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Posted by Robert Whitley on November 9, 2015 at 2:03 PM

Wines for the Holiday Party


Although the holiday feasting season is upon us now through the end of the year, it is important to remember not every gathering of friends and family is a formal occasion. 'Tis also the season of spontaneous conviviality. The good host always wants to serve tasty wine but is ever mindful there are budget considerations when a crowd gathers for a holiday happy hour.

When the need arises for some very good budget wine, the following five brands are tried and true, consistently producing delicious wines at modest prices.

Banfi Centine — This is the entry-level brand produced by the notable Tuscan winery Castello Banfi. Best known for its exceptional Brunello di Montalcino, Banfi also makes the inexpensive Centine wines that come in three flavors: rosso, bianco and rose. You have probably figured out the rosso is sangiovese-based, the bianco pinot grigio-based and the rose is primarily juice from sangiovese. These wines are reliably delicious and priced around $10 a bottle, a little more or less depending upon where you live.

Barefoot Cellars — These are probably the finest $7 wines in the world. What's remarkable about Barefoot is the consistency despite high production levels (in the millions of cases a year). All of the wines are multi-vintage blends, which allows winemaker Jen Wall and her team to tweak the wines to hit a predictable taste and level of quality. The straight-up cabernet sauvignon and merlot are quite good, the riesling is always aces and they even make a quaffable prosecco.

Cupcake — This brand is from The Wine Group portfolio and specializes in wines from around the globe: a delicious sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, excellent prosecco and pinot grigio from Italy and so on. The wines are all priced well below $20 a bottle and they always deliver. Perfect for a thirsty crowd.

Jacob's Creek — This Australian winery has a long history of exceptional shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and riesling in the $12-$15 range. The wines are well-balanced and flavorful, with nary a dud in the brand's broad portfolio. What really sets them up nicely as a party wine, though, is their easy drinkability. No rough edges to be found here!

Sterling Vintner's Collection — Sterling is a powerhouse Napa Valley winery with plenty of expensive offerings, but its Vintner's Collection value line is hardly a black mark on the brand and may include some of the finest $15 wines on the planet, including a delicious pinot noir that beats all comers at the price. The chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are winners, too.

Shafer, Stag's Leap District (Napa Valley, California) Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select 2011 ($250)
 Shafer's Hillside Select has taken the big, bold route to icon status among California Cabernets and the 2011, despite the dire predictions for the vintage, delivers. On the nose the Hillside Select shows notes of cedar and graphite while on the palate the wine is rich and meaty, with aromas of cassis and blackberry caressed by a touch of oak spice. The tannins are ample but subtle, and the finish has astonishing length.
97 Robert Whitley

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
How Women Transformed Champagne
Michael Apstein

Dom Perignon, step aside. Although that monk is often credited with 'inventing' Champagne, in reality, the women of the region made it what it is today. Two hundred years ago, Champagne's major production was thin, acidic, still wine, not the bubbly symbol of luxury and celebration of today. Champagne's evolution from coarse swill to refined elegance gives new meaning to the cliché that necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, the 'mothers,' widows suddenly thrust into leadership of the Champagne houses, provided the vision necessary for the transformation.
Wines for Holiday Meals
Michael Franz

Wine writers have wallpapered the world with recommendations for Thanksgiving turkey, which is fine, except for two considerations: First, some people are audacious enough to cook something for Thanksgiving other than turkey…which has pretty limited charms, in my opinion. Second, Thanksgiving is definitely not the only holiday meal, and wine writers have offered comparatively few suggestions for meals devoted to other end-of-year feasts for Hanukkah, Christmas or New Year's Eve and Day. So, here are wine recommendations for those bound by tradition to turkey, as well as for other celebratory meals.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Letscho (Hungarian Pepper and Sausage Stew)

The French can probably take credit for the greatest diversity of delicious stews--Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, Cassoulet and so on--but the Hungarian culinary repertoire also includes a number of distinctive stews, from Goulash (Gulyás) to Chicken Paprikash. One of the most satisfying stews from the Hungarian roster is Letscho (pronounced, lech-oh), a flavorful, sturdy, simple and relatively quick-cooking dish redolent of red peppers, onions, tomatoes and sausage. Like all Hungarian stews, letscho is distinguished by a good jolt of paprika, which adds both flavor and color.
On My Table
Another Pinot Noir Discovery
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

I'm never surprised to discover a type of wine that I never heard of before, let alone a brand of wine that's new to me. My most recent lesson in humility occurred when I encountered the Maggy Hawk Pinot Noirs from Anderson Valley, four wines sourced from the same vineyard that share a family resemblance of gentleness and balance--but are nevertheless singular expressions of Pinot Noir. The Maggy Hawk vineyard is situated in the western part of Mendocino County's Anderson Valley, where it is one of the vineyards closest to the Pacific Ocean, at the cool end of a cool region. Barbara Banke is the owner, and Maggy Hawk is the name of one of her favorite racehorses. Each of the Pinot Noir wines grown there carries the name of one of Maggy Hawk's offspring, or in one case that of her sire, Hawkster. All the wines are priced at $66.