Ten of the best (and highly giftable) wines of 2012

Categories: Booze

6. Calea Fiano Bianco 2011 ($12): Yet another noteworthy Italian white made our list of the very best wines we drank this year, although from an entirely different part of the country. While the Manzoni Bianco we gushed about above hails from northern Italy near the foot of the Dolomites, this fiano was born and raised in Sicily, where the volcanic soils impart a distinction all their own. We swooned for its intoxicating scent of white flowers, then fell head over heels for its layers of roasted peach and hazelnut flavors. In fact, the wine was so nutty and tangy that it reminded us a bit of Marsala, which is made in a neighboring part of the region.

7. Rivera Violante Nero di Troia Castel del Monte 2008 ($14): Over the years we've found that our very favorite bottles of wine are not the most expensive or highest-scoring, but instead are ones we discovered and drank with the most important people in our lives. Oh, and if they're recommended to you by Frasca co-owner (and Master Sommelier) Bobby Stuckey? Chances are better than average you're gonna have a winner. Further illustrating how random varieties from lesser-known regions -- a nero di troia from Puglia, Italy, in this case -- can go toe-to-toe with trendier bottlings, this exotic, violet-scented, inky-hued red stunned us from first sip to last. Paired as it was with a simple, rustic pizza, this treasure of a bottle to shined even brighter -- and when we found ourselves thinking of it fondly last week, we knew it belonged in our list of top bottles.

8. Bodegas La Cartuja 'La Cartuja' Priorat 2009 ($16): Spanish reds are sexy. There's simply no other way to describe them; they're full of voluptuous, dark berry fruit, tingly spice and smoky oak that from the first taste, announce exactly where they're from. A jammy blend of garnacha (AKA grenache) and mazuelo, the La Cartuja packs a juicy flavor wallop of plum, blackberry and fig that's capped off with some dusty cocoa, white pepper and herbaceous tobacco, which keeps it from veering directly into Boozytown. Easily enjoyed on its own, this would make a fine companion to Christmas dinner of spice-crusted prime rib.

9. Barista Pinotage 2010 ($16): The debate over whether old world or new world wines are better is one that's likely to rage on even after the entire world ends on 12/21/21. For us, the best answer to that question is "both" -- as in, we adore wines that can showcase the best of both styles without sacrificing quality or character. Look no further than this decidedly non-traditional South African pinotage, which is technically a new world grape, but offers incredibly food-friendly versatility. Tart cherry and boysenberry are the predominant fruit overtones (the old-word part), but the wine closes with elements of roasted coffee bean, bittersweet chocolate and buttery oak (the new world component). Fans of either style are bound to love this insanely good bottle.

10. The Dirty Pure Project 'F Bomb' Grenache Noir 2009 ($35): Research shows that something like 80 percent of all wine purchases are made based upon the buyer's response to the label. This bottle is stickered with the image of an old-timey pilot flying through the air (not in a plane, mind you, just his body) with a trio of bottles (each emblazoned with a capital letter F) jettisoning from a box strapped to his chest. So yeah, this wine had us at "hello," but it's what poured forth from within that we really went silly for. This Santa Barbara County grenache is brought to us by the culty-cool vintners of The Dirty Pure Project, whose idea was to create a wine so ridiculously good that its drinker would be dropping "F" Bombs unreservedly. Did we curse at the taste? You bet your ass we did, and so will you.

Here's to a holiday season filled with the best of everything wine.

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