Picking wines for the holidays can be a challenge.
Some people cling to the familiar, while others want something special. It's the time of year to treat yourself and those you love, but you may be feeling pinched after your holiday shopping. You may have a meal with a special menu that cries out for precise pairing or an open house where the wine takes a back seat to food and fellowship. There are many factors to consider.
Here is a list of 12 great wines that address all of those situations:
Patrick Piuze, French Bubble Non Dosé NV: $16.99
Don't be fooled by the self-deprecating name, which might suggest this is a silly sparkling wine but this is a great wine from an excellent producer. Made with chardonnay grapes grown near the town of Chablis, it's lean and crisp with citrus notes. Piuze's Val de Mer Cremant de Bourgogne is also an excellent value if you want a bottle that seems a little more serious. A fun crowd-pleaser for your open house.
The big Champagne houses buy most of their grapes from local growers, some of whom have started making their own, so-called "grower Champagne." George Laval gets premium prices for his grapes, which go into high-end Champagnes for reasons that become clear when you drink his own wines. This one is a drink to savor over several hours because of the elegant interplay of its fruit and brioche notes with a pure mineral core. (Brioche is a signature flavor note in champagne, but rarely is it handled with this subtlety.) A perfect wine with which to begin a special holiday meal.
George Laval Champagne Brut nature: $84.99
A bright, lean white from one of the oldest -- and still best -- producers in Austria, this Grüner will please guests who lean to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc while offering more complexity than similarly priced wines. Would go well with turkey, oysters and other seafood.
Grüner Veltliner "Gobelsburger," Schloss Gobelsburg 2013: $14.99
This is an excellent introduction to Riesling for people who think they don't like it. Bright, fresh, energetic and fun, it'd be terrific with turkey or at a buffet, or, for that matter, with leftovers and your winter bowl game of choice.
Immich-Batterieberg C.A.I. Riesling 2012: $21.99
Mosel Valley, Germany
It may be close to heretical to suggest a Spanish wine for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the classic Italian Christmas Eve feast, but Lopez de Heredia's Viña Gravonia is one of the world's great seafood wines, which is only fitting for a wine made near Basque country. It's also a stunning value. Made from the variety Viura, it's aged in old wooden barrels for four years and then rests for several more after bottling before being released. The wine's acidity and notes of orange peel and old wood work with a range of seafood.
Lopez de Heredia Viña Gravonia Crianza Blanco, 2004: $27.99
La Rioja, Spain
This wine is unabashedly old-school Cali chard, and it's delicious. Robust, ripe tropical fruit, lush on the palate, and yet with an acidity that keeps it interesting. A comparison of this wine with a Piuze Chablis shows Chardonnay's almost inconceivable range; they're both terrific, but in totally different ways. A great gift wine; also has enough body to please drinkers who want a white with their holiday roast.
Ridge Vineyards "Estate" Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay 2012: $46.99
Santa Cruz Mountains, California
This wine is from the Canary Islands, and it's got a lot more to offer than an exotic geographic pedigree. A medium-bodied wine made from the local Listán Negro, it's got a note of black pepper along with good fruit and a touch of earth. Versatile and delicious; the thought of the Canary Islands may itself warm people up.
Frontón de Oro Gran Canaria Tinto 2012: $15.99
Canary Islands, Spain
This wine comes from California but has a French accent. It's based on Cabernet Sauvignon and incorporates the other grapes that are traditionally grown in Bordeaux: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot and is aged in old French wood, which lets the wine breathe without adding too much oak. The result is a wine with good fruit and excellent structure that can stand up to red meat but would also be enjoyable on its own at a holiday party.
My Essential Wine Co. Red California 2012: $23.99
Santa Maria, California
This wine comes from Morgon, in Beaujolais, and is made from the Gamay grape, but it tastes more like good red Burgundy. It has the earth, the acidity, the strawberry and blackberry notes and the aging potential of those wines without the price tag. Definitely a food wine versatile enough to go with pretty much any meat on the holiday table.
Chamonard 2012 Morgon Le Clos de Lys 2012: $24.99
This was one of the best wines I tasted all year, one so delicious that even a few ounces haunted me for months. It's beautiful, with elegant, restrained fruit and perfect balance, A WINE WORTHY OF HOLIDAY EXTRAVAGANCE AND ONE THAT WOULD GO WITH RED MEATS. You could drink it now with great pleasure or age it for years. And to think, Stony Hill is best known for its Chardonnay.
Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: $59.99
Napa Valley, California
Madeira, which takes its name from the Portuguese archipelago where it's produced, was the most popular wine in America in the 18th and early 19th centuries but has since become a much more acquired taste. The wines have layered flavors of coffee, toffee, nuts and orange peel and can last for months after being opened. This one is made from Malmsey or Malvasia and combines those flavors with a concentrated sweetness and good acidity. A robust, festive way to close out a holiday gathering by the fire.
The Rare Wine Company, New York Malmsey Madeira: $51.99
Jacques Puffeney's stature in the Jura, a region in eastern France that borders Switzerland, is evident in his nickname: The Pope of the Jura. He's most famous for his Vin Jaune, a wine made from the Savagnin, a grape grown only in the Jura, and aged for several years under a veil of yeast, which is the same way sherry is made. The result is a nutty, complex dry wine that can age for decades and is often paired with Comte, the classic cheese of the region. The "pope" retired after this year's harvest, but his wines will last for years to come. And his reds compare well with those from Burgundy at a fraction of the price. The perfect gift for a discerning wine lover, or for a fan of hard cheeses, which are ideal for this wine.
Jacques Puffeney Vin Jaune Arbois 2006: $89.99