For a wine lover or a host, little makes a more impressive gift than a case of wine. When we went to visit some relatives for Thanksgiving two years ago, we picked up an assorted case of wine on the way to their house from the airport. Our relatives still remember trying a couple of bottles with each meal and having a few to try after we were gone.
I usually write about great value wines under $10 but with the holidays approaching, several readers have written asking me for some more expensive gift wines. So this year I thought I would make a case for giving a case—at a bit higher prices than my usual. Are these the “best” wines I have tried this year? No, because some of those were very expensive. I am convinced that 99% of wine consumers have no need to spend over $30 per bottle given the tremendous diversity and quality of wines currently available. You’re probably better off putting anything more than that toward paying down the mortgage—or buying a non-wine gift for your spouse.
I have purchased all these wines in wine stores in the past six months so the pricing is current and they should be available with some hunting either near you or on the web. I state the importer since your favorite local retailer may not have the exact wine but may have other wines from that importer and thus be able to order it.
If you have some favorites in this price range feel free to add them to the comments. Happy holidays—and cheers!
Champagne Aubry, Brut, Non Vintage (Jouy-les-Reims). $28. Find this wine
Most grape growers in the Champagne region sell to the big houses and thus are not well known. However, a growing number of growers are also becoming producers, as is the norm for quality producers in other wine regions. The fine bead of bubbles and soft floral notes of this Chateau Aubry make it easy to understand why Aubry wanted to produce it himself. Importer: Terry Theise.
St Michael Eppan, Alto Adige, Gewurztraminer 2004. $18. Find this wine
What do you get when you blend a German, Italian, Christian and a Jew? In this case, the ultimate Christmas wine! This multicultural and full-bodied wine is a Gewurztraminer from the north of Italy. An odd find but one worth seeking out for its blend of slightly sweet and spice that makes the perfect wine for Christmas day: for Christian/traditional diners, it will go great with veggies; for Jewish diners, it will go great with Chinese food and a movie!
Feudi di San Gregorio, Falanghina, 2003 $15. Find this wine
Tired of American Chardonnay? Try this. Hand harvested from vineyards near Mt Vesuvius and cold-fermented in steel tanks, the wine introduces a whole new range of flavors: crisp acidity, minerality, grassy, dried apricot, pear, and melon. A yummy bargain that will entice even your Chardonnay-swilling aunts. Importer: Palm Bay Imports.
Paul Achs, Chardonnay, Austria, 2003. $20. Find this wine
Speaking of Chardonnay, Paul Achs presents it in its un-oaked glory—but not from Chablis, rather from south of Vienna in Burgenland. Fermented in large steel tanks, the crisp, flinty minerality shines through. Importer: Vin Divino. (If this one is too hard to find, try the Olivier Morin Bourgogne Chitry 2004 for a similar flavor profile).
Honig, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, 2004. $14. Find this wine
Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs can be piercing lime lasers. This Sauvignon is hand picked from vineyards practicing sustainable agriculture in Napa. The crisp acidity has notes of lime balanced with pear, pineapple and melon. Pairing with figs or hard cheeses will make a great reward and the see-through label makes it a handsome gift.
Oberhäuser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett, Dönnhoff 2004. $29. Find this wine
Chefs love Riesling for the food-friendly matchups. This Donnhoff has a bit of sweetness that is wonderfully balanced against acidity. Food pairings are easy from Asian-infused dishes to simply an aperitif wine that pairs well with sharp cheese. And the 8% alcohol makes it easy to swallow.
Vall Llach, Embruix, Priorat, 2002. $25. Find this wine
Spanish/Catalan folk/rock star Lluis Llach owns this property in the craggy Priorat region of northeastern Spain. The top bottling from Llach is around $75 but this Grenache blend has excellent depth and punch from new plantings at the vineyard. Importer: The Henry Wine Group.
Mt. Difficulty, Pinot Noir, 2003. $29. Find this wine
Central Otago in New Zealand’s South Island claims to be the southernmost vineyard in the world. This wine’s pale and thin appearance in the glass belies complex berry aromas and the excellent, long, complex finish. The handsome label makes for good giving.
Muga, Reserva, Rioja, 2001. $20. Find this wine
Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher urged readers of the WSJ to spend $20 on any red Rioja and that would make for a special night. While I can’t vouch for the other red Riojas, this mid-priced Muga caught me off guard for its serious quality to price ratio. Bottled unfiltered, this Muga blends Tempranillo and Grenache to have a lush mouthfeel with notes of dark berry, tobacco, and leather that will knock the socks of holiday guests (and maybe the stockings off the mantle). Importer: Jorge Ordonez.
Mount Eden, Cabernet, 2000. $30. Find this wine
This profound Cab comes from the winery perched above Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This vintage has 100% Cabernet with excellent, dense notes of dark berries, leather and pleasant tannins–it is not fruit bomb, but rather a thinking person’s Cab. Although I bought and tasted this wine in the fall, it may be hard to find but the more available 2002 is also supposed to be excellent with some merlot and Cabernet Franc in the blend. Any red from Mount Eden represents a real value for connoisseurs—and that’s not an oxymoron!
Benmarco, Malbec, Mendoza. 2003. $20. Find this wine
This is a serious, big red from the winemaking duo of Susana Balbo and Pedro Marchevsky. Loads of dark fruit balanced with tannin make me think about grilled meats. I poured this at several tastings this fall and it was usually a top choice. And the thick bottle and handsome label make it an excellent gift wine for a lover of big reds. Importer: Vine Connections.
Alvear, PX Solera 1927. $18 (375 ml) Find this wine
Sherry, with a variety of styles from aperitif to digestif, deserves exploration. This sweet and balanced sherry, which dates from an original blend in 1927, comes in petite half-bottle for easy dispensing after dinner in front of the fire—or use it as a dessert replacement. With a dark, maple syrup-like color and the unctuous texture you might easily find it to be your new favorite winter wine. Importer: Jorge Ordonez.
Total price of this case (without tax): $266, or about one bottle of Krug.