July 17, 2018

Reliably Delicious and Affordable Wines for the Holidays

christmas_holiday_wine_2With holiday parties and celebrations in full swing, you probably want to bring great wines to these events without breaking the bank. This is an opportune time to reveal the list I’ve been promising friends and colleagues.

While it’s always great to try new wines, the point of experimentation is to discover the gems you’ll enjoy now and in the future. Thus, the wines on my list are stables—wine brands that provide consistent quality and style from one vintage to the next. These wines make great party wines or gifts, and they work well with everyday meals. Some you might want to buy simply for sipping on a weeknight watching TV.

My criteria are that they’re easy to find in the D.C. metro area, they offer both quality and value year in and year out, and they’re relatively affordable. There are a couple exceptions, however, so several are worth ordering online and/or at a higher price.

DRY CRISP WHITES: These are all refreshing and fruity with notes of citrus and green fruit. Serve refrigerator cold.

DRY, SOFT, ROUND WHITES: These wines are fruity with flavors of ripe red apples, baked apples, stone fruit (peaches), melon, pear, and/or tropical fruits. Take these out of the fridge and let warm for a few minutes before drinking.

AROMATIC WHITE WINES. These wines offer intense floral and perfume notes along with rich fruits—apricots, cooked peaches, orange blossom, and even apple pie. Some are off-dry (slightly sweet). Serve chilled.

FULL-BODIED WHITES.These oaked Chardonnay wines have undergone malolactic fermentation, which creates creamy and buttery notes. They have less pronounced fruit flavors and more vanilla, oak, butterscotch, and/or nutty flavors. Serve only lightly chilled; overly cold temperatures will inhibit flavors.

  • Bouchaine Chardonnay, Estate Vineyard. Carneros, Napa Valley, California. So far, everyone I have shared this wine with has responded with “Mmmm” immediately after the first sip. It possesses great balance of fruit (apple/pear/citrus) with butterscotch. This one is a little more expensive than some of the others, but it’s worth it.
  • Franciscan Chardonnay. Napa Valley, California. This wine offers a solid balance of citrus, cream, and butter.
  • J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay. Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. This is a soft buttery wine that delivers big for a low price.
  • J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines Chardonnay, Arroyo Vista Vineyard, Arroyo Seco. Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. For about seven bucks more than the Riverstone, this wine offers a bigger, creamy, butterscotch profile.
  • Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.  The Vintner’s Selection (which is the more affordable one) and the Grand Reserve are both outstanding for their prices. Think cream, butterscotch, and oak. The Grand Reserve is richer than the Vintners Selection, but both are delicious.
  • Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Riva Ranch Reserve Arroyo Seco. Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. Wente Chardonnay offers a balance of oak, cream, and citrus, plus some additional complexity from the inclusion of 1 percent Gewurztraminer in the blend.
  • Wente Chardonnay, Morning Fog. Livermore Valley, California. This one is very similar in style to the Riva Ranch but less expensive.

LIGHT-BODIED REDS: These are light and fruity wines with low tannin and a relatively a short finish.

  • Artesa Pinot Noir Carneros. Napa Valley, California. This Pinot Noir has a delicate profile packed with red fruit flavors and spice. Get more information on Artesa in my articles here and here.
  • Cambria Pinot Noir, Julia’s Vineyard. Santa Barbara, California. This wine offers aromas and flavors of plum, ripe red cherries, light spice, and a touch of vanilla, with a relatively short finish.

MEDIUM-BODIED REDS: These are wines that have some complexity and length but are not as “heavy” as the full-bodied dinner wines listed below.

  • Benziger Merlot and Benziger Cabernet Sauvignon. Sonoma, California. These wines offer ripe red fruit and unusually soft and silky textures. They might be described as full-bodied, but they seem lighter than many of the “big” wines listed below.
  • Cline Cellars, Cashmere. Sonoma, California. This rich, plumy wine is a blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah. It lives up to its name with an unusually silky and soft texture.
  • Luigi Bosca Single Vineyard Malbec, DOC. Mendoza, Argentina. This Malbec is exceptionally smooth with soft berry flavors balanced with toast from oak barrels. For more information see my article on the topic.

RICH, JAMMY REDS: These are mostly full-bodied wines that have unusually rich, jammy notes. They are good with food, particularly items with similar fruity qualities like barbequed ribs.

FULL-BODIED DINNER REDS: These are wines you can enjoy with a rich juicy steak, a grilled portobello mushroom, or something equally rich and powerful.


  • Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’ Asti. Piedmont, Italy. Like all Moscato d’Asti wines, this is a lightly sweet, low alcohol wine that is described as being fizzante, (lightly fizzy). The Cascinetta is particularly lovely, imparting flavors of peaches and rich honey.
  • Cline Late Harvest Mourvèdre. Sonoma, California. This is very unique: a sweet red with rich, smooth, and complex flavors, similar to a Port, but without the heavy alcohol. Ask your local retailer to order some or order online.

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