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December 2009


The 12 Bottles of Noël
By Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave


(click any photo for a larger gallery view)

I hopped up onto Santa's lap. "Let me guess," he quipped, "you want wine? Again?" I nuzzled up and whispered my list—a bottle for each of the 12 days of Christmas. Last year, I went overboard, requesting a single bottle of Krug's Clos d'Ambonnay (among the world's priciest Champagne—$3,000). Readjusting for these frugal times, the dozen bottles on my list this year don't add up to that single rare gem. Santa took it all in. "I'll see what I can do," he said. "But do you really need so much Champagne?"


Noble One Australia's most famous sweet wine, the Southern Hemisphere's version of Sauternes' Château d'Yquem, is produced by de Bortoli from botrytis semillon grapes. With apricot and marmalade flavors, this Aussie "stickie"—a fraction of the price of Sauternes—has a lemony acidity that balances its sweetness. It's a great match for cheese and Asian cuisine.


[Photo of Armand de Brignac Champagne]

Armand de Brignac Champagne In a blind tasting of 1,000 Champagnes last September, Armand de Brignac was rated the world's number one. The Cattier family, who own vineyards in the prime Montagne de Reims, produces this remarkable bubbly. It comes in a splendid handcrafted bottle, an objet d'art, dipped in metallic gold with a pair of aces of spades as an insignia.


Boxwood Topiary From Virginia's top boutique winery, Topiary is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Malbec grapes and Merlot in the style of "Right Bank" Bordeaux. Run by Rachel Martin, the daughter of John Kent Cooke (previous owner of the Redskins, LA Lakers and the Chrysler Building), the four-year-old Boxwood is making a sensation in the wine world.


Craggy Range Pinot Noir This New Zealand winery's nuanced reds have become a benchmark for some of the world's finest Pinot Noir. In a recent blind tasting of a dozen Pinots from Oregon, California and Burgundy, Craggy Range took the top two spots. The winery itself is a remarkable property with vineyards in Central Otago (the region known for the best Pinot terroir).


Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995 This 100 percent Chardonnay bubbly is one of the great blanc de blancs of the Champagne region. At 14 years old, it has a transparent gold color, and is fresh and pure with notes of white fruit, butter on the nose and a long, elegant finish. At a recent tasting, winemaker Regis Camus showed how much this Champagne evolves when it's decanted in crystal.


Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005 Mondavi's premier Reserve Cabernet is made from grapes sourced at the historic To Kalon vineyard in Napa's Oakville District. This lush, inky wine, with vivid aromas of wild berries and black olives and notes of blackberry, vanilla and cassis, is a true Cabernet classic.


[Photo of Montes Purple Angel wine]

Montes Purple Angel Montes, Chile's gold-standard winery, has also begun producing fine wine in Argentina and Napa Its rich Chilean red blends—still my favorites—are built on the indigenous carmanere grape. The spicy and elegant Purple Angel has a deep violet hue and an intense flavor of wild berries and chocolate.


Château Palmer Bordeaux 2004 In the Margaux appellation, Château Palmer is one of the most celebrated Third Growths in the original 1855 Bordeaux classification. Produced from 50 percent Merlot grapes, it's unique in the Medoc, where Cabernet generally plays a dominant role in the blend. Palmer is a noticeably feminine, highly perfumed wine.


Champagne Ruinart Rosé This pink bubbly from Ruinart—the oldest Champagne house, founded in 1729—comes in a voluptuous 18th-century bottle. It's an ideal accompaniment for an afternoon assignation—or as the French say, "the 5:00—7:30." Its strawberry flavors also make it a match for sweet berry desserts


Mumm Napa 2001 DVX OR Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2006 Napa sparklers have been coming into their own lately. Mumm is aged seven years in the bottle, giving it refined, tiny bubbles, a sumptuous creaminess and elegant notes of brioche and raspberry. Schramsberg was the first Napa producer to make a sparkling blend with Pinot Noir grapes. Their '06 vintage has generous fruit, a lively texture and hints of strawberry, citrus and hazelnut.


[Photo of Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia wine]

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2006 Sassicaia, one of the first Super Tuscans, was first produced in 1968. Since then it's become one of the most prized red blends in Italy, and a solid investment at that. I recently tasted the 1985 vintage (which sells for $2,000 a bottle), but preferred the more reasonable 2006 ($180), with its notes of blackberry, smoke, leather and spice.


Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles 2005 Anne-Claude Leflaive, one of the greatest producers of white wine in Burgundy (and a leading biodynamic winemaker), believes her wines have a gender—and insists that drinking the right wine makes you more attractive to the opposite sex. "Les Pucelles is a feminine Burgundy," she recently said. "It drives men crazy with desire." I'll take her word for it and serve my suitors this wine all winter.