Dec. 13, 2011 at 3:41 PM ET
The holidays are here again and that means parties, gift giving and indulging — or over-indulging for some (myself included). How do you find wine merriment without breaking the holiday budget? These selections share a focus on appealing packaging, ideal and high quality-to-price ratio as well as being delicious to sip.
Sparkling and sweet
One of northern Italy’s winemaking stars, Fantinel’s bottling captures the easy drinking style of Prosecco while adding extra layers of interest. Serve as a party starter or uncork while you unwrap. Santa will prefer this to milk any day.
Vilarnau Cava “Brut Nature,” Spain $17
A hot trend in sparkling wine is called “no dosage” bottlings. That means before the bubbly is bottled, the winery doesn’t add any sweetness to the final wine. Vilarnau’s Brut Nature is bone dry, crisp and ultra-classy. Pair with oysters and crab and prepare for the WOW wine moment.
Vigne Regali Principessa Perlante, Gavi Italy $17
Is there a Princess on your holiday list? Seek out the unique, lightly sparkling wine from Vigne Regali. Made from the Cortese grape, this citrus-scented white encased in a sleek bottle is not only alluring to look at, it’s a treat to share.
A new wine on the market, this Prosecco is an ideal pick for gift-giving with its black-bottle beauty. The wine is soft and creamy with a fruity edge, making it ideal to serve alone as an aperitif or with spicy dishes.
Lucien Albrecht Brut Cremant d’Alsace, France $18
Pioneering sparkling wine from Alsace, Albrecht ranks among my favorite producers of bubbly outside of Champagne (only sparklers from the Champagne region of France should be dubbed Champagne). This stylish, delicate wine is dry and complex. An ideal gift option that will impress for less.
Mumm Napa “Cuvee M” Napa Valley, California $20
For those who enjoy sparkling wine but feel it’s a bit tart, sample the slightly sweet Cuvee M from one of Napa’s top bubbly producers. Most sparklers don’t pair well with dessert but this one will, especially fruit based ones or white chocolate treats.
Barefoot Bubbly Moscato Spumante, California $10
Take off your shoes and enjoy this light-hearted bubbly. The moscato craze is sweeping the nation since many drinkers talk dry but drink sweet. This sipper is sweet but balanced. Try it with a dash of cranberry juice for colorful holiday soirees or by itself with Christmas breakfast.
Cockburn’s “Special Reserve” Porto, Portugal $18
Need a gift for the food and wine lover in your life? Pair a bottle of this Port with dark chocolate. Not as sweet as other Ports but still rich and plush, the Special Reserve is a great-deal discovery.
2011 Nine Walks Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand $10
Inspired by the nine great walks of New Zealand’s rugged countryside, this snappy SB is packed with lemony tang and crisp fruit flavors.
2010 Martin Codax Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain $15
When fish is in the house, make sure you have Albarino on hand. A white grape variety made along the coastline of northwestern Spain, this vibrant, zesty wine is also one to sip with appetizers, from fresh cheeses to vegetable platters.
2010 Tselepos Moschofilero, Mantinia Greece $17
This racy yet rich white is made from the Moschofilero (mo-sko-FEEL-a-roe) grape variety in the vinous hot spot of Greece. A pop of citrus flavors makes your mouth water in preparation for food. Tempura has found an ideal partner with this wine.
2010 Decoy Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California $18
Many know the wines of Napa icon Duckhorn, and their fun-loving brank Decoy plays on the duck theme. Sassy, juicy and bright, this is a white that will make you smile.
2010 Carleton Cellars “Cannon Beach” Willamette Valley, Oregon $18
A family-owned operation crafting what I think ranks among Oregon’s best expression of the variety: racy, juicy, and full of peach-scented loveliness. The wine also comes in a high-end bag-in-box format (3 liters equal four bottles), which is a top choice for big gatherings.
2009 Starmont Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California $20
Merryvale Vineyards in Napa is a historic property that produces age-worthy reds, but this white, from their sister brand Starmont, is a wine that could easily sell for twice the price. Hints of spice and vanilla match with ripe fruit in a smooth white that serves up pure pleasure.
Reds and rose
As a fan of dry rose, I encourage people to drink it all year long. Though it’s a popular during warm months, think of it as white alternative during winter. This is Garnacha based so it sports spicy, hearty fullness in a refreshing pink package.
2009 14 Hands Merlot, Washington State $12
Named for the height of the horses that roamed the Columbia Valley of Washington, this blend of Merlot with a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah delivers a quality punch for an affordable price. Make it your house red.
2010 Irony Pinot Noir Monterey County California $14
When you think of Pinot Noir, it’s rare to find one under $15 that showcases Pinot character. This one does. With juicy, cherry-scented aromas followed by a silky texture, it’s a wine that’s sure to please partygoers, gift givers and the bearded man himself.
2009 Ancient Peaks Zinfandel, Paso Robles, California $17
If you don’t know about the Ancient Peaks brand, it’s time to start learning. Over-delivering in quality is the hallmark of these wines and this Zinfandel looks and tastes like it could cost double the price tag. Buy one for your boss and two for yourself.
2008 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California $17
When I think of classic Sonoma wineries that consistently produce wines with style and substance, Rodney Strong is among the top. This wine captures the power and panache of Cabernet without having to pay inflated prices. #Winning.
2010 J. Lohr “Flacon’s Perch” Pinot Noir, Monterey County, California $17
A cool-climate Pinot hailing from around the Arroyo Seco area that screams—all right whispers—elegance. Named for a bird’s home in the vineyards, this wine successfully walks the line between lean and lush.
More drink lists from Leslie:
Leslie Sbrocco is the author of "The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide" and founder ofThirstyGirl.com.