November 29, 2017 – Ottawa, ON
Today on CTV Morning Live, Sommelier Matt Steeves showcased his top wine & spirits picks for entertaining and gifting this holiday season. Check out the CTV video here!
Having a tough time finding a gift for someone that has it all? Not to worry, we’ve got the ideal gifts for you this holiday season whether it be for a boss, neighbour, relative, or colleague, these wines and spirits are great options and are sure to be loved.
And with all the holiday entertaining that takes place this time of year it’s always great to have some Sommelier approved picks for hosting your holiday gathering, or for giving to a host.
With so many options at the LCBO and SAQ it can be a bit overwhelming to start looking for that perfect bottle but it’s actually not that hard to find great wines at affordable price ranges. With just a few tidbits of information about your party or your host’s preferences, any Sommelier or knowledgeable product consultant can easily recommend a few great wine picks that will fit within your budget and work wonderfully for you this holiday season.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to spend a lot to get wines that will be enjoyed. In fact, when it comes to entertaining, often the most suitable wines are some of the least expensive, and these wines tend to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. California red blends, California Chardonnay, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are great examples of, generally speaking, very widely appealing wines. I call these wines ‘crowd pleasers‘ or ‘consumer friendly‘ as they’re affordable and most wine lovers find them super tasty.
I’ve selected some great entertaining and gifting wines (and spirits) below that are guaranteed to be well received and enjoyed by many this holiday season.
Before we get into my top picks, one recommendation I like to offer for people looking to host holiday parties is to serve more sparkling wines. Sparkling wine is super festive, pairs beautifully with all foods, and really steps up your hosting game when you greet your guests with a glass of bubbly when they arrive.
Canada produces world-class traditional method sparkling wines, which are made just like Champagne, but often at a fraction of the price! Check out Featherstone Cuvée Rosé, Benjamin Bridge NV, Blue Mountain, Jackson Triggs, 13th Street to name a few delicious Canadian sparking wines.
There are terrific low priced sparkling wines out there such as Prosecco and Cava. Prosecco, which is a sparkling wine made in Italy, and Cava from Spain, can be purchased often for as cheap as $12-$15 a bottle in Canada, and since Prosecco tends to be slightly sweet it’s well suited for welcoming guests to your home, whereas a $50 Champagne may be best for that special toast or to enjoy with one of the five courses in that fancy meal. Offering a glass of $50 Champagne to everyone gets pretty expensive though, but a $12 bottle of Cava runs you about $2.50 a glass which is similar to the cost of a bottle of beer yet at the right time and place can mean so much more.
So, here is my Sommelier approved list of wines and spirits that I’ve assembled that you can be sure will complement your holiday festivities and be appreciated by anyone that’s fortunate enough to receive one of these as a gift.
Blu Giovello Prosecco – a great value priced bottle of bubbly for your holiday festivities
Santa Margherita Prosecco – $17.95 at LCBO
Santa Margherita’s Brut Prosecco Superiore is a terrific option when looking for a refreshing sparkling wine. Made from 100% Glera grapes, this Prosecco has lively bubbles with crisp pear and white peach aromas and a delicious apple finish persisting on the refreshed palate. Great for pairing with rich appetizers, and makes a terrific ‘spritz’ which is ideal in the summer sun. Tasted February 2017. 89 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Featherstone Joy Premium Cuvée Rosé 2015 – a must for any sparkling wine lover
Featherstone’s Cuvée Joy Rosé is a fine example of the mineral-driven premium traditional method sparkling wines that Featherstone Winery is producing on the Twenty Mile Bench. Delicate strawberry, cherry, and rhubarb notes are supported by refreshing red fruit acidity and limestone minerality on the finish. Score – 90+. (Matt Steeves, quercusvino.ca, June 2017)
Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique NV – $32.95 @LCBO
Benjamin Bridge is increasingly becoming a top recommendation for Canadian Sommeliers when customers are looking to enjoy a premium sparkling wine with a delicious meal. Produced essentially the same way as Champagne, with all the labour intensive rituals, craftsmanship, and care, it’s no wonder why wine lovers around the world are getting excited about the high quality products that Benjamin Bridge is producing each and every year.
In 2015 Benjamin Bridge produced their first non vintage “NV” classic method sparkling wine. It’s a blend of L’Acadie, Vidal, Seyval, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, all from their estate vineyard. BB’s acclaimed winemaker, Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, reached deep into their library of vintage wines to craft their inaugural NV wine, which includes wine dating back to their first harvest, 2002. The nose shows crisp orchard fruit, brioche, with a touch of sea-breeze, for which this maritime winery is well known. The palate is crisp and tart with great texture from the never ending supply of fine bubbles. Lip smacking tart citrus and gum drop flavours make way to the long and palate cleansing finish. Ideally suited for enjoying with rich dishes, this NV is sure to be loved for it offers great quality at a terrific price. Benjamin Bridge continues to demonstrate that they’re a world-leader in premium sparkling wine production. Available winery direct ( https://www.benjaminbridge.com/sparklings/nv ) and at wine stores across Canada (and internationally).
Tasted multiple occasions since December 2015. Consistently 92 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Now, into some red and white wines.
Kim Crawford Holiday Edition Sauvignon Blanc – $16.95 ($3 off this holiday season)
Kim Crawford continues to be one of the most appreciated Sauvignon Blanc expressions around the world. The 2016 vintage shows the characteristics of Marlborough that the world has grown so fond of. Expressive passion fruit, guava, and grapefruit interlaced with sweet herbal tones. Mouthwatering citrus and lemongrass on the long crisp fruit finish. Year after year, Kim Crawford manages to produce quality wines at a great price making them a top selling brand around the world. Enjoy with seafood, lightly spiced Asian cuisine, salads, and fish tacos, and why not serve this with your holiday entertaining as Sauvignon Blanc is a terrific party wine! 90 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Jackson-Triggs Reserve Meritage – $13.95
Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon – $19.95 at LCBO
2014 Review: For $19.95 there’s no surprise that this is Washington State’s best selling Cabernet at the LCBO! Chalked full of sweet dark fruit, black currants, black cherries and plum. It’s boldly flavoured and silky smooth – there’s no wonder why it’s so popular! Enjoy 2016-2020 with BBQ fare, braised beef, or on its own. Tasted June 2016. 89 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvio.ca
Ruffino Il Ducale – Tuscany – Italy – $19.95
2011 Il Ducale review: Medium ruby red in colour. The nose shows sweet fruit, cedar, savoury herbal notes, and pepper. Soft, luscious, and refreshing, a wonderful wine for entertaining and at a great price. Tasted February 2015. 90 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Fontanafredda Barolo (the King of Wines, and this one at a peasant’s price)
Fontanafredda’s 2013 Barolo is one of the best super value Barolo’s available at the LCBO. At $29.90 it offers exceptional value and don’t let the discount price point steer you away as this Barolo is delicious! Primed and ready for immediate enjoyment, it’s very well structured with fine integrated tannins that are supported by the fresh acidity and delicious balance of fruit and rustic flavours. Fontanafredda’s Barolo is a fantastic option for gifting, short to medium term cellaring, and for enjoying with a wide range of meals, from creamy pasta, braised beef, blue cheese, or simply on its own. Very aromatic, it has a beautiful nose with prune, cherry, sweet spices, black tea, and leather. A beautiful Barolo, the King of Wines, and at a very reasonable price. Tasted October 2017. 91 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Medium ruby red with a garnet core, the nose shows dark cherry, forest fruits, plums, cedar, rose, clove, and black tea. Cozy, rustic, with layers of fruit and sweet spice, this Barbaresco has great structure with ultra fine tannins making it a terrific choice to enjoy this winter with hearty dishes, braised beef, firm cheese, or apres ski by a warm fire with good company. Enrico Serafino has produced a fantastic Barbaresco that’s sure to be loved. Highly recommended! Tasted December 2016. 92 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Carione Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – A bargain for a Brunello, this is an absolute must for any wine aficionado on your shopping list.
Immediately upon pouring this fine wine you’re greeted with rich and inviting aromas that draw you in with intrigue and piqued interest. Ruby red with a garnet hue, the nose shows rich plum, cherry, balsamic, leather, spice, and dried herbs. Flavours of cherry, plum, balsamic, and leather persist on the long finish. Smooth with great balance between the sweet fruit and rustic notes, acid, and integrated tannins. Although many Brunellos require a decade to arrive at their sweet spot, Carione’s 2011 is absolutely beautiful right now so why wait! Enjoy 2016-2022. Fantastic value and a terrific Brunello if you’re looking for an affordable option. Tasted December 2016. 93 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Ruffino Modus Super Tuscan – this value priced Super Tuscan used to only be available at LCBO once a year now it’s available as an LCBO Vintages Essential so you can get your hands on it year round and what a perfect time to treat someone to this special wine.
Each vintage Modus continues to solidify its place in the fine wine world continuing to earn the reputation of an iconic Super Tuscan which is impressive given it’s only a fraction of the cost of its storied peers. The 2012 is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, with 25% of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that shows juicy layers of dark fruits, plum, spice, leather, and cigar box. Great depth of flavour, texture, and structure make it ideally suited for enjoying now with rich Osso Buco or hanger steak with bagna cauda pan sauce; it’s also an ideal candidate to cellar for up to a decade to enjoy its evolution. Ruffino’s Modus is an exceptionally value priced Super Tuscan that I’d highly recommend buying by the case. Tasted June 2015. 93 points. Matt Steeves – www.quercusvino.ca
Now, here are a few of my top wine picks this holiday season for the aficionado on your list! Each of these products would be perfect, loved, and put to very good use.
CheckMate Tournament Set Merlots – Four of Canada’s finest wines in one gorgeous gift package – End Game, Silent Bishop, Opening Gambit, and Black Rook Merlot – the ultimate wine aficionado gift this holiday season!
CheckMate Artisanal Winery produces some of the finest Chardonnay and Merlot in the world from their Golden Mile Bench winery situated in Canada’s wine capital, Oliver, BC. The 2013 Black Rook Merlot is an outstanding expression of ultra premium Okanagan Merlot. Sourced from the Black Sage Bench, Black Rook is a deep ruby colour, the nose is so rich with bramble berry pie notes making the first impression followed by mocha, raspberry, anise, cedar, and a touch of menthol. The aromatic profile seems to combine the finest elements of Napa, Barossa, and Valpolicella, but proudly 100% Okanagan. The palate is remarkably plush whilst also being very refreshing and textured, with layers of delicious dark fruits and sweet spices, all elegantly balanced in this deeply concentrated and robust yet very harmonious wine. It weights in at 14.4% and thanks to its beautifully balanced structure it’s as smooth as silk making it a great wine to enjoy now. Perfectly integrated tannins magically appear on the refreshing finish reminding you just how elegantly structured this magnificent wine is. One of the finest single varietal Merlot wines I’ve tasted. Although drinking beautifully now, this will be absolutely stunning over the next 10+ years as the rich fruit characteristics evolve. Only 9 barrels produced. Enjoy 2017-2030. Tasted bottle 2598 in September 2017. 95 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Maynard’s Port Wine Encyclopedia Volume III (a top gift this season!)
Port, the storied fortified wine from Portugal, is loved by many around the world for its rich and refreshing characteristics that are simply perfect when enjoyed after a fine meal in the company of great friends. Like wine, Port comes in many different styles, each with unique characteristics that make them best suited for specific purposes whether that be with main dishes, desserts, or simply enjoying by the fire.
Following a very successful Volume II release last year, Maynard’s has released their Port Wine Encyclopedia Volume III in time for the holiday season, so you better make some room on that book shelf for one more ‘must read’ ‘best seller’!
Volume III includes a flight of six different Ports, including a White Port, Ruby Port, Tawny Port, Reserve Tawny Port, a 40 Year Tawny Port, and a 2006 Colheita Port – practically every style you can dream of, and all beautifully presented in a hard cover encyclopedia shell that would totally go undiscovered in anyone’s library, or shelf at work…
Rare is it to have six different styles of any beverage to sample in one package, but Maynard’s delivers style and function with this educational and entertaining flight of Ports that is by the way totally delicious as you sample your way through six tasty styles of Ports, from White Port to 40 year old Tawny Port. Complete with encyclopedia-like information on each of the styles, this is a tutored-tasting in a box. Impress your friends, family, or colleagues with your knowledge and lead them on a tasting and sensory journey with this Port Encyclopedia.
Especially unique are the Ports that bookend this flight, from a somewhat rarely seen (in the Canadian market) White Port to the very expensive 40 year old Tawny Port (that’s right, the juice in that bottle is on average 40 years old making is so incredibly nutty, smooth, and complex). The flight of six Ports are packaged in individual glass 60ml bottles that enable a few tasters to sample each, or one lucky taster to taste them several times over a period of time as these Port
If you’re looking for a great holiday gift for that special wine/Port lover in your life, this may be the best gift you could get, especially for the value price and the rich experience that comes with it. Highly recommended. Tasted November 2017. 95 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Maynard’s 100 Years of Port Wine (Matt’s top gift this season!)
Maynard’s 100 Years of Port is perhaps the ultimate gift for any wine lover this holiday season. Beyond the attractive and functional packaging, that houses four 200ml glass bottles with resealable cork stoppers, the real excitement comes with the tasting of 100 years worth of Tawny. Starting with a 10 year Tawny, and increasing in decade increments where each Port has aged an additional 10 years in wood, to arrive at the remarkably complex, luscious and refreshing 40 year Tawny. Maynard’s 100 Years of Port offers an incredible ‘vertical’ tasting experience that everyone will be excited to try, whether you’re an aficionado or novice, these are simply delicious and guaranteed to be loved by all! Pair any of these with a wide range of dishes from Charcuterie to fruitcake to the sweetest dessert dishes you can imagine, Tawny Port makes you the MacGyver of perfect food pairings. At just under $100 (at the LCBO), this 800ml sleeve of premium Tawny Ports offers great value, as 30 and 40 year old Tawny Ports often sell for $100-$200 per bottle. Like any Tawny Port, once you open it you can take your time and enjoy it over a number of weeks or better yet treat your family and friends to a truly unique tasting over the holiday season. Tasted November 2017. 96 points. One of my top recommended holiday ‘wine’ gifts of the season. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Now, for the cocktail lover, and let’s face it, who doesn’t love a nice cocktail, especially over the holidays! I’ve selected a new Rye Whiskey that was just released this fall and is getting terrific reviews. Also, we’ve got a super premium craft Gin from London that is absolute dynamite in fancy cocktails as well as in the traditional Gin & Tonic.
When you haven’t changed a recipe in over a hundred years any change must be for a pretty darn good reason! So when Jack Daniel’s announced the release of their new Jack Daniel’s Rye Whiskey, made with 70% Rye grain, essentially reversing the old recipe that consisted of 80% corn, it got a lot of Whiskey enthusiasts very interested in giving it a shot, or two. Upon my first sip I appreciated their decision to up the Rye content, thereby moving away from a sweeter style corn based Whiskey and into a style of Rye Whiskey that would be great when served with premium cocktails and also a decent choice to enjoy neat, especially for those that like the pure expression of a mildly spicy Rye. I found it to be a terrific Rye for mixing in cocktails. Whether it be a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or Whiskey Sour, this Rye takes those cocktails to the next level, and in style! At 45% abv , its powerful but in a distinguished way making it ideal in those timeless cocktails. Tasted November 2017. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Treat your guests to an Old Fashioned with Jack Daniel’s Rye Whiskey – guaranteed they’ll love it!
The classic old fashioned rye cocktail is so simple to make and delicious especially with the new Jack Daniels Rye Whiskey which makes this storied cocktail absolutely to die for. All you need is 2oz JD Rye Whiskey, 2 sugar cubes, 3+ dashes of Angostura bitters/ Dillons bitters and a big cube of ice. Muddle sugar, bitters, and a splash of water (or club soda), then add Whiskey, large ice cube, then stir 20-30 seconds, strain into a whiskey glass and garnish with orange peel/twist. Add the ice cube to keep the drink cool and let the ice melt a bit as you savour this tasty cocktail. Give it a try. Guaranteed your guest will love it.
Make a delicious Manhattan cocktail with Jack Daniel’s Rye Whiskey and Carpano (Vermouth)
2 ounces of Jack Daniel’s Rye Whiskey + 1/2 to 3/4 ounces sweet red vermouth (Carpano), a 1/2 ounce of Grand Marnier + a couple of dashes of angostura bitters. Stir all ingredients with ice for 15 seconds and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin – This delicious premium Gin comes from London’s first traditional copper distillery since 1820. For any Gin lover, this would be a stellar gift, and for your holiday entertaining, what a great treat for your guests when served in any cocktail from the classic Gin & Tonic, to a Gingerbread Sour, or a White Lady.
In 2009 Sipsmith set-up London’s first traditional copper distillery since 1820, launching the rebirth of ultra premium craft Gin production in that storied city. Sipsmith prides themselves on their hands-on crafting of small batch premium Gin, which showcases the hallmark characteristics of premium London Dry Gin, including gorgeous bouquets of sweet botanicals and fresh Juniper. Sipsmith London Dry Gin is fresh, clean, and beautifully balanced with a sweet botanical bouquet complete with Juniper, baked lemon tarts, and white pepper. Creamy, smooth, and elegant, Sipsmith is ideally suited for enjoying in a martini or any of your favourite cocktails. Try a Hot Gin Toddy this winter, or whip up a Gingerbread Sour, or the classic White Lady – all fantastic cocktails with this premium Gin. Tasted November 2017. 94 points. Matt Steeves – http://www.quercusvino.ca
Treat someone special to an Under the Mistletoe cocktail this holiday season…
1 oz Beattie’s vodka
½ oz creme de cassis
2 to 3 oz cranberry juice
Mint sprig and frozen cranberries, for garnish
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add Beattie’s vodka, Creme de Cassis, top with cranberry juice and garnish with mint sprig and frozen cranberries. Voila!
I hope you get a chance to enjoy some of these tasty drinks this holiday season and that you find a few special bottles wrapped-up with your name on them too…