Welcome to this selection of classy holiday wines that I have rated 90 points or higher (out of 100) in tastings this year. Perfect, you might say, but what does that score really mean?
The scoring is an attempt to provide an objective opinion on the quality of the wine, based on such concepts as balance, flavour intensity, complexity, and length of finish — measurements that can be applied to wines of any type. If you don’t like a certain grape variety, region, or style, then the 90-point rating won’t help much. But if you do like the style — or you are willing to keep trying to acquire a taste for it — then the 90-point rating should help when it comes to choosing bottles.
When buying wine to serve to guests over the holidays or to offer as gifts, one might inquire whether it is proper etiquette to explain a wine’s rating. Is it taboo to boast about its being a 90-point bottle? If you do decide to reveal the wine’s score, my advice is to be prepared to explain why it received such a rating. To help pick the right wine, I have assembled a range of styles that span the wide world of wine, with notes on how you might put them to best use over the holidays, either as gifts or in dining and entertaining scenarios. Use the list to go one-stop shopping at larger LCBOs.
Bouchard Père & Fils 2014 Pouilly-Fuisse| $28.95 | Burgundy, France | 91 Points
Pouilly-Fuisse is the marquee appellation of southern Burgundy, known for elegant chardonnays from limestone soils. This is not showy, but it is refined. The nose subtly weaves baked apple, lemon, peppery spice, fresh herbs, and a touch of flint. It’s medium-weight, with initial richness that narrows to a mineral finish. Elegant seafood dinners. LCBO 56580
Cloudy Bay 2015 Sauvignon Blanc |$33.95 | Marlborough, New Zealand | 91 Points
This is as fresh and racy as most Kiwi sauvignons but more subtle and complex. The nose shows intriguing guava/gooseberry jam, delicate lemon blossom, green pepper, and flint. It’s medium-weight, fairly fleshy, and elegant, with excellent length. Smoked salmon, chèvre, and veggie canapés. Vintages Essentials 304469
Domaine Chatelain 2015 Les Vignes de Saint-Laurent-l’Abbaye Pouilly Fumé | $19.95 | Loire Valley, France | 91 Points
This refined French sauvignon blanc is simply delicious. The nose is piquant with green apple, lemongrass, nettle, and celery leaf. It’s light and smooth, yet juicy, with a mouth-watering finish. For sipping with fish or poultry, herb and citrus marinades. LCBO 958801
Drouhin-Vaudon 2015 Chablis |$23.95 | Burgundy, France | 90 Points
For those who don’t like oaky whites but love chardonnay, this elegant Chablis chardonnay shows subtle notes of baked spiced apple, fresh bread crust, and light flint/wet stone. It’s light- to mid-weight, smooth yet refreshing, with a fine acid-alcohol balance and grapefruit bitterness. For sipping with seafood dressed in mild cream sauces. LCBO 284026
Malivoire 2014 Chardonnay | $19.95 | Niagara Peninsula | 90 Points
This is an elegant, supple, and flavourful chardonnay, with classic butterscotch, baked yellow apple, lemon butter, and hazelnut aromas and flavours. It’s mid-weight, nicely polished, and soft but has a fine beam of Niagara acidity. Very stylish. Lobster. Vintages Essentials 573147
Sonoma-Cutrer 2014 Chardonnay| $27.95 | Russian River Valley, California | 90 Points
This leaner, complex chardonnay is not as oaky and rich as many from California. It is firm, dry, and complex, with toast, flint, lemon, custard, and herbal notes. Fine balance and length. Grilled seafood, chicken. Vintages Essentials 608653
Tawse 2014 Quarry Road Organic Riesling | $24.25 | Niagara Peninsula | 91 Points
This National Wine Awards gold medallist is slender, intense, and juicy, with mouth-watering acidity that is lifted with lime, fresh herbs, pine, and green apples. There is an echo of sweetness, but it’s very nicely balanced by acidity and modest alcohol. Pork roasts. Vintages Essentials 198853
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin 2008 Brut | $98.95 | Champagne, France | 93 Points
This great Veuve captures the leaner, lighter style of the house and delivers it with energy and depth. Expect intense aromas of baked bread, lemon curd, and dried fruit. It has mouth-watering acidity, creamy mousse, and a fine sense of restrained intensity. Ideal to open an elegant New Year’s Eve dinner. Vintages Essentials 508614
Piper-Heidsieck Brut | $59.95 | Champagne, France | 91 Points
Among the lightest, raciest Champagnes on the shelf, this has an intense, flinty minerality on the nose, with complex notes of lemon loaf, baked bread, and smoke. Light-bodied and vivacious. Quenching. Oysters, seafood canapés.
Henry of Pelham | Cuvée Catharine Brut | $30 | Niagara Peninsula 90 Points
This go-to traditional-method sparkler from Niagara is based on classic pinot and chardonnay varietals. Expect pear, spice, and pastry/brioche aromas. It is fleshy, even-keeled, and engaging, with the barest hint of sweetness. Perfect for entertaining when more than one bottle is required. LCBO 217521
Chapoutier 2014 Les Grands Merisiers Châteauneuf-du-Pape | $35.35 | Rhone Valley, France | 91 Points
This excellent but youthful Châteauneuf from one of the best producers in the south of France will make an excellent cellaring gift. It shows gentle, fragrant, complex aromas of strawberry jam, sour red plum, fine white pepper, cedar, and tobacco. It›s medium- to full-bodied, poised, and well structured. Best 2018 to 2023. LCBO 421073
Castello di Neive 2013 Barbaresco | $23.20 | Piedmont, Italy | 91 Points
This is very well priced for Barbaresco, a classic Italian red often twice the price. It is a pale wine with fine, delicate, and complex aromas of sour cherry and subtle herbs (bay leaf, oregano) oak spice, and earthy notes. It has good power, with firm, sour-edged acidity, warming alcohol, and Nebbiolo’s famous tannin. Red meats, tomato-based pastas. Now to 2021.
Carione 2011 Brunello di Montalcino | $30.25 | Tuscany, Italy | 91 Points
An impressive, ideal, drink-now gift to contribute to a pot-luck holiday event. This nicely ripe-and-ready Brunello combines complex ripe currant/cherry jam fruit, classic rosemary herb, well-layered oak, and fresh earth aromas and flavours. It’s full-bodied, fairly dense, smooth, and rich with fine tannin. Now to 2021. LCBO 266668
Fontanafredda 2011 Barolo | $29.95 | Piedmont, Italy | 90 Points
Great value in a lighter Barolo that is quite finely appointed in a supple, modern style. Considerable oak vanillin and spice are nicely fitted amid fragrant strawberry/cherry jam fruit, dried herbs, and some earthiness. Very appealing. Decant an hour. Serve with mushroom risotto. Now through 2020. LCBO 20214
Masi 2011 Costasera Amarone Della Valpolicella | $42.95 | Veneto, Italy | 92 Points
This genteel amarone is poised and luxurious. The aromas are mild, with very ripe cherry pie, marzipan, leather, and tea. It is full-bodied, very smooth, and creamy, with fine but firm tannin. A thoughtful gift for big red lovers. Best 2018 to 2023 or so. LCBO 317057
Muga 2012 Rioja Reserva | $23.95 | Spain | 91 Points
Muga is a renowned, traditional producer of Rioja. Expect impressive ripe blackberry, prune fruit, and generous oak vanilla, leather, and spice. It’s medium-bodied, with great acidity and fine tannin promising some longevity. A gift for the bargain-hunter’s cellar. Best 2018 to 2021. Vintages Essentials 177345
Porcupine Ridge 2015 Syrah | $14.95 | Swartland, South Africa | 90 Points
A perfect wine for the winter barbecue party at the chalet. Huge value in a dark, very peppery, smoked-meat syrah, with background violets and spiced cherry jam fruit. It’s quite full-bodied, with drying earthy tannin. Excellent length. Vintages Essentials 595280
Stags’ Leap Winery 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon | $49.95 | Napa Valley, California | 93 Points
For the cellar of the big cabernet lover on your list, this is from the best Napa vintage in years. It is a very dark, quite deep, and sinewy young cabernet, with profound blackcurrant fruit, fine oak, vanillin, and some mint and fresh moss. Fairly dense and elegant. Best 2019 to 2030. Vintages Essentials 996405
Wolf Blass 2014 Grey Label Shiraz |$35.40 | McLaren Vale, Australia | 92 Points
This terrific Aussie shiraz sports piquant and plush aromas of crème de cassis, chocolate mint, and black licorice. It is full-bodied, creamy, and elegant. The fruit is so rich; the tannins, so fine. Lamb or roast beef. Now through 2020 and beyond. LCBO 390872
Wynns 2013 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon | $27.95 | Coonawarra, Australia | 91 Points
A bargain from one of the finest 100 percent cabernet regions and producers. The nose shows ripe blackcurrant, mint, dried herbs, a touch of meatiness, and minerality. It’s medium-bodied, firm, and youthfully edgy. A gift for the budding collector. Serve with roast lamb. Best 2018 to 2023 and beyond. Vintages Essentials 84996
Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old Tawny Port |$69.70 | Douro Valley, Portugal | 92 Points
Twenty years in a barrel has given this sweet, fortified (20 percent alcohol) port its pale tawny colour. The bouquet is superb, with maple walnut, prune/dried apricot, honey, and wood spice. It’s full-bodied and very smooth, with a nicely bitter/drying walnut finish. Outstanding length. Serve lightly chilled with holiday desserts. Vintages Essentials 149047
Lustau Reserva Don Nuno Dry Oloroso |$15.65 | Jerez, Spain | 90 Points
This is stunning value — an aged, brown, bone-dry sherry with an intense, very complex array of aromas, including walnut/peanut shell, burlap, dried apricot, fig, orange peel, brown spices, and molasses. It’s full-bodied and intensely flavoured. An explorer’s gift. Stews, strong cheeses. LCBO 375105
SCORES David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality. A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 86 to 89 very good; 80 to 85 good.