Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon, is a wine writer, wine critic and wine judge who specializes in inexpensive wine—the wine, he says, that most of us drink. He is author of The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wineand teaches wine, spirits and beer at El Centro College in Dallas. WineCurmudgeon.com
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Wine makes a great holiday gift for nearly everyone on your shopping list, from casual coworkers to your closest friend. Tip: Don’t be swayed by a cute label or unusual bottle. Those are gimmicks. Your gift will be remembered for how fantastic (or not) the wine tasted.
Here are great selections for a wide range of budgets. You don’t have to search high and low for a particular vintage (year)—they all are high-quality wines and will be good no matter what the vintage.
$15 or LESS
Who or what for: Host and hostess gifts, wine to bring to a party, something to keep around if guests come over.
If you’re looking for a red…
Mont Gravet Carignan (about $10). Year in and year out, this red from southern France made with the carignan grape is a quintessential value wine and is amazing for the price. It’s well-made and exhibits the best elements of more expensive wines from this region—not very heavy on ripe berry fruit and with good “structure,” so it doesn’t feel flabby or too soft in your mouth. You’ll find red fruit, plus some spice, just a tiny hint of vanilla, and a clean and refreshing finish. It’s even better if you chill it for 15 or 20 minutes in the fridge before serving.
For a white…
Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay (about $11). I mentioned this Italian white blend to another Italian winemaker, and he showed visible jealousy. That’s understandable, since the Scaia offers the best aspects of the chardonnay grape (green apple and pear flavors), as well as the tartness of the garganega, a native Italian grape that deserves more respect than it gets. The garganega’s lemony minerality nicely complements the chardonnay’s softer, round feeling in your mouth.
$15 to $30
Who or what for: Dinner with good friends, a gift for someone you know likes wine but hasn’t been adventurous, something for a respected colleague or your boss.
For a sparkling wine…
Rotari Brut Rosé (about $18). This rosé Prosecco, a pale pink–colored Italian sparkling wine, is more than just another affordable bubbly. It’s surprisingly sophisticated, with almost-tart berry fruit, a pleasing mouthfeel and depth, and tiny, tight bubbles. Those tiny bubbles aren’t common in Prosecco, which is less expensive than Champagne for just that reason. It is as good as Champagne costing $40. This is a food wine (think roast chicken or pork loin with apples) as much as a bottle to toast New Year’s Eve.
For a white…
Domaine Corinne et Jean Pierre Grossot Chablis (about $25). Chablis is white wine from the Burgundy region of France that’s made with the chardonnay grape but isn’t aged in oak. At this price, the Grossot is a fabulous example of that style. It has crisp green-apple fruit, some white pepper and spice, and a long finish with a taste of minerals. Current vintages still are young and can be “cellared” (kept stored in a cool place out of the light) for at least a few years. But anything older than 2015 is ready to drink now.
$30 to $50
Who or what for: A very special holiday dinner, a gift for a knowledgeable wine enthusiast (or just a dear friend who loves wine), something for the boss or colleague who has shown he/she can be counted on in the clutch.
For a red…
La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Rioja (about $37). This red wine from the Rioja region of Spain is a joy to drink and a wonderful value even at close to $40. It’s made with mostly the tempranillo grape, traditional in Rioja. Also traditional: An inviting earthiness, the lovely and telltale orange-peel aroma, and rounded cherry-fruit notes. All of this is balanced by a subtle acidity and a hint of tannins (the astringent feeling in the back of your mouth). There even is a little baking spice, almost nutmeg-like, tucked in. The whole is truly greater than the sum of the wine’s parts. Look for an older vintage, even before 2010, and enjoy.
For a white…
Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (about $48). Back in 1976, when French winemakers (and drinkers) still scoffed at US wines, this California wine helped earn the world’s attention at the “Judgment of Paris,” where it beat the best French wines in a blind tasting. Decades later, the Montelena remains just as good, elegant and balanced, with nary an off note of too much vanilla or too much alcohol that can make the wine unpleasantly “hot” in your mouth. Taste it—even just a sip—and you can tell it’s Napa Valley chardonnay. How? All that fruit (a lovely, barely ripe green apple) and an undercurrent of minerality, as well as layers of flavor and complexity. This is a wine for an intimate New Year’s Eve dinner with your closest friends. It would pair well with a rich feast such as the classic French dish, chicken breasts stuffed with mushrooms, shallots and herbs.
$50 and more
Who or what for: A special gift for the most important people in your life.
Pehu Simonet Champagne Grand Cru Face Nord Extra Brut (about $58). This sparkling wine from a small family producer in the French region of Champagne is not the usual $50 Champagne that’s full of brioche and caramel flavors. It’s drier than most bubbly (extra brut is more dry than brut, which is the usual designation for a dry sparkling wine). There is green apple fruit, almost ripe, and it eventually shows through the wine’s impressive and almost unending minerality. This is Champagne to be savored—an exceptionally made wine that will open your eyes to what Champagne is.
For a red…
Stag’s Leap Artemis ($69). Stag’s Leap, founded by the legendary winemaker Warren Winiarski, was the other California winery to stun the French at the Judgment of Paris. Winiarski sold the winery several years ago, but the quality remains top-notch and consistent, and this cabernet sauvignon shows why. It’s complex and intriguing, with spicy aromas and layers of black fruit—almost plummy, in fact. But it’s not too heavy or too rich, which can be a problem with other high-end California cabs. It’s red-meat wine—prime rib at Christmas, for example. Current vintages should age well for five to 10 years but can be enjoyed now.