwcap.

Chardonnay drinkers who love the grape not the oak should stock up on Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay 2010 $14.50 from cool climate San Antonio Chile. The 2010 makes it two in a row for this delicious unoaked organic chardonnay that over-delivers. Expect its trademark clean fruit with gooseberry and passion fruit aromas mixed with just off-dry fruit flavoured with citrus, guava and passion fruit notes and a swath of minerality. Well done.

The party or dinner bookend would be its pinot companion, the Cono Sur Visión Pinot Noir 2010 $18 from Valle del Colchagua, Chile. So ripe, round, smooth and suave with fine concentration and fresh acidity you will love sipping its wild plum, strawberry jam, smoky, vanilla flavours. Turkey works here, or duck, or just good friends.

And on the sixth day of Christmas...the highly versatile Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2010 $16, which is our pick. I love the drinkability of this wine. Fresh and clean, and not too aggressive in acidity. Dry with just the right amount of crunchy apple fruit, all in a pleasing, food-friendly style. A fine match with local shellfish or it can be served as an apéritif with bite-sized appetizers.

I love when organic grape growing works in the wine. The combination of viticulture that is planet saving and wine that's delicious is what I call a win/win. The Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2010 $17 is a plummy, red fruit affair with floral undertones. The attack is dry with sweetish, ripe fruit with plenty of peppery notes and bits of blueberries and milk chocolate. An attractive red wine for grilled meats.

Simplicity is highly underrated in red wine, but less oak and more terroir is exactly what you get in this affordable Perrin Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2009 Rhone Valley, France $18. The fruit is ripe and round in '09, with a fresh, open, peppery, meaty nose flecked with the famous scent of wild herbs or garrigue. The palate is almost glossy with fine texture and rich, ripe, plummy, black cherry flavours flecked with mandarin skin. Super value and a great holiday entertainer.

You should always have some sparkling wine on hand during the holidays, and a new listing from Germany, the Dr. L Sparkling Riesling N/V $19. Sekt, as Germans refer to sparkling wine, is something they drink more than anyone else in the world, so they do know bubble. The Dr. L Sparkling Riesling is 100 per cent riesling so you can expect a super fresh, crisp, steely fruit bubble with a touch of sweetness. We like its juicy demeanour on the palate, and expect you will too. Spicy sushi dishes would be an excellent match.

Some of the most serious wine coming out of Argentina is being made by the French-owned Moet group and Terrazas de los Andes Malbec Reserva 2008 $21, is an excellent example. Typically dark and mineral-scented, this robust malbec with its plummy, black cherry, smoky, floral nose is a delight. The attack is identical led by its minerality and savoury plummy fruit flecked with notes of orange and chocolate. The finish is long and firm with excellent acidity. Good value, too. T-bones anyone?

Another Argentine favourite is the Amalaya Tinta de Altura 2009 $18, a mix of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and tannat. Amalaya means waiting for a miracle, and hailing from the highest vineyards in the world, this red offers a rich palate of sweet dark cherry fruit and white pepper with flecks of mineral and spice. The finish is long, fresh and spicy with silky textures that do not quit. Farmed bio-dynamically and certified, this wine is a miracle or an amalaya.

And on the twelfth day of Christmas... My most memorable stop this year was in Bierzo, Spain. Pétalos 2008 $29 is all about the old vine, a 60-years-plus mencia grape that is bio-dynamically farmed on several small hillside plots. Its mineral floral violet character stems from the rocky slate soils and old vines tended by owners Alvaro Palacios and Ricardo Perez Palacios. You will love the warm, earthy nose and dark berry fruit flavours that are so well balanced you'll want to drink the entire bottle before your food arrives.

Have a wonderful, responsible holiday — and don't drink and drive.

Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com




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