It’s just about a week till Christmas. Shopping done? Neither is mine. But I’m here to help!
A good beverage store can be the answer to your dilemma. Just about everyone would enjoy a bottle of the good stuff under the tree. The trick here is to get something that they want but would never get for themselves. I’m not talking about another bottle of their favorite, but a bottle, perhaps in the same category (or just beyond it) that will broaden horizons, expand interest, and bring a smile on Christmas morning.
Think just a little outside the box. Old favorites, across the board, are coming in new styles and from new sources. Small family-run distilleries are popping up all over. Cocktails are popular and call for lots of ingredients and flavorings. There’s been an explosion of craft breweries in Connecticut and across the country. For wine drinkers, try small producers who are improving quality, trying new styles, and working with lesser known grapes,
Your partner in gift giving is a good store with a knowledgeable staff that is willing to aid you in finding just the right thing. Stocked with carefully chosen selections, it’s a place where the staff is helpful and because they’ve tasted the goods, their enthusiasm is genuine and contagious. A good store can be large or small, specialized or general, just as long as it knows its business.
I asked some local stores for Christmas gift ideas that meet my criteria.
In Norwalk, at Fountainhead Wines on Knight Street (that charming narrow one-way street just opposite Fat Cat), Tony Ancona said, “Wow, just about everything in our store could fill the bill.” He’s right. Their carefully chosen wines all have their own story. Many of the wines they handle stem from direct relationships with small-production family wineries in France, Italy, Germany, and California. Lots are direct imports and only available at their store. When Tony talks, his face lights up with his love for the wines, their producers, and the opportunity to be part of it all.
Tony began to talk about natural wines, a new category much talked about in the trade, that are made with wild yeast, no added sulfites, and very little intervention from the winemaker. Not what you’re used to, their wildness shows through in funky, earthy, completely dry, lightly spritzy wines with complex flavors and a finish that goes on forever. Anyone interested in wine, should have the unique of experience the Casè Pinot Noir ($32), Casèrosso ($23) and CasèBianco ($23) from Italy’s Emilia Romagna. If these aren’t for you, try anything in the store. You can’t go wrong.
Fountainhead also has an impressive array of imported aged rums. Aged from 7 to 12 years, they are great for sipping like brandy or a single malt and will open new flavor doors for any spirits lover.
Codey Foster at Ancona’s (no relation to Tony) Wines in Wilton started with a selection of large format bottles – not jug wines, but fine wines in magnums that hold as much as two regular bottles. Rare and festive, they are special gifts.
A three bottle set of Bruichladdich single malts will delight a fan of Scotch whiskey. Ancona’s also has a single barrel bottling of Knob Creek 9 year old bourbon. They selected a barrel that was bottled exclusively for them.
Codey was very excited about Reisetbauer brandies from Austria – Plum, Apricot, Cherry, Hazelnut, Pear, and Carrot ($40 to 70). When I raised my eyebrows about the Carrot, he said, “That’s my favorite! These Eau de Vie spirits simply capture the pure essence of impeccably farmed fruit.”
At Stew Leonard’s, Joanne also lobbied for large bottles – rosé,
in particular, for a girl’s night out or for adding pretty color to the Christmas table. She introduced me to Barr Hill, a honey producer in Hardwick, Vermont, that is making honey accented gin. Barr Hill has put together a three bottle package with two of their gins and one jar of honey ($50). The beer guys at Stew’s are putting together packs of craft beers: an 8 pack sampler for $20 and a 6 pack of really hard-to-find beers for $23.
Joanne’s big idea, though, is a Coravin wine preservation system. This gizmo pierces the bottle’s foil and cork and injects Argon gas as the wine comes out without pulling the cork. If you know someone with a collection of fine wine, get them one of these. They’ll be able to enjoy their collectibles a glass at a time with no loss of quality. You may even be lucky enough to share a glass. At $200 for the base model and $350 for the deluxe version, they’re tools for serious wine collectors.
Spencer Hess of Le Vie du Vin Wine Market at 67 Winfield Street proposed small producer Champagne. For years, Champagne grape growers sold their fruit to the big boys: Moet, Mumm’s, and the like. Now, a new generation is holding on to their fruit and making their own Champagne. With considerably more personality and sense of place, these very dry wines have become the darlings of Champagne drinkers. Grongnet Brut ($36) is 100% Chardonnay, Marc Hebrart ($52) is a rosé, and Chartogne-Taillet ($45) is made by a 30-year-old. We need to move away from a special occasion mindset for Champagne and realize that these wines are great with food and not any more expensive than good wine from any other region.
Hess also recommends cru Beaujolais like Pascal Granger-Earl Juliénas as an alternative to stratospherically-priced red Burgundy. From named villages like Morgon, Brouilly, and Moulin-à-Vent cru wines are the cream of the Beaujolais crop. “The last three vintages have been exceptional in Beaujolais, and the new generation of winemakers are focused on quality,” he said. Just like in Champagne, the young winemakers are raising the bar.
Wine, spirits, or beer – there’s lots happening in the beverage industry. Tap into the new brands, flavors, producers, and the renewed emphasis on quality. In the words of wine and spirit regions around the world, we wish you all a Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Fröhliche Weihnachten, and Buon Natale!