With just a few exceptions, I’ve found that drinking a great bottle of wine alone is rarely as enjoyable as sharing a great bottle of wine. So instead of recommending bottles that would go well with whatever delicious things you’re going to be preparing for Christmas dinner this year, let me highlight a few bottles that I’ve found to be particularly good that you can buy and give to other people.

There’s just something ineffable about mutual enjoyment – I can expand my sense of enjoyment simply by being open to yours. It’s sort of magical! Perhaps that’s what is at the bottom of the best of Christmas experiences. And it transcends words. A lot like wine does.

Here are the wines that make my 2017 list for most interesting and enjoyable, made even better as gifts, or enjoyed with someone you like or love.

The Birichino Malvasia Pet-Nat (that’s Petillant Naturel) was, far and away, the most interesting sparkler I drank this year. It’s made using an ancient method of bottling a wine before it has finished fermenting. It completes its fermentation cycle in the bottle, and the resultant CO2 is trapped under a cap and released upon opening. Voilà bubbles without the long and painstaking (and expensive) process of Champagne production. The Birichino Malvasia is produced by a couple of guys who spent years learning from Randall Graham at Bonny Doon Vineyards. Enough said, as far as I’m concerned. It is simultaneously floral and tropical and salty and light on its feet. It’d be an understatement to say that this Salinas Valley sparkler plays well with Maine oysters of all kinds. South Portland Wine Company distributes this, and it hovers in the $15 to $17 range.

Crnko’s Jarenincan gets my vote for easiest white wine to drink too much of at one sitting. It hails from a simple Slovenian vineyard that was planted with multiple varietals in the 1970s. I wrote about it in detail in my last column should you want technical information. Imagine tasting something like the purest apple ever mixed with the cleanest, coolest spring water. It’s almost too pure to drink. Almost. And, because it comes in a liter bottle, it’s the wine equivalent of the jelly of the month club: it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Thank National Distributors for bringing the Crnko to the state.

The Collecapretta “Lautizio” was almost my favorite wine of the year, white or red. The area of Collecapretta, “hill of the goats,” is very near the small city of Spoleto in Umbria, Italy. The Mattioli family has been in this little part of Italy since the 1100s. And the wine-making methods have changed about as much as the architecture. Which is to say – very little. The Lautizio is a single varietal bottling of Ciliegiolo, a native Umbrian grape that is one of the parents of Sangiovese. The name of the grape is derived from the Italian word for cherry, and the wine – imagine cherry juice with cherry blossoms thrown in for good measure – couldn’t be more eponymous. If it were ever possible to taste wines the way they used to be made hundreds and hundreds of years ago, this is it. It’s like drinking a wine stored in a time capsule. Devenish distributes the Lautizio.

Finally, my favorite. The L’elementaire from Domaine Gramenon is the archetypal expression of Grenache. I’ve sought Grenache wines from California to Spain to the south of France. I’ve been lucky enough to drink great ones from California (the Bonny Doon, Clos de Gilroy, is one of my favorite expressions) and some pretty good ones from Spain, but the best one I’ve ever tasted is from Domaine Gramenon. If wine can be profound, then the L’elementaire invokes those depths. The wine is blueberry pie without the sugar. Cassis and cocoa powder and dark, purple flowers. National Distributors brings in the Gramenon wines, as well as Bonny Doon wines.

For me, all of these wines have soul or, as the Romans used to word it, animus. They are animated. They are pure and real in a way that is immediately felt and profoundly enjoyable. I can’t think of anything more I’d like out of a gift than that.

Bryan Flewelling is the wine director for Big Tree Hospitality, which owns Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw, all in Portland.

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