The High End of High Times

Share holiday cheer with these top-dollar and budget-friendly gift ideas.

   People love to go the extra mile for loved ones during the holidays. This year, we’re going to suggest wine and spirits gifts that go an extra 10 miles, and alternatives for those who need to be more budget- conscious while still spreading cheer.


1989 Haut Brion (left); Montelena's Estate Cabernet


Grand Red Wine

   There’s nothing quite as classic and classy as a well-aged First Growth. The epic 1989 Haut Brion can be found on for between $1,000 and $2,000 a bottle, while the outstanding 1990 can be found for about half that. One of the “cult” Napa Cabernets also makes for a rare treat.

   My favorite is Araujo, with St. Louis native Don Bryant’s Bryant Family Cabernet as a close second. They will set you back in the neighborhood of $500 to $700. A few bottles make it to local shelves, so call Lukas, Gomer’s or Royal and ask.

   If you need something a touch more reasonable, look for Chateau Montelena’s Estate Cabernet. This storied property is considered one of Napa Valley’s own “First Growths,” but at right around $100 a bottle, you can get a case of the current release for the price of bottle of well-aged Haut Brion.

Macallan's 30-year (left); 16-year Lagavulin from islay (right)



   The Macallan distillery has long been known for producing a couple of the rarest and finest well-aged Scotches. The 25-year version, aged in sherry casks, is considered by many Scotch lovers to be the finest expression of what a Scotch can do. One sip will make a memory that lasts for years. It has amazing complexity and delicacy, with a wide spectrum of dried tropical fruit, a well-stocked kitchen’s worth of cooking spice, and a honeyed, smoky sweetness. The 30-year version is even rarer, and is rich and harmonious. The 25-year costs around $900, with the 30-year selling for over $1,200. Top local stores carry it, or can order it for you with a little advance notice.

   For a more affordable Scotch gift, look for the 16-year Lagavulin from Islay. This is a classic, deep and peaty Scotch, and a worthy addition to any liquor cabinet.

remy-martin louis xiii (left); tesseron lot 90 xo "Selection" (right)



   The whole world knows the expensive Remy-Martin Louis XIII with its iconic Baccarat crystal decanter. It is a gorgeous spirit in a package to rival the content’s beauty. At nearly $3,000 a bottle, it is an experience. The most exciting new line of Cognacs I have tasted come from the Tesseron family; their Lot 29 XO ‘Exception’ is one of the best spirits I have ever sniffed and tasted. Made from Cognacs almost 100 years old, it is a haunting medley of flowers, spice and fruit that seems more complex with each sip. At just under $600, it is stunning.

   Alternatives that are more affordable include Tesseron’s Lot 90 XO “Selection,” which I keep at home for winter evenings ($65), and Remy Martin’s 1738, a blend that falls just short of XO status but nestles neatly between Remy’s VSOP and XO in quality and price at $50.


The One Holiday Gift You Won’t Find

Pappy van winkle 20-year bourbon


   A few months ago a rather brusque customer called to demand a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year Bourbon.

   When informed that we didn’t have any, he replied that cost would be no object. I replied that we appreciated his desire to pay us, but that there simply was no Pappy Van Winkle of any age to be had from us at any price.

   “We only get a few bottles a year, and they typically go to customers who have shopped with us for a long time,” I said. “There’s a wait list, but there’s a couple of hundred names on it already.”

   “Well, that’s ridiculous,” he replied. “Why don’t they just make more?”

   Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon has become a cause célèbre among Bourbon aficionados and celebrities alike. Demand for this limited Bourbon has skyrocketed, and because it is a long-aged Bourbon, the distillers would have to have the car from Back to the Future to let their predecessors know how sought- after their Bourbons would eventually be. And even then, there will never be enough.

    Unless you have a long-term relationship with a retailer, don’t bother calling stores. Check auction sites and elsewhere online. Bear in mind that you will most likely pay more than the $80 retail price. Bottles can go for more than $2,000.