Fine wines for the holidays that won’t break the bank

December 10, 2022

Due to a happy calendar coincidence, Chanukah and Christmas occur during the same week. Other than to suggest you curl up in a comfortable chair with a glass of your favorite beverage, I won’t delve into the arcana of calendars except to say: it is a fascinating subject because several are in use today and they vary substantially. Those who have an interest and the internet can go here for a fairly comprehensive read on the subject:
Red Bordeaux, which won’t break the bank, is a fine choice for many hearty holiday entrées. 2018 and 2019 were top vintages in most regions of Bordeaux. In Pauillac they were splendid. Chateau Fonbadet, Pauillac, Cru Bourgeois Superior, 2018 or 2019, 90 and 92 McD, under $37 are top red Bordeaux buys. 2018 just entered their window. Very dark purple, opens to cassis, plum, tobacco, toasted oak with licorice nuance. A powerful palate is coming into balance. Fruit repeats, and mocha plus barrel toast appear during the long, clean finish. The good news, each vintage since 2014 can be found under $40 and my lowest rating was the 89 pt. 2014. Fonbadet is a label I watch. The founder was manager of Ch. Lafite. He had the presence to buy parcels of land that were in close proximity to Ch. Mouton Rothschild, LaTour, Lynch Bages and Pichon Baron. Pascale Peyronie current managing proprietor, also owns Domaines Peyronie Ch. Pauillac with its vineyards next to both Pichon Baron and La Contesse de Lalande and Latour near St. Lambert. I mention location because the combination of a very talented winemaker and great terroir normally results in outstanding product.

Although most vintages rate 91 or 92, you would be stepping up in price $40 or more. The extra cash is warranted because the micro vinification (grapes fermented entirely in 100% new oak barrels) is additive and worth a look. For most, buy 2 or 3 Fonbadet. Another name that enjoys this happy coincidence in location is Ch. Pibran, located near Ch. Pontet-Canet. Pibran has rated 91 or better since 2015 and most vintages can be had under $50. Chateau Haut Beyzac Cru Bourgeois 2016 is findable under $27, 91 McD, 65% merlot, 30 Cab Sau, 5 Petit Verdot, very lovely plum and blackberry aromas, fruit
flavor repeats on the palate through a medium finish supported by nicely balance fruit/ acidity/ tannin frame.
If you see any Chateau d’Arche “A” 2020 snap some up. A white Sauterne blend of 85% Semillon and Sau lanc from old vines, fermented dry and barrel aged. Rich and crisp with bright acidity, perfect with oysters. Lovely citrus, apple and pineapple bouquet. Decanter laid on 95 pts . 93 McD under $23. Will shelf, so buy a case if you love it. Beringer Vineyards Knights Valley (BVKV) has a long history of making favorably priced wine. They produce a wide selection, both in quality and price, and 11 are Cabs.

Occasionally I get feedback. “Hey McD, that wine was nothing like your description.” Read labels carefully. There are Napa Cabs from $7 to $165 and Sonomas from $30- $100. Those labeled California and Howell Mt. range in price from $5 to $165, with ratings from 81 pts to 95 plus My pick is BVKV Reserve Cab, Sonoma County as best quality value. These consistently rate over 90 pts for the past 10 years. They are honestly priced, open under $50. You can pay $161 for a 93-4 pt. BVKV, Napa Private Reserve or trust my advice. Napa for show, Sonoma for dough. Another reminder 2019 in Napa and Sonoma was a stellar vintage.
Broad brush, any varietal, in any category will likely rate at the high end of its spectrum. Shifting gears, an absolute steal at $14, Finca Sophenia Altosur Malbec, Mendoza, 2021 rated 97 by Decanter,94 McD. Those who enjoy Syrah will love Shafer Relentless, Napa Stags Leap District 2015 findable under $90, 94 McD. Regulars know I rarely rave about $90 bottles. Rave, rave, rave! 

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