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Perfect Holiday Gifts (December 2, 2005)

Warning: If you have not won the lottery lately, please ignore the first paragraph of this article. It may cause you to be momentarily gob-smacked.

If it is more blessed to give than to receive, then count me among the damned. Because I would be tickled pink to receive this Christmas/Hanukah celebration a bottle of Rémy Martin Louis XIII Grand Champagne Cognac in its wonderfully over-the-top Italian renaissance Baccarat crystal decanter. The price tag for 700 millilitres of liquid pleasure is $2099. I happened to have tasted the cognac a few weeks ago in the presence of its roving ambassador, Jason Bowden, who told me with a straight face, "You do not choose Louis Treize. It chooses you." Well, I can tell you, my hand shot up. "Choose me. Choose me!"

You can stop not-reading now because I'm back to earth with suggestions for gift giving more in line with your pocketbook. My editor's assignment this month is for me to recommend "the perfect holiday gifts for the Postman to the President, from $10 to as high as possible."

Starting at the ten-buck level (although my postie deserves more, given the charming daily stack of unsolicited fliers he stuffs my mailbox with): The most delicious white wine for $9.95 at the LCBO is Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2004 from South Africa (LCBO product # 610907). It has remarkably complex and expressive flavours for the price – green apple, quince and citrus with a lively, grassy finish. Try it with seafood or a simple grilled trout.

$20 level: Now you're getting into serious wine territory. Vintages has a range of products they call Essentials, which means, technically, they should always be available at Vintages outlets. A great buy is the Château des Charmes Cabernet-Merlot 1999 from Niagara (Vintages outlets #222372, $18.95). This is a well-aged wine for the price, very St. Emilion in style with cedar and currants on the nose and full-bodied sweet fruit flavours. A great match for rack of lamb. If your giftee prefers white, then opt for Pieropan Soave Classico 2004 from Veneto (Vintages outlets # 946848, $18.95). Soave doesn't get any better than this, unless it's made by Anselmi. This wine is straw coloured with a minerally pear skin and tobacco leaf nose; on the palate it's medium bodied with a beautifully balanced ripe peach flavour that goes on and on.

$30 level: Another winner from South Africa currently at Vintages – Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (# 663435, $29.95). Dense ruby-black colour; cedar and creamy blackcurrant on the nose, rich sweet blackcurrant and coffee bean flavours, full on the palate and delicious.

$40 level: The wines of Angelo Gaja, the best producer in Barbaresco (Piedmont), always make a statement. Recently released at Vintages is his Ca'Marcanda Promis 2003 (a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese). Deep purple in colour, the bouquet of blackberries, oak and orange peel leaps out of the glass. What is remarkable about this wine is its lovely mouth feel and perfect balance (Vintages #745638, $42.95).

$50 level: Tawny port, because it has been aged in oak casks rather than in glass bottles, lasts a lot longer than vintage port once the cork has been pulled. Try Baroa de Vilar 20-Year-Old Tawny Port. Well priced for a port of this age, it has a raisiny, nutty nose that follows through on the palate (Vintages #677831, $49.95).

$80 level: I once asked the director of a champagne house when was the best time to drink champagne. He replied, "Before, during and after." There is no unfitting occasion to gift champagne either. My choice at this price level is Pol Roger Champagne de Chardonnay 1998 Extra Cuvée de Réserve (Vintages #96685, $76.95). This Blanc de blancs bubbly has a mature caramel and citrus nose; the flavour is green apples with lemony acidity and a hint of white honey.

$100 plus level: My favourite malt whisky is Highland Park, made in the Orkney Islands. Usually I buy the 12 Year Old at the LCBO ($49.95), but once a year I splurge on the 18 Year Old Highland Park, which has an amazing fusion of peat smoke, heather and honey flavours (Vintages Essentials #500231, $117.95).

$200 Level: I don't think many people would give you an argument if you characterized Dom Pérignon as the Queen of Champagnes. I say "Queen" because of the light, ethereal nature of the wine as compared with the rich, nutty, mouth-filling Krug which, to my palate, is the King of Champagnes. The 1996 vintage of Dom Pérignon was described by one well-known wine writer as "the vintage of the century." The 1998 is now available on general release (#280461) for $192. I tasted this wine against the 1996 and I'm here to tell you that it is equally good. "Like a caress on the palate" is how Jean Berchon of Moët & Chandon describes Dom Pérignon. It's a wine of great delicacy and finesse with a crisp green apple and lemon flavour that dances on the palate. If there is someone you have to impress with your good taste and generosity, this is the gift to give.

And now for "as high as possible." That Louis XIII cognac I mentioned above also comes in the 1500 mL format, complete with a scaled-up version of the Italian renaissance Baccarat crystal decanter. The price tag: $4399.95. Choose me.




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