Wine Gifts For Every Budget Recommended By Houston Pros
The holiday season presents plenty of opportunities to eat, drink, and mingle, but also presents a conundrum: what to give hosts, coworkers and friends? A bottle of wine is a standard that most people are happy to receive, but it’s hard to know what to choose for each person.
The good news is that you no longer have to stare at a shelf for 30 minutes before grabbing a bottle with an attractive label. (By the way, pretty labels have no bearing whatsoever on the quality of the wine. In this case, you really can’t judge a book by its cover.)
There’s a particular kind of place not often thought of for buying wine at retail prices, but these are also the most likely to employ professional sommeliers: wine bars. Out of the following five experts who shared their picks to match just about any budget, four are at wine bars. The fifth is based at one of our favorite specialty grocery stores, Central Market. Here’s the list of those who made suggestions to match a variety of gift-giving situations:
- Farrah Cauley, co-owner of Sonoma Wine Bar
- Thomas Moesse, wine director at Vinology Bottle Shop and Wine Bar
- Chris Poldoian, wine director at Camerata
- Russ Stephenson, wine and beer manager at Central Market Houston
Wines Around $20
This economical price point is all about “bang for the buck” and is ideal for casual acquaintances, holiday hosts, coworkers and white elephant exchanges.
Cauley’s pick: 2015 Broadside (Cabernet Sauvignon) Paso Robles, California. Easy to drink, red fruits, soft tannins, silky finish. $19.
Moesse’s pick: 2014 Domaine de Durban Beaumes-de-Venise. This lesser-known satellite on the eastern periphery of the southern Rhone Valley gives compelling GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvedre) experience for incredible value. Dark red fruit and iron-heavy minerality compliment pleasantly grippy tannins. $19.
Poldoian’s pick: Ramona. If La Croix Pamplemousse were a wine, this would be it. Created by Momofuku “supersomm” Jordan Salcito, Ramona is an effervescent blend of Zibbibo (the Muscat of Alexandria grape of Sicily) and grapefruit. Drink it straight out of the can or in a wine glass, at the dinner table or on the patio. This is also the perfect “gateway drug” for your friend who wants a party wine. $28 for a four pack.
Stephenson’s pick: Abbazia Di Novacella “Kerner” from Alto Adige, Italy. Pairs with salads, cornbread stuffing, cheeses and seafood. $18.99.
Wines Under $50
Still at modest price points, these wines are ideal for BYOB, sharing a bottle at a party or to serve at your own party.
Cauley’s pick: 2014 Adelsheim ‘Breaking Ground’ (Pinot Noir) Chehalem Mountains, Oregon. “Balanced notes of black cherry, roasted spices, wet slate, rich textures and supple acidity.” $36
2014 Guimaro ‘Finca Meixeman’ Riberira Sacra Mencia. “Meaning “sacred banks” in the local dialect, Ribeira Sacra contains the old-vine Mencia responsible for reshaping the grape’s reputation for serious wines. Concentrated minerality, baking spices, and blue and red fruits linger on the palate after a lengthy finish.” $42.
Poldoian’s pick: Cardamaro.”For your whiskey-drinking, sherry-loving epicurean, our current nightcap of choice is this Piedmontese digestif made with Muscat wine aromatized with cardoons, thistles, and ginger. Cardamaro can be enjoyed the same way you would a sweet vermouth: neat, on the rocks, or as an aperitif with a splash of soda water. No need to curl up in front of the fireplace—all the holiday spice and cheer you need will be in your glass.” $31.50.
Stephenson’s pick: Dufaitre “Cote De Brouilly” (Beaujolais) from Beaujolais, France: “Pairs with pork, lamb, smoked meats, and mushroom dishes.” $31.99.
Wines Under $100
When it comes to giving wine to a boss, good friends or family, this is the time to splurge a little.
Cauley’s pick: 2012 Brezza ‘Sarmassa’ Barolo (Nebbiolo) Piedmont, Italy: “A graceful Barolo with a floral bouquet, notes of wild strawberry, raspberry, leather, spiced red fruits, with a luscious mouthful and a balanced, lingering finish.” $87.
Moesse’s pick: 2011 August Kesseler, Rheingau Pinot Noir. In recent history, Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder as it’s known in Germany) has seen tremendous growth and a taste of Kesseler’s exquisitely balanced wine proves why. Steep slopes and slate soils contribute a precise, stony quality to the Pinot’s alluring red berry notes. $52.50.
Poldoian’s pick: Bichi La Santa Rosa de Peru (Moscatel Negro) from Tecate, Mexico, 2016. “A lot of the wines we’re seeing out of Mexico are facsimiles of Napa reds: over-extracted oak-bombs. The Tellez family is bucking this trend by teaming up with Burgundian-turned-Chilean winemaker Louis-Antoine Luyt to make wines that utilize old vines of grapes like Rosa de Peru and Listan Prieto (also known as the Mission grape due to its evangelical origins). The Bichi “Santa” cuvée is sourced from a centenarian vineyard of Moscatel Negro. The wine is fermented in locally-made concrete vessels called tinajas and bottled with minimal sulphur. This natural wine may come from Mexico, but tastes like cru Beaujolais. Give this delicately floral wine to your friend who just discovered the world of “natural wine” to really blow their mind!” $53.
Stephenson’s pick: Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, California. Pairs with ham and turkey. $72.
Wines Over $100
Collectors, newlyweds and really special events are just a few of the reasons to head for a truly great wine at a fair price.
Cauley’s pick: 2013 Cornell Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California. “This vineyard is located at the top of Spring Mountain, with a super-limited bottling production. Intense aromas of dried fruits, notes of dark chocolate, pomegranate, new oak and black tea balanced with silky tannins and a velvety finish.” $150.
Moesse’s pick: 2010 Paolo Bea ‘Pagliaro’ Montefalco Sagrantino. “Umbria’s king of red wine, Sagrantino is innately fearsome and tannic. Nevertheless, storied winemaker Paolo Bea wrings every essence from his organically farmed and hand-picked grapes. Intense, imminently age-able, and profound, this bottle holds a regal perfume of crushed violets, herbs, and cracked pepper. Graphite and earthy, tar-like notes contrast the dark blue and red fruits before ending in a haughty, tannic grip.” $104.50.
Poldoian’s pick: 2015 Phillippe Pacalet Syrah from Cornas, France. “Camerata has preached the gospel of Syrah for some time and this to me is the perfect example of the Cornas appellation. The winemaker Phillippe Pacalet is a bit of a renegade within Burgundy. Relatively young, Pacalet is the nephew of legendary Beaujolais producer Marcel Lapierre and adheres to a similar approach to natural, minimally-interfered winemaking. Pacalet started his own label in 1999 and works almost exclusively in Burgundy, which makes his beautifully complex Syrah all the more special. Take those nightmares of syrupy Shiraz out of your mind—this is a Pinot Noir lover’s Syrah, steroidal violet petals. It straddles this line between ethereal and powerful.” $128.
Stephenson’s pick: Aaron & Claire Pott Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California: “Pairs with rib roast, bone-in strip, dry-aged ribeye.” $150.
Lauren is a food writer and editor with a background in cheese and a penchant for pontificating on the joys of eating and drinking.