[Sung to the melody of the timeless holiday classic from “The Sound of Music”]
Zinfandels and Cabernets,
Chenin Blancs and Burgandy….
Syrah and Shiraz,
Carmenere and Chianti….
Bourdeaux and Gamay, sign o’ the times,
These are a few of my favorite wines.
What if I were to plan a five-course meal for the holidays? Of the many thousands of choices on the market from wineries all over the world, which wines would I chose to serve?
Of course, this all depends on the food pairings.
I’ve accepted the mighty challenge of compiling a generic list of affordable wines which would make for an ideal accompaniment to any festive occasion. These aren’t necessarily the best wines. These aren’t the most complex wines. These certainly aren’t the most interesting or unusual wines you will find.
But they are all great bargains.
What follows are my personal selections of the most exceptional wines for the money. All these wines are luscious, wonderfully tasteful vintages from different regions of the world. They are almost certain to appeal to any wine drinker.
I’ve compiled this list of wines we’ve particularly enjoyed over the past year which we believe are sophisticated enough to drink and serve to anyone. It’s probably futile to rank these wines numerically because they are all different types of wines and grapes, but all share one common characteristic — each is a bargain. All ten wines listed here are terrific. This collection of my top five wines includes quite a variety of tastes that would be the perfect balance for any party — a mix of white, red, rose, sparkling, dry, and sweet.
A visit to my local wine market (Total Wine at Boca Park in Las Vegas) priced all five of these wines at a total cost of $50, with tax.
That’s a steal.
Counting down my top five, with a special category of five bonus “Honorable Mentions” for your consideration, here are my top picks for the year.
Introducing my annual “BEST WINES UNDER $15” selections for 2017:
Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon ($13)
Coppola Diamond Claret ($12)
Meiomi Chardonnay ($12)
Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($11)
Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($11)
Established in 1983 by Fred Cline and based in Oakley, CA (Sonoma County), the Cline Family Winery became our family’s first love affair with serious wine drinking. Twenty-five years ago, we discovered Cline’s signature seller, Cabernet Sauvignon, which was priced at just $6 a bottle. Since then, we’ve enjoyed absolutely everything Cline produced. Yet inexplicably, they still remain somewhat under the radar of consciousness of many wine aficionados. However, their zesty Zinfandels are now making quite an impression and leaving a mark of excellence. Priced at around $14, this is one of those high-alcohol “fruit bombs” that often blows everyone away. I love it. For me, Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel is like blood to a vampire. I can’t live without it.
Gewurztraminer, often referred to as “spice wine,” is absolutely ideal for the holiday season. This tasty tingling grape has a unique complexity all its own. Trouble is, it’s almost impossible to find a really great “Gewurtz” that’s affordable. American winemakers Fetzer and St. Michelle do their very best, and their wines are quite serviceable. But my view is — this is a trickier wine than most that shouldn’t be done on the cheap. The very best wines in this category come from the Alsace region of France (wine producer Hugel is the best, priced at about $25 a bottle). However, a nearby top German producer has ridden to the rescue of Gewurtztraminer lovers worldwide and now produces “Starling Castle,” which takes its name from the birds and stately manner where the grapes are grown in the Mosel Valley. This is an ideal appetizer wine or a dessert wine. Or, it’s just fun to drink on its own. Starling Castle, which also makes a very drinkable Riesling, price checks at about $9 a bottle.
The name “Mark West” might not sound sophisticated, but these wines from Healdsburg in Sonoma County (California) are absolutely the best reds on the market, at the moment, especially for snooty Pinot Noir lovers like me (join the club). Retailing at around $10 per bottle (I’ve seen sale prices as low as $7 — which means pulling out the credit card and buying by at least a case!), I dare you to try and drink just one glass. Like inhaling a scrumptious potato chip, this wine is utterly addictive. While the Mark West Chardonnays are every bit as good, this offering is truly special because the growers and producers somehow avoid the all-too fruity taste of most bargain Pinot Noirs that I’ve tasted. Smooth with subtle berries, with just enough of an after-kick of complexity to mystify wine drinkers accustomed to more exclusive wines, Mark West is the perfect red table wine.
 Segura Viudas Cava Brut Rose
No holiday occasion would be complete without including at least one sparkling wine (or champagne). Produced in Torrelavit, Spain, this was a shocking discovery we made this year which drinks as well as any $150 bottle of prized bubbly. Typically priced at the remarkably affordable value of around $9 per bottle ($7.99 at Costco right now!), this rose-colored delight makes for the perfect toast. Highly drinkable, tasteful, gorgeous in color, Segura Viudas is far more than just a serviceable palate cleanser. Instead of pouring the dreadfully awful industrialized sparkling wines we often are forced to choke down at holiday affairs, Segura Viudas should be mass-produced and made mandatory as the new rocket fuel for everyone’s New Year’s Eve. It’s superb.
My best value of 2017 will probably surprise some readers. Every bottle produced at the J. Lohr wineries is marvelous. Some are priced as low as $7 retail, up to around $25 for the more exclusive “October Night” collection (which is astounding!). These are quite simply the best white wines on the market for the money, right now. J. Lohr has two wineries — one in Napa and Paso Robles. These wines offer a special complexity you don’t often experience with bargain wines. Offering the perfect balance of fruit and oak engulfed in an earthy aroma, this is a giant leap beyond the typical “butter bombs” often associated with many California Chardonnays. Sure to please just about every taste, you can’t go wrong serving a J. Lohr on any occasion.
Note: My personal favorite wines are mostly from the Rhone Valley — in France. However, I did not select any of these highly-preferred wines because they tend to appeal to only a certain taste. I also avoided ranking the hard-to-find wines and vintage outliers which most people haven’t heard of. This list is designed to appeal to everyone with wines available in most places.