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

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Last week, we poured out a little guidance on what you might sneak under the tree (or Festivus Pole, or whatever) that would add a little splash of joy in the lives of any wine lover on your list. But we failed to include any actual wine in that grouping, because we believe it deserving of a special rundown all its own. Well, we've made a list -- and checked it twice -- of the most extraordinary bottles we drank over the past twelve months, any of which would be ideal candidates for gifting (or just plain guzzling) this holiday season.

See also: - Five perfect holiday wine gifts for every budget

1. Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rosé NV ($18): Bubbly is as integral a part of celebrating the holidays as snow, Bing Crosby and decking the halls. The fact that these are cotton candy-pink bubbles -- made in the exact same style as spendy Champagne -- and that a bottle of said bubbles can be scored for less than $20 is what makes this wine a no-brainer for gifting. As delicious the tenth time we sipped it this year as it was on the first, this soft, creamy blend of pinot auxerrois and pinot blanc will deliver plenty of good cheer.

2. Pascal Doquet Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV ($35): As much as we savor saving cash by drinking sparkling wine over actual Champagne, there is a time and a place when we feel it's entirely appropriate to splurge for the real thing (New Year's Eve comes to mind). Unless, as with this gorgeous Pascal Doquet, the real thing is still a crazy-good bargain, priced well below most of the name-brand sparklers you've heard of. Made of 100 percent chardonnay, prepare yourself for tightly-clustered bubbles and mouthfuls of toasted brioche and crisp apple flavors.

3. Meinklang Prosa Frizzante Pinot Noir 2010 ($16): Three words: Biodynamic. Austrian. Pinot. This wine shot straight to the top of our 'indie favorite' list this summer, when we first sampled its dark berried, almost savory pinot noir fruit. That's because Austrian pinot noir isn't like the others -- there's a decidedly deeper, more intellectual quality that makes it perfect to pour alongside heartier dishes than you might normally; we're talking roast chicken or rack of lamb here. Oh yeah -- one other thing. The wine is made in a frizzante style, which means there will be the slightest smattering of bubbles that race across your palate, lending a burst of freshness to every sip.

4. Weingut Knoll Loibner Federspiel Riesling 2009 ($24): The summer of 2012 is officially going down in our books as the Summer of Riesling, for this was the year when this oft-misunderstood grape seemed to finally catch on amongst long-persistent doubters. And we couldn't be happier, because these are some of our favorite (not to mention, the most food-friendly) wines of all time. This particular Austrian -- yep, another one -- bottling scored major points with us for its bracing, mineral-driven citrus flavor profile that was anything but sweet. Why wait for next month to start with resolutions? Start your love affair with Riesling right this minute.

5. Foradori Fontanasanta Manzoni Bianco 2010 ($24): Some people feel that when there's snow on the ground, red wine should be in the glass. Not us. In fact, we've found ourselves craving well-rounded whites more than ever of late -- so when we stumbled upon this one recently while dining out, we knew we'd found a winner. There's no easy way to describe this incredibly unique, complex wine; when it first hit the glass, a whiff of straight-up funk assaulted our olfactory senses. Not a bad funk, mind you; this was more of a nutty, yeasty aroma, not unlike what you'd typically encounter when enjoying a Belgian ale, for example. But ten minutes later, the wine evolved into an intriguing flavor mash-up of dried apricots, amaretto, wildflower honey and tangy acidity that enticed us mightily.

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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