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Hooch for the holidays
These 12 splurge-worthy bottles will make spirits merry and bright

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Saturday, December 15, 2018 – Page P10

Fellow Canadians, it's almost time.

Soon millions of us will gather 'round the merry cannabis plant to dangle sparkly bong-shaped ornaments from roach clips and sip delicious mugs of THC-infused hot cocoa while spinning Cheech and Chong's 1971 vinyl classic, Santa Claus and His Old Lady.

Weed Nation is us. Unfortunately, some alcoholic beverage producers fear that our country's recent marijuana legalization could mean a big Santa-sized cookie bite out of holiday profits. Let's help by buying a potable gift or two, shall we? Herewith a few options for a variety of tastes.

BOTTLES TO TRY GUERRIERI RIZZARDI 3 CRU AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2012, ITALY SCORE: 96 PRICE: $53.95 If one could use just a word to describe this mouth-filling red, it might be "delectable." Three words? How about "Black Forest cake"? That's what this red tastes like, cherries and all. Smooth and velvety, it strikes remarkable poise for a monster that tips the scales at 16 per cent alcohol.

Lavish and complex, it would be a good candidate for up to 10 more years in the cellar, though it would be smashing right now as an after-dinner alternative to whisky, brandy or rum, especially with cheese.

Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $44.75 in Quebec.

PIKE CREEK 21-YEAR-OLD FINISHED IN EUROPEAN OAK CASKS, CANADA SCORE: 96 PRICE: $99.95 You may be familiar with the standard Pike Creek whisky that was resuscitated by Corby a couple of years ago. Here now is an older brother, the one who left to attend college in Europe, so to speak. Get ready for a Canadian-whisky treat. This beauty was matured mainly in ex-bourbon casks, with a proportion finished in mellower French and Hungarian oak. Big, sweet and multilayered, it's fat with flavours of cherry, date, fig, plum and praline smothered with vanilla, toffee, chocolate, espresso and brown butter, enlivened by spicy ginger. A whisky that tastes like Christmas. Just 4,020 bottles were produced. Available in Ontario at the above price, $99.99 in British Columbia, $99.99 in Manitoba, $99.99 in New Brunswick, $99.99 in Newfoundland.

UNIBROUE GRANDE RÉSERVE 2017, QUEBEC SCORE: 95 PRICE: $9.95/750 mL As Unibroue calls it, "the world's best dark beer" is back. Much distinguished in global competitions, the Quebec brewery's vintage-dated trophy beer is cause for Canadian patriotism. Hazy and chestnutcoloured in appearance, with sudsy, persistent foam, it's full, rich and creamier than cream itself, or almost. Big on fig, date and baking spices, the 10-per-cent-alcohol brew becomes succulent with orange and smooth with caramel, milk chocolate, moist banana bread and brown sugar. Moderate sweetness is deftly balanced by bitter hoppiness. Available in Ontario at the above price, $9.95 in Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.

MAISON OLIVIER TRICON MONTMAINS CHABLIS 1ER CRU 2014, FRANCE SCORE: 94 PRICE: $40.95 Few people are willing or able to pony up $40 for a white wine. That's understandable. But if you're a member of the freewheeling, free-spending class, check out this kinetic beauty. It's a Chablis from northern Burgundy, which means it's made from chardonnay, as with most other whites from the region. Yet it's tense and subtly complex in a way that marks the local turf. Medium-full-bodied and polished, it shows good weight and sweet, candied citrus and apple notes along with a big mineral-saline snap and aromatic depth that suggests time well spent in barrel. Available in Ontario.

MOËT & CHANDON GRAND VINTAGE EXTRA BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2009, FRANCE SCORE: 93 PRICE: $91.95 At nine years old, this premium, vintagedated Moët has begun to shed a few bubbles, which appears to have added welcome weight and roundness. It's got excellent depth of flavour and a creamy-toasty quality to go along with orchard fruit and flinty-smoky aromatics. Ready now, it might continue to improve for five years.

Available in Ontario at the above price, $82.99 in British Columbia, $87.88 in Manitoba, $89.25 in Quebec.

HAYWIRE SECREST MOUNTAIN VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2017, BRITISH COLUMBIA SCORE: 93 PRICE: $24.90 This marvellously "naked" chardonnay was fermented with wild yeast in giant egg-shaped concrete tanks from Italy. The wine spent a further eight months in concrete, an old-school material with a microscopically porous surface that helps build and soften texture without contributing extraneous woody notes. It's remarkably soft and creamy despite the absence of oak, revealing soft orchard-fruit flavours as well as an invigorating, if subtle, stonymineral essence. Available direct through

VITE COLTE ESSENZE DEL COMUNE DI SERRALUNGA D'ALBA BAROLO 2011, ITALY SCORE: 91 PRICE: $46.95 A glimpse at the rusty rim made around the edges of the glass reveals that this red has some age behind it. From a challenging growing season, it in fact displays slightly more evolved characters that one might expect from a 2011 Barolo, with subtle notes of dried cherry, tar and apple skin, though the powdery grained tannins still exert a bit of welcome grip. Drink it over the next decade. Available in Ontario.

MARTELL VS SINGLE DISTILLERY COGNAC, FRANCE SCORE: 91 PRICE: $65 Most big Cognac brands assemble the distillate for their high-volume blends from multiple sources. Not here. Martell relies on just one distillery as a way to capture a richer profile. It appears to have worked because this VS comes across more like a VSOP, with a velvety texture and intense fruitiness. The spirit delivers nuances of warm caramel, butter, vanilla and poached stone fruits, set against a peppery spine and gentle woody astringency. It's packaged in a sleek cylinder-shaped vessel based on the traditional "montre" bottle of cognac that was used for small samples back in the day. Available in Ontario.

HENNESSY MASTER BLENDER'S SELECTION NO. 3 COGNAC, FRANCE SCORE: 91 PRICE: $180 It would be more than a stretch to call Hennessy a craft-spirits operation, but you can't fault the brand for trying. Here's the latest iteration in the Master Blender's series, which gives free rein to Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, the new master blender, to create limited-edition bottlings. This one, made from eaux de vie that are at least seven years old, exhibits weight and punch, bottled at a cask-strength 43-percent alcohol and rich with Christmasthemed flavours of dried fruit, sticky toffee, praline and warm spice. In another departure for a big Cognac house, the liquid comes in an attractively offbeat square-sided bottle. Available at the above suggested price at a number of retailers across Canada.

SIDEWOOD MAPPINGA SHIRAZ 2015, AUSTRALIA SCORE: 91 PRICE: $49.95 Not your predictably smooth, confected $15 "critter" shiraz from Australia, that's for sure. Sidewood, in the cool Adelaide Hills, has justifiably been fêted for making reds that go beyond simple fruit-bomb territory. Here's a fine example, impressively dry, almost chalky, with excellent acidity, showing the variety's classic mulberry and blackberry fruit yet with abundant savoury notes that hint at tobacco, underbrush, shoe leather and spices. Available in Ontario.

SAINT-ROCH VIEILLES VIGNES CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON 2017, FRANCE SCORE: 90 PRICE: $16.95 Old vines, dry-farmed and hand-picked.

For chardonnay lovers on the hunt for something more obscure, this is gold at a bronze price. From France's southern Languedoc-Roussillon region, it's pressed from local varieties, namely fleshy grenache blanc with a splash of aromatic roussanne. Great oily texture and tangy energy, with notes of pear, tropical fruit and salty tang. Exotic and offbeat. Buy a case and make it your house-party white.

Available in Ontario.

M. CHAPOUTIER LES VIGNES DE BILA-HAUT CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON-VILLAGES 2017, FRANCE SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.95 A blend of syrah, grenache and carignan made in the sunny southern Roussillon region by leading Rhône Valley producer Chapoutier. It's medium-full, youthfully juicy and smooth, with cherry, black pepper and a big bouquet of Provençal herbs supported by sticky tannins. A bargain.

Buy a case and make it your house-party red. Available in Ontario at the above price, $15.49 in British Columbia (on sale for $14.49 till Dec. 29), $15.65 in Quebec, $18.49 in Nova Scotia (on sale for $17.49), $18.09 in Prince Edward Island, $19.98 in Newfoundland.

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