We're knee-deep in that time of year when you have a million gifts to give, including the countless holiday gatherings that call for hostess gifts. Now let's talk about that awkward moment when you “accidentally” buy a cheap wine or one that is just plain bad.
Yeah, I can help you avoid that.
My philosophy is that a decent bottle of wine doesn’t have to blow your holiday budget. In fact, $12 is typically my wine limit no matter the time of year. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, so we’ll start with the whites. When they run out, we’ll uncork the reds. Other than that, these are in no particular order, and all are available at local wine and spirits stores. Be sure to act fast with the ones on sale. Cheers!
1. Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand. $9.99 (reg. $11.99)
Good news: You don’t have to live in the southern hemisphere to experience Christmas in the summer. Just open a bottle of Monkey Bay and take in this little bit of paradise. Grapefruit and lime flavors prevail, followed by pineapple and fresh-cut grass.
2. Alamos Torrontes – Argentina. $10.99
If you like sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, by all means, take the next step and try a torrontes. As Argentina’s signature white varietal, its fresh aromatics alone will leave you coming back for more. Imagine a place where citrus meets jasmine blossoms, and the destination is right in this bottle.
3. Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio – Italy. $9.99 (reg. $12.99)
Sometimes you just need a budget pinot grigio, and it helps if it’s reminiscent of the $20-plus bottles. Ecco Domani captures the delicate citrus and floral qualities of a traditional pinot grigio in a style that’s super refreshing.
4. Cupcake Vineyards Angel Food – California. $11.99
Another stellar product from Cupcake Vineyards, this chardonnay-based white blend is absolutely sinful. But don’t let the name fool you — it’s not a dessert wine. Its creamy bits of toasty vanilla (almost like crème brulee) may remind you of an angel food cupcake, but you can easily pair it with your main dish.
5. Clean Slate Riesling – Germany. Price: $9.99 (reg. $11.99)
It’s just like sunshine after a snowfall — so bright. That perfectly sums up this clean, crisp wine that’s bursting with fruit notes of green apple, pear, peach and lemon. Both wine novices and connoisseurs will appreciate this semi-dry white.
6. Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava – Spain. $10.99 (reg. $12.99)
Bring on the bubbly! At a much lower price than most French champagnes, this classic Spanish cava is just as celebratory. Raise your glass for a crispness that is accompanied by apple, lemon and a dash of white pepper.
7. Dialed In Red – California. $8.99 (reg. $11.99)
Here’s my pick for most festive bottle — the stark black label with a red, snowflake-like design is dressed perfectly for the holidays. I call this the red wine for nonred wine drinkers because of its slight sweetness and easy-drinking qualities. That includes plenty of juicy berry flavors.
8. Red Guitar Tempranillo Garnacha – Spain. $9.99 (reg. $11.99)
Channel your inner rock star with this off-dry red blend, which belts out smooth notes of strawberry and raspberry. The bright, ruby hue certainly adds to the festivities and makes for a tune that you can't resist. So grab a glass and rock it out with Red Guitar.
9. Smoking Loon Merlot – California. $8.99 (reg. $10.99)
Can you tell that I enjoy wines with fun names? True to the merlot style, this medium-bodied wine is accented by cherry, currant and licorice notes, and of course, oak and a nice smokiness.
10. Concha y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Carmenere – Chile. $7.99 (reg. $10.99)
Fight off frostbite with a hearty carmenere. Casillero del Diablo, meaning "cellar of the devil," certainly has a mind of its own, with a coffee aroma that is sure to awaken your senses. Earthy flavors are balanced by plum, berry and spice. It makes a great companion to rich desserts, especially something chocolatey.
11. Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel – California. $9.99 (reg. $12.99)
Named after the type of gnarled, head-trained vines at the winery, this zinfandel’s intense flavors of dark berries, spice and pepper can stand up to even the richest holiday dishes. Sometimes you just need to go bold or go home.
12. Blackstone Pinot Noir – California. $11.99
Who says you can't get a “Sideways”-worthy pinot noir on a budget? This is one of those super-smooth pinots that you'll love right from the first sip. Even for a dry red wine, it almost has a candy quality, which is heightened by its berry and cherry-vanilla goodness.
Erica Streisfeld is the editor for custom publishing at Journal Multimedia, parent company of the Central Penn Business Journal, but she moonlights as a foodie and wino. Many people also know her as founder of the Harrisburg Cupcake Cup, a community cupcake competition that benefits the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, and owner of Little Ditty Pops. Follow her at @HbgFoodandWine.