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10 Great Gifts in a Bottle

A bottle of something nifty is a great way to say “Happy Holidays,” and any of these ten, from modest to extravagant, are gifts we’d love to receive

Fine Cooking Issue 75
Photos: Scott Phillips
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A bottle of something nifty is a great way to say “Happy Holidays,” and any of these ten, from modest to extravagant, are gifts we’d love to receive. Depending on how much you want to spend, and whether you want to give a bottle that’s dry or sweet, there’s something here for everyone. If you can’t find the specific pick we’ve recommended, ask a good merchant about similarly delicious examples.

Dry

Easy-sipping Alsace blend:
Hugel Gentil
Gentil, a deliciously versatile white wine, makes a fine apéritif; it’s a great hostess gift for a cocktail or hors d’oeuvres party. “Gentil” is French for kind, nice, or gentle, and this easy-drinking wine lives up to its name. Gentil is a delicious blend of five Alsace grapes (Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Sylvaner, Muscat, and Pinot Gris), and the price is kind to your wallet, too. In fact, why not buy some as a gift to yourself? Gentil also happens to be great with pork, sushi, and Thai food. Serve chilled. Frederickwildman.com.

Dry Vermouth for the best martini (or pan sauces):
Vya Extra-Dry Vermouth
For the martini lover, cook, or apéritif maven, a bottle of Vya makes a clever gift. This carefully crafted dry vermouth is especially aromatic, thanks to the addition of botanicals like citrus rind and herbs. It can be used instead of white wine for delicious results in cooking (think pan sauces and risotto). It’s a superb touch for a top-notch martini, and it’s delicious, chilled on its own or as an apéritif. For a California version of the classic French cocktail, the Vermouth  Kir, add a dash of Bonny Doon Framboise (see below) Serve chilled. Vya.com.

A savvy splurge:
D’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings
If you want to give a big-deal bottle with great aging potential, this full-bodied Rhône-style blend from Australia would be money well spent (wines of this caliber from European countries which shall go unnamed can often cost three times as much). The Ironstone Pressings is a blend of Shiraz, Grenache, and Mourvedre from one of Australia’s most esteemed vineyards. This bottle would be delicious now, but best to lay it down for a few years, to become even lusher and more enjoyable. Uncork this one to savor with braised short ribs, grilled steak, or a lamb roast. Serve at room temperature. Oldbridgecellars.com.

South Africa’s bargain beauty:
Forrester Petit Pinotage
For the wine drinker in your life who loves trying new things, a bottle of Pinotage from South Africa would be nifty (and thrifty). The Pinotage grape is a hybrid of Pinot Noir (the grape from which red Burgundy is made) and Cinsault (a grape you’ll find in red Rhône blends), and it’s a mainstay of South Africa’s wine production. Though Pinotage may lack the subtlety of Burgundy, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper (in fact, the inexpensive ones often taste better), and it’s all about pleasure: intensely perfumey, fruity, full-flavored, and fun. If you can’t find this particular bottle, ask your local merchant for a Pinotage that’s fragrant, fruity, and not too oaky. Pinotage is delicious with roast chicken, soft cheeses, or barbecue glazes with a bit of sweetness. Serve at room temperature.

Distinctive single malt:
Aberlour 16-year-old Sherry Finish Single Malt
For the scotch drinker in your life, here’s a unique single malt from Speyside, a Highland area of Scotland. Aberlour is darker than many single malts, and it’s smooth and slightly sweet, thanks to its being aged in bourbon and then in sherry casks. It’s unusual for its almond, toffee, and floral aromas— it’s less peaty and smoky than many Highland single malts tend to be. Serve at room temperature. Aberlour.com.

Oregon’s version of an Italian classic:
Clear Creek Distillery Grappa of Pinot Noir
If you know someone who loves a bracing after-dinner drink, here’s a good choice. Grappa, the clear, fiery spirit from Italy, is made from what’s left after grapes are pressed (skins, seeds, and grape pulp). Clear Creek Distillery in Oregon makes several American artisanal versions, including one from Pinot Noir grapes. It smells like earth and like wine grapes being crushed at harvest, and it delivers an initial kick with a finish that’s clean and surprisingly smooth. Serve chilled. Clearcreekdistillery.com.

Sweet

Roasty-sweet Australian Muscat:
Chambers-Rosewood Muscat from Rutherglen
This delicious, modestly priced dessert wine comes from lateharvested Muscat grapes. It smells roasty-sweet and may remind you of caramel or toffee, but the sweetness is balanced and therefore irresistible. Try this Muscat after dinner, either on its own or with a smidge of blue cheese and some walnut bread. Serve slightly chilled. Oldbridgecellars.com.

Luscious raspberry liqueur:
Bonny Doon Framboise, eau de vie
A treat for drinkers and cooks alike, Bonny Doon Framboise is easy on the wallet and the palate. A dash poured into a glass of Champagne, dry white wine, or even dry vermouth makes a delicious mixer (see Dry Vermouth from California). It’s also a delicious dessert on its own, a killer accompaniment to chocolate desserts, and would make a fine flavoring for custards, dessert sauces, buttercream frostings, and trifle-type desserts. Serve chilled. Bonnydoonvineyard.com.

Ice wine, Canadian nectar:
Inniskillin Oak-Aged Vidal Ice Wine
This one’s a splurge, but for the special wine hound in your life, Iniskillin’s ice wine is a great find from an unlikely place: Canada. Ice wine happens when selected grapes are left on the vine to weather the cold months long after the other grapes have been picked. Sounds like a lonely fate, but the freezing and thawing the grapes undergo make for complex, powerful flavor. Oak-aged Vidal smells like roasted nuts, peaches, tangerine, and litchi, and its concentrated flavor might remind you of honey and stone fruit. Like all great late-harvest wines, ice wine goes wonderfully well with a big range of cheeses, and it’s superb all by itself. Serve chilled. Inniskillin.com.

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