From the Muppets to the Smurfs, George C. Scott to Bill Murray, with well over 100 adaptations on stage and screen alone, Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” may be the most widely adapted holiday tale of all time. Everyone knows the story by now, in which a miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve to show him the error of his curmudgeonly ways and the perils of a life lived in regret.
With 2018 quickly drawing to a close, we began to think about our own wines of past, present and future. Though our tasters, and annual vintage guide, go to great lengths to help you discover a wine’s prime drinking window, they can often get lost in the avalanche of the thousands of wines we review annually, or forgotten about in home cellars. So we’ve broken down selections to look for, from older vintages that are perfect to pop open now, to young wines that should be enjoyed in the present, as well as a selection of bottles perfect to begin cellaring now in order to make your future Christmases bright.
Wines of Christmas Past
If there’s one quality that applies to wine more than any other alcoholic beverage, it is its potential to age. But when is the right time to open a wine? We’ve gone through our Buying Guide to compile a list of past vintages which are just now hitting their peak drinking window.
Tenuta San Guido 2010 Sassicaia (Bolgheri Sassicaia); $227, 97 points. This supremely elegant and age-worthy Sassicaia opens with an intense bouquet of black cherry, Mediterranean herbs, blue flower, cedar and leather aromas. Powerful but graceful, the palate delivers a vibrant core of black cherry accented with white pepper, mineral and balsamic notes alongside youthful but polished tannins and vibrant acidity. It’s not as exuberant as some of its counterparts, but it may outlive all the other Bolgheri 2010s. Drink 2018–2040. Kobrand. Cellar Selection. –Kerin O’Keefe
Emmerich Knoll 2013 Ried Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd (Wachau); $54, 96 points. This is so young, the yeast of the ferment still swings on the nose. Underneath that, tightly curled freshness suggests both candied lemon slices and lemon sorbet—but this needs time to unfurl its glory. Despite its slenderness, this wine has muscle and tone, structure and poise. The long finish is lip-smacking and moreish. Drink 2018–2025. Circo Vino. Cellar Selection. –Anne Krebiehl MW
Mvemve Raats 2011 MR de Compostella Red (Stellenbosch); $65, 94 points. This world-class blend of 52% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot is concentrated, structured and powerful, with the promise of a long life ahead. Earthy, herbal streaks of cigar box, licorice root, char and minty fynbos frame the lush fruit core of muddled boysenberry, black raspberry, plum and currant. The palate is bold and assertively flavored, with good evolution from jammy black fruit to earthy spice and finally leather and toast on the finish. Drink 2018–2024. Cape Classics. Cellar Selection. –Lauren Buzzeo
Matarromera 2011 Gran Reserva (Ribera del Duero); $125, 94 points. This is a deep, layered, tannic Tempranillo from an intense vintage. Its blackberry, black plum and cedar aromas are broad and lush. Chocolaty oak flavors enwrap its ripe blackberry fruit, remaining rich and long on the finish. Drink 2018–2026. USA Wine West. Cellar Selection. –Michael Schachner
Jada Vineyard & Winery 2013 Passing By Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles Willow Creek District); $60, 93 points. This expertly structured wine will last for ages. It begins with dense blackberry jam, caramel, vanilla, fresh licorice and chocolate-ganache aromas. There is a density of flavors on the sip, but not an overwhelming weight, with black cherry, chocolate syrup and asphalt tones hung on chalky tannins that are a little firm right now. Drink 2018–2033. Cellar Selection. –Matt Kettmann
Les Belles Collines 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $65, 93 points. Given slightly less new oak (60%) than the producer’s Les Sommets bottling, this is an equally rewarding wine, blended with 12% Merlot. Red fruit dominates atop a soft grip of leather, pencil lead and cedar. The considerable density of the tannins and overall firm texture suggest this will benefit from further aging; drink 2018–2022. Cellar Selection. –Virginie Boone
Bryn Mawr Vineyards 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir (Eola-Amity Hills); $60, 92 points. Combine the two block selections and you come close to this reserve. There’s good intensity to the black-cherry fruit, and a base of minerality that gives it a mouthfeel as if it had been carved directly out of rock. Tight and ageworthy. Drink 2018–2026. Cellar Selection. –Paul Gregutt
Grey’s Peak 2015 Pinot Noir (Waipara Valley); $40, 90 points. Intriguing aromas of earth, raw meat, cola, menthol and dark cherry lead into a surprisingly powerful palate of prominent but well integrated tannins, broody dark fruit, and herbaceous flavors. This Pinot should be fascinating to try after a few years in the cellar. Drink 2018–2024. American Estates Wines, Inc. –Christina Pickard
Wines of Christmas Present
If the holidays (and the ending to Dickens’s classic) teach us one thing, it’s never to forget to live in the moment. These wines are all meant to be consumed young and fresh, not to be hoarded like Scrooge did his money. Guaranteed to please the loved ones in your life, these bottles are best opened now.
Krug NV 21ème Edition Rosé Brut (Champagne); $299, 96 points. This wine has richness, maturity and intensity. It offers so many complexities and layers of flavor that come together in a red-fruit-flavored, lightly toasty wine that has freshness as well as some age. Drink now. Moët Hennessy USA. –R.V.
Bründlmayer NV Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Reserve (Österreichischer Sekt); $60, 94 points. A rich tone of baked apple fills both nose and palate. Yeasty development is expressed as buttery patisserie notes, while lemony brightness lends a fresh, vivid aspect. The fizz is fine and very creamy. This is rich in its slenderness, opulent in stone fruit and flavor and yet ultrafresh. The long finish brims with ripe lemon. Drink now–2025. Terry Theise Estate Selections. –A.K.
Jim Barry 2013 The Armagh Shiraz (Clare Valley); $300, 94 points. The 2013 vintage was a warm year with a short harvest, and so the Jim Barry’s top red wine is more than ready to drink now. While it may not have as long a cellaring life as some of its predecessors, it’s still a beautiful a wine. It starts with aromas of dried flowers, Dr. Pepper, raisiny plums, raw meat, milk chocolate and spices like cumin, star anise and white pepper. The palate is still showing relatively juicy, primary fruit that’s sewn together with ultrafine, powdery tannins and an earthy spine. This is powerful yet finessed. Loosen Bros. USA. Editors’ Choice. –C.P.
Borgo del Tiglio 2016 Studio di Bianco (Collio); $80, 93 points. A blend of 40% Friulano, 40% Sauvignon and 20% Riesling, this structured white opens with aromas of toast, crushed stone, grilled herb and a whiff of yellow stone fruit. It’s full bodied, delivering baked apple, dried apricot, citrus zest, vanilla and butterscotch flavors. A hint of toasted almond and a savory, almost salty mineral note linger on the finish. Drink now or hold for even more complexity. Grand Cru Selections. –K.O.
Quady North 2014 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah (Applegate Valley); $32, 92 points. This soft Syrah opens with lush flavors of blueberry and ripe cherry. Some lightly liquorous barrel flavors add toast and walnuts into a long and sensuous finish. Drink now. –P.G.
Sutcliffe 2015 Cinsault (Colorado); $24, 91 points. Engaging aromas of forest berries and wild herbs are touched by savory white pepper and blue flowers on the nose of this light red. On the palate, delightful flavors of ripe red cherry, cranberry, granite and crushed thyme are supported by barely perceptible tannins and a peppery spice. There is a charming vein of acidity right from the start that weaves all the way through the wild black raspberry and white pepper-inflected finish. Drink now–2025. Editors’ Choice. –Fiona Adams
Mas des Bressades 2017 Cuvée Tradition Rosé (Costières de Nîmes); $14, 90 points. Initial whiffs of smoke and earth blow off to reveal bright red plum and bramble aromas here. Dry and refreshingly tart, it offers crisp raspberry and strawberry flavors nuanced by hints of garrigue and crushed stone. Drink now. Robert Kacher Selections. Best Buy. –Anna Lee C. Iijima
Substance 2016 Cs Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $15, 90 points. The aromas are compelling, with notes of fresh herb, black currant, black raspberry and black cherry, showing a pleasing sense of purity. The flavors are soft and pure, with sleek black-fruit notes lingering on the finish. Firm tannins back it up. It’s a fruitful expression of the variety and a superb value. Drink now. Best Buy. –Sean P. Sullivan
Bodegas Muriel 2017 Pazo Cilleiro Albariño (Rías Baixas); $20, 90 points. Nectarine and tangerine aromas are bright and clean. On the palate, this is plump yet balanced by a zip of acidity. Orange, nectarine and honey flavors finish with length and a sense of healthy ripeness. Drink now. Quintessential Wines. —M.S.
Spier 2017 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch); $9 89 points. Medium-intense notes of fresh orange, firm mango, green melon and ripe gooseberry form the bouquet of this easy-to-like wine. The palate is well balanced, with ample acidity that highlights the crisp tropical and citrus fruits. Hints of lemon and lime peel lend a pithy accent to the finish. Enjoy it for its freshness now. Saranty Imports. Best Buy. –L.B.
Wines of Christmas Future
While you enjoy aged older vintages and fresh young wines, find some time to lay down bottles for future generations. Many of these bottlings will last decades into the future, ensuring friends and loved ones will be drinking well for holidays to come.
Sattlerhof 2013 Trockenbeerenauslese Sauvignon Blanc TBA (Südsteiermark); $65, 100 points. The allure of caramel and smoke hits first, after which a cloud of the purest apricot essence reaches the senses. The viscous palate tingles with disarmingly sharp acidity, balanced by incredibly luscious sweetness. Layer upon layer of apricot, passion fruit and candied lemon unleashes itself in this clean, precise TBA. It offers marvel concentration and purity. Drink until 2040. Craft + Estate–The Winebow Group. Cellar Selection. –A.K.
Pol Roger 2008 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut (Champagne); $293, 100 points. One of the great Champagnes both for its richness and its longevity, this latest incarnation is superb. The wine’s richness is linked to the ripe fruit and the dominance of Pinot Noir in the blend. It also shines in the perfect balance between the texture, the minerality and the integration of the fruit. It can be enjoyed now, but it will be better from 2020 and then for many years to come. Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd. Cellar Selection. –R.V.
FEL 2015 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $70, 97 points. Sleek, vivid and sophisticated, this wine wows with fresh, concentrated tones. There’s a sense of taut balance between acidity and ripeness, with a laser focus of raspberry, cherry and strawberry flavors that extend the finish for minutes. This great wine from a celebrated vineyard is an excellent choice for the cellar, best enjoyed after 2023. Cellar Selection. –Jim Gordon
Proprietà Sperino 2012 Lessona; $75, 96 points. Structured, vibrant and boasting extreme elegance, this radiant Nebbiolo opens with enticing scents of iris, violet and crushed aromatic herb. The chiseled palate has wonderful intensity and precision, delivering red cherry, raspberry compote, star anise and Lessona’s classic salty finish. It’s still young and nervous but impeccably balanced, with taut, refined tannins and firm acidity. Give it time to unwind and fully develop. Drink 2023–2043. Petit Pois. Cellar Selection. –K.O.
Quilceda Creek 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $200, 96 points. This hails from Champoux, Lake Wallula, Palengat and Wallula Gap Vineyards. The aromas draw you into the glass, evoking anise, blackberry, black raspberry, graphite and exotic spices. The flavors show intense depth, richness and hedonism, and the finish seems endless. Best from 2029–2036. Cellar Selection. –S.S.
Rudolf Fürst 2015 Hundsrück GG Spätburgunder (Franken); $200, 96 points. Ripe but restrained black-cherry and berry aromas are accented by complexities of violet, lavender and herbs on the nose of this boldly structured Spätburgunder. It’s an opulent wine boasting fleshy layers of black plum and mulberry peppered with spice and dense, mouthcoating tannins. Hold till 2025 to allow this lavish wine to meld but enjoy for years to come. Rudi Wiest Selections. Cellar Selection. –A.I.
Foxen 2016 Block 8 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley); $64, 94 points. This block-designated wine is intense in hearty aromas of black raspberry, dried mint and loamy earth. Spiced cake and sharp purple-flower flavors arise on the palate, but it’s the dark, penetrating and focused boysenberry and dark-fruit flavors that command attention. Drink 2019–2036. Cellar Selection. –M.K.
Finca Allende 2015 Gaminde Single Vineyard Estate Bottled (Rioja); $75, 94 points. This wine’s blueberry and cassis aromas are accented by wet clay notes. Its saturated palate is so dense it requires a drill to get through in this youthful stage. Offering deep blackberry and dark chocolate flavors, it finishes with melting tannins and a lasting note of burnt wood. Drink through 2035. New Age Imports. Cellar Selection. –M.S.
Trisaetum 2017 Estates Reserve Riesling (Willamette Valley); $42, 93 points. This young wine has all the components for long-term ageability, though they are still melding together. Dense tree-fruit flavors, apple cider and almost syrupy peach are all evident, with a dusting of powdered sugar. What keeps it lively and fresh is the appealing acidity. Drink 2020–2030. Cellar Selection. –P.G.
Yalumba 2012 The Tri-Centenary Grenache (Barossa); $56, 92 points. From the oldest plot of the Tri-Centenary vineyards (1889), of which just 820 vines remain, this Grenache is an inky-hued, dense version of the variety, swimming with plush, almost raisiny blackberry fruit, cola, dusting polish, mocha and spice. The full-bodied palate offers more rich, dark fruit and tight-grained, dusty tannins. This is a classy drop and should age beautifully through 2028. Negociants USA–The Winebow Group. Cellar Selection. –C.P.
Masciarelli 2015 Marina Cvetic Riserva (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo); $30, 91 points. Sourced from the winery’s San Martino estate in Chieti, this wine is inviting in aromas of clove, tobacco and dill that waft over a dense core of red-skinned berries. The palate displays rich red-fruit tones underscored by oak spice, with fine-grained tannins and structured acidity delivering support and length. Give it time in the cellar to fully integrate; drink 2020–2025. Vintus LLC. Cellar Selection. –Alexander Peartree