A shorter version of this article is also published by the Financial Times.
This first of three* collections of seriously stunning wines highlights 20 of the finest reds to have spread themselves across my palate in the last few months. With the sole exception of the least expensive wine, I gave them all a score of at least 17 out of 20 and often more. (I am a very mean scorer; first growths usually get 18 if they are lucky.) In the spirit of the season I have deliberately concentrated on excellence rather than convenience.
I have cited the UK stockist(s) of which I am most aware, but check wine-searcher.com for more stockists – particularly but not exclusively those outside the UK.
Petit Manou 2009 Médoc
The second wine of Clos Manou in the northern Médoc is 60% Merlot and is the one wine in this collecton that scored (a half point) less than 17 out of 20, but it is included because it is such good value. Ridiculous price considering the combination of pleasure and integrity. Ripe, very lightly gamey and then graphite. 14%
£10.95 The Wine Society
Dom La Tour Vieille, La Pinède 2012 Collioure
This rich, ripe wine from the coast just north of the Spanish border is black! There's not that much on the nose except heat and handicraft but the wine is lots of fun. Very low-yielding vines and masses of character for the money. It smells just like a tarmac road in high summer but has good freshness on the finish. 14.5%
£15.25 Yapp Bros
Ch Sénéjac 2006 Haut-Médoc
Spicy cigar-box nose that could only be fine Médoc. Smooth and polished and very charming. Tastes like stereotypical Margaux in fact! It's already very enjoyable but has the potential to develop for at least another 10 years so it would make a good present for a collector. Excellent value.
£16.95 Roberson (reduced from £21.95) SOLD OUT but on order
Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo 2013 Langhe
Floral, light and fresh. Transparent fruit and very delicate yet with Nebbiolo's characteristic tannins underneath. This has real bite and would make a great introduction to the variety.
Teusner, Riebke Shiraz 2012 Barossa
Sweet and refined – a bit like fermented blackcurrant gums with a mineral undertow. Very Barossa but not too hot nor exaggerated. Grainy with warm tar flavours. 14.5%
£19.25 Folly Cottage Wines of Hampshire
La Rioja Alta, Viña Ardanza Reserva 2005 Rioja
80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha from a single 17-hectare vineyard yields a delightfully fruity, refined wine. God bless the Riojans who believe in releasing their wines only when they are ready to drink. Lovely purity. Excellent value. 14%
£19.50 The Wine Society, £24 Majestic and many independents
Rigoria, Terra delle Sirene Nero d'Avola 2007 Sicily
Autumn leaves and lots of fresh fruit on this mature proof of the ageing ability of Sicily's Nero d'Avola grape variety. Unusually complex, this has a dry, minerally, appetising finish. 14%
£21.50 Berry Bros & Rudd
Peter Sisseck, PSI 2010 Ribera del Duero
Immediately classy nose from the Danish superstar responsible for Pingus. Lovely sweet palate entry and no excess of anything. Already accessible but with the promise of more complexity to come. Really fresh and persistent. 14%
£22.95 Corney & Barrow
Rocche dei Manzoni, Bricco Manzoni 2004 Langhe
There's real life and sweetness in this gorgeously mature Piemontese Nebbiolo blend. Ripe and fully evolved. Plump. Dry, appetising finish. 14%
£24.95 Roberson (reduced from £34.95)
Ar Pe Pe Rosso 2012 Valtellina
Beguiling, earthy, sun-warmed, non-heavy Nebbiolo from a fine family producer in the far north of Italy, almost Switzerland.
£25 Noble Fine Liquor
Crystallum, Paradisum 2011 Swartland
Lovely texture and frankness in this very expressive wine from South African wine's centre of creativity. Great expression and relaxed fruit to the fore. No obvious oak. Wonderfully neat, it spreads so elegantly over the palate.
£26.95 Slurp, £27.49 SA Wines Online and others
Ochota Barrels, Fugazi Grenache 2013 McLaren Vale
Real vibrancy to this. Pure fruit and so unlike the head-butting Aussies of old. Well done. Dry finish. Real structure. Is this the most refreshing Grenache on the planet? 13.5%
£27 Honest Grapes, Dvine Cellars
Brusset, Les Hauts de Montmirail 2012 Gigondas
Excellent back label tells us that this is a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre grown on the calcareous ledge just underneath the Dentelles. Ambient yeast and 25 hl/ha. 70% in 'French oak casks'. Very thick, sweet and opulent with flavours of black and purple fruits. Very well managed and friendly already. 14%
£29.50 Great Western Wine
Fuligni 2008 Brunello di Montalcino
This reduced price respresents quite a bargain for such an authentic Tuscan classic. Tangy, delicate, farmyard flavours. Excellent freshness. Real energy. 14%
£29.95 Roberson (reduced from £39.95) SOLD OUT. Now £41.95 Lea & Sandeman (much less as part of a mixed case)
Dom Frédéric Esmonin, Vieilles Vignes 2012 Gevrey-Chambertin
Wonderfully fruity and already approachable with lots of Gevrey appeal. A hint of cough drops but masses of accessible fruit.
Sean Thackrey, Pleiades XXIII California
Wonderfully and typically wacky blend of Sangiovese, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Mourvèdre bottled last April. Really interesting luscious blend of chocolatey sweetness and dried herbs. So much more interesting than yet another international varietal. Lovely. 13.5%
£31.50 Wine Treasury
Bargylus, Deir Touma Lattaquié 2008 Syria
Very full and luscious with the oak just slightly poking through but admirable and really interesting even without knowing its quite extraordinary geographical provenance. 14.5%£35.15 H2Vin
William Downie Pinot Noir 2013 Gippsland
Stunning riposte to red burgundy from the coast of Victoria, Australia, that is extraordinarily expressive even at this early stage. A can-can dancer of a wine. Eat your heart out, Côte d'Or... (the Yarra Valley version at the same price is more refined and may well be worth waiting for). 14%
Dom Emilie Geantet, Les Evocelles 2011 Gevrey-Chambertin
Spicy, racy, confident expression of this vineyard with real zip and massively beguiling fruit. Wonderful juicy, persistent finish. Very promising and charming, but with Gevrey substance and no shortage of energy. 13%
£42 Domaine Direct
Jasper Hill, Georgia's Paddock Shiraz 2012 Heathcote
From the unirrigated, biodynamic vines of the estimable Ron Laughton. Tarry nose but round and chock full of fruit! Already lots of fun to drink with great texture and no heat despite the alcohol level. It should go on and on. Admirably artisanal and terroir-driven. 15%
£44 Yapp Bros
Luigi Baudana, Baudana 2006 Barolo
Lovely pungent classic mature Barolo nose with great lift and development. Such a charmer! Sweetly perfumed and just gorgeous already even though it's from Serralunga. Dry finish but stunningly appealing. Long and multi-layered. 14.5%
£45 (or £375 as two of six bottles of top 2006 Barolo) The Wine Society
López de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva 1994 Rioja
I tasted this alongside two grand clarets at the same sort of price and this was so much more interesting. Great richness, complexity and life with admirable freshness on the finish. Gamey but not at all decayed, although it tastes as though the fruit is in retreat.
Ch La Conseillante 1998 Pomerol
Lively, velvety, rich and floral from a great vintage for top right-bank red Bordeaux. Already a beautiful drink.
£125 The Good Wine Shop
Paul Jaboulet Aîné, La Chapelle 1982 Hermitage
A classic great Syrah from the northern Rhône that is already fully mature from a period when this landmark producer was still family-owned and top of its game.
£145 Street Wines, Colchester
Case Basse 2008 IGT Toscana
The tiny remains of the vandalised classic 2008 vintage from Gianfranco Soldera, the Master of Montalcino, have just been released. Currently available only in six-bottle cases, this would be the ultimate present for the wine lover in your life. It is already breathtakingly beautiful, refreshing and complex. Note that he now declines to call his wines Brunello.
£1,500 for six bottles in bond from Berry Bros & Rudd, Farr Vintners, Justerini & Brooks
* 6 Dec – whites and fortified wines; 20 Dec – fizz