Category:Holiday wine

New Year’s sparkling wine 2017

New Year's sparkling wine 2017Four New Year’s sparkling wine 2017 recommendations that combine value and quality

Champagne, the sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, has returned to the blog this year for New Year’s sparkling wine 2017. The good news is that I found some that weren’t the same old stuff and are worth drinking. The bad news is that it’s almost impossible to find quality Champagne for less than $35.

Having said that, there is still lots of value in the blog’s New Year’s sparkling wine 2017 suggestions. This includes California bubbly, usually overpriced but where prices have become almost reasonable. That’s because of grocery store wine sales; the competition they offer has lowered prices.

Also handy: The blog’s annual wine gift guidelines and the sparkling wine primer.

Monistrol Seleccion Especial Brut NV ($9, purchased, 11.5%): This Spanish sparkler shows cava’s greatness and ability to deliver value. It’s less than $10, and you’d never know tasting it blind. Look for bright red apple fruit, pleasing acidity, and a softish finish.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut NV ($16, purchased, 12.5%): This California sparkler is one of the world’s great bubbly values — always fresh, always consistent, always enjoyable. Look for lemon and green apple flavors, some stone fruit aromas, and a creamy finish with very tight bubbles. Highly recommended.

Astoria Prosecco NV ($12, sample, 11%): This is one of the best Italian sparkling wines — more than just sweet and soft. Look for lemon and apple fruit, enough sweetness to make you wonder if it is sweet, soft but long-lasting bubbles, and even a sort of minerally finish, which is completely unexpected.

Champagne Collet Brut NV ($39, sample, 12.5%): This is priced like entry-level Champagne, but the quality is much more than that. It’s classic in style, with the brioche aroma, citrus fruit, and a little caramel in the finish. Very well done for the price.

More on New Year’s sparkling wine
New Year’s sparkling wine 2016
New Year’s sparkling wine 2015
New Year’s sparkling wine 2014
Wineof the week: Francois Montand Brut Rose NV
Wine of the week: Juve y Camps Brut Rose NV

Wine of the week: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva NV

segura viudasThe Seugra Viudas cava shows that $9 can buy top-flight sparkling wine for the New Year’s holiday

The blog is more than a decade old, and I’ve been writing about wine for more than twice that long. In all that time, the Segura Viudas cava ($9, purchased, 12%) has never let me down. How often can one say that about wine?

This Spanish sparkling wine, made with the three traditional cava grapes — no pinot noir or chardonnay, thank you — has aways offered  more value than its cost. A lot more value. That it has done so for more than 20 years reminds me that not everyone who makes wine chases scores and trends or charges higher prices just because. Some, like the Ferrer family and its Segura Viudas cava, understand that  wine quality matters the most. If you do that, the rest falls into place.

This would be terrific wine even if it cost $15, and is just the bubbly for New Year’s sipping, toasting, and brunch — bone dry, with tart green apple flavor that is balanced by a little tropical fruit, the yeastiness that you expect from more expensive Champagne-style wines, and delightful bubbles. In this, the mark of great sparkling wine, no matter where it’s from or how much it costs, are the bubbles — tiny, compact, streaming to the top of the glass. You can get those bubbles in Dom Perignon for $200, or you can get them here for $9.

Highly recommended, as always, and it will take its place in the 2018 $10 Hall of Fame next.

Mini-reviews 104: Maybe Christmas wine, maybe not

christmasReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: Maybe Christmas wine, maybe not

Le Petite Frog Picpoul 2016 ($30/3-liter box, purchased, 12.5%): I really wanted to like this French white, made with the picpoul grape. But all it did was make me appreciate the Rene Barbier white that much more. The La Petite Frog is pleasant enough, with soft lemon fruit, but could be fresher and more lively; at the equivalent of $7.50 a bottle, it’s not two bucks a bottle better than the Barbier. Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils.

Norton Malbec Reserva 2014 ($16, sample, 13.5%): Premiumized grocery store red from Argentina that is about as boring as possible, and with entirely too much oak (even if I liked a lot of oak). It is focus group wine, made for the Cellar Tracker user who wrote: “Nice, smooth and very drinkable, especially at this price point.” Imported by Guarchi Wine Partners.

Seaglass Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This California grocery store pink was more than I expected, with barely ripe strawberry fruit and surprising freshness instead of the cloying, almost sweet quality, that some of these wines have. It’s a little thin on the back, and not quite up to a wine of the week, but you won’t be unhappy by buying it.

Tenuta Marsiliana Maremma Toscana 2012 ($32, sample, 14%): This Italian red, a Super Tuscan heavy on the cabernet sauvignon and merlot, is professionally made, but doesn’t suffer from being more New World than Old in an attempt to get 92 points. Look for more black fruit and less acidity than in a traditional Tuscan red, but it does have that earthy finish and elegant tannins. Highly recommended, but availability may be limited.

Christmas wine 2017

christmas wine 2017Four choices for Christmas wine 2017 to help you enjoy the holiday

Suggestions for Christmas wine 2017, whether for a last minute gift or for a holiday dinner. As always, keep our wine gift giving tips in mind:

Ken Forrester Petit Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 13%): Top-notch South African pink from one of my favorite producers. More in the Loire style, even though it uses Rhone grapes (grenache and a little viognier), so less fruit (unripe strawberry) and more stoniness and minerality. Highly recommended. Imported by USA Wine Imports.

Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 2013 ($79, purchased, 13%): My favorite white Burgundy, and perhaps my favorite chardonnay in the word. This vintage is more tropical than I expected (lime and almost banana fruit), but still crisp, minerally, and white Burgundy-like. And the oak, with hints of pecan and caramel, is a revelation, a master class in how to age wine. A tip o’ the WC fedora to the Big Guy, who brought it to a recent wine lunch. Highly recommended, and especially as a gift for someone who loves wine. Imported by Vineyard Brands.

Bervini Rose Spumante Extra Dry NV ($18, sample, 11%): Old-fashioned Italian bubbly, the kind we drank in the 1960s and ’70s — more fizzy than sparkling, a touch sweet, and balanced with raspberry fruit. It’s well made and fun to drink, but price might turn some people off. Imported by WineTrees USA.

Silver Totem Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($16, sample, 13.5%): An amazing Washington state red wine that comes from Big Wine producer Banfi, but tastes like Washington state cabernet. Everything is where it is supposed to be — some heft, some rich dark fruit but not too ripe, and enough acidity so the wine is more than smooth. Highly recommended.

More about Christmas wine:
Christmas wine 2016
Christmas wine 2015
Christmas wine 2014
Expensive wine 101: Franco-Espanolas Bordon Gran Reserva 2005
Expensive wine 104: Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese 2014

Expensive wine 103: Chateau Prieure-Lichine Confidences de Prieure-Lichine 2008

Confidences de Prieure-Lichine, a second label red Bordeaux, reminds us just how wonderful these wines can be

In the old days before the recession, the great Bordeaux estates nade two wines. The first was the expensive one, and the other, called a second label, was a more affordable version, made with lesser quality grapes.

These days, though, as wine continues its evolution as only something for the wealthy, even the second labels are pricey. Witness the Confidences de Prieure-Lichine ($33, purchased, 13%), made by Chateau Prieure-Lichine in Margaux on Bordeaux’s left bank. Chateau Prieure-Lichine is a fourth growth, dating to the legendary 1855 classification; for our purposes, this makes it a great producer, and its first label can cost more than twice that of the second.

The Big Guy bought the Confidences de Prieure-Lichine and brought it to lunch at Dallas’ Urbano Cafe (the blog’s unofficial BYOB restaurant). We were joined by Thibodaux, who finagled a day off from work despite the bossses’ insistence that the business would collapse without her.

The Confidences de Prieure-Lichine was all we hoped it would be – elegant, sophisticated, and oh so Bordeaux. There’s dark fruit (plums? black currants?), the tannins are almost velvety, and the wine has an idea of earthiness, nothing more. It was softer than I expected, but understandable since Prieure-Lichine uses more merlot in the blend than other left bank producers.

It probably won’t age much longer, so drink now. Highly recommended, and the ideal wine to pair with holiday beef, lamb, or even turkey. And it’s yet another reason why scores are so useless. This was a beautiful and delicious wine, yet its average score on Wine-Searcher was 89 points. That’s about what a quality bottle of $10 wine gets.

Holiday wine gift guide 2017

Who needs to blow $1,500 for something no one needs when you have the Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2017?

holiday wine gift guide 2017Premiumization isn’t just about wine these days. It’s about wine gifts, too. How about $95 for a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, packaged in a gift box shaped like a lipstick, complete with bright red top? Or the $1,500 Plum wine preservation system? It’s so complicated that I can’t figure out what it does or why I need it.

Never fear. That’s why the Wine Curmudgeon is here. As always, my goal is to offer ideas that are tasteful, affordable, and enjoyable. Because who wants to get a set of beer glass wraps made of leather?

This year, my suggestions are mostly wine, but also keep in mind two must-haves for anyone who drinks wine regularly – the Rabbit wine preserver ($10), cheap and effective, and a top-notch waiter’s corkscrew from Murano ($10).


• Jon Bonne’s new book, “Thee New Wine Rules: A Genuinely Helpful Guide to Everything You Need to Know” (Ten Speed Press, $15). This effort continues the former San Francisco Chronicle wine editor’s attempt to remake how we look at wine. It’s not long, but length isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s the 89 “rules” – practical advice instead of the commandments that we have had to endure for generations. And yes, says Bonne, you can drink rose all year long.

Ridge Lytton Springs 2015 ($40). Dollar for dollar, California’s Ridge may be the best winery in the U.S. The Lytton Springs, one of the winery’s trademark zinfandel blends, shows why – lots of jammy black fruit and sweet oak, but with black pepper, more acidity than the usual flat and flabby zinfandel, and some herbal notes toward the finish. And it’s very young – should last for a decade or more.

Osborne Pedro Ximenez 1827 ($25): This Spanish sherry is dessert wine even for people who don’t like dessert wine – nutty, raisiny, rich and luscious, and one swallow seems to last forever. It may be difficult to find, but is more than worth the effort and more than a fair value. This is a sister product to a very rare Osborne sherry, which was easily the best I have ever tasted. And this one is almost as good.

Jose Zuccardi Malbec 2013 ($45): Argentina’s Zuccardi may be best known for its terrific cheap wine, including some classic $10 roses. This red, which includes a little cabernet sauvignon, takes the winery in a much different direction. It’s part of a decade-long effort to do for malbec what the Italians have done for sangiovese blends – call it a Super Mendoza. It’s not for all tastes – bigger and bolder than I expected. But the winemaking is impeccable.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2014 ($28): This California white wine is made with two grapes rarely used in the U.S., so it’s worthwhile just for that. That it comes from the talented Randall Grahm is another reason to buy it. And that it offers quality – a little pear fruit, some bright acidity – is a third reason.

Holiday wine trends 2017

holiday wine trends 2017We’re willing to spend more money for holiday wine in 2017, but don’t try fobbing us off with overpriced crap

We’re willing to spend more money for holiday wine in 2017, but – and am I the only one surprised by this? – we don’t want to overpay. And, in as good a bit of news as I can imagine for holiday wine trends 2017, the younger among us are willing to buy something that isn’t chardonnay, merlot, pinot noir, and cabernet sauvignon.

“Consumers are ahead of producers in terms of quality, and they catch up to the idea of quality pretty quickly,” says Michael Warner, who owns Dcanter, a wine shop in Washington, D.C. “They’re willing to try something else, something different, but only if the price and quality is right.”

In fact, these younger wine drinkers are fussy about quality and price, and they aren’t willing to be fobbed off on something they consider inferior wine just because it’s different. Which is why I think this is such good news. They want wines from regions and made with grapes that their parents and grandparents aren’t interested in, and that includes wine from eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and the southern Hemisphere.

How prevalent is this attitude? Michael Osborn at, the largest Internet wine retailer in the country, says the site now sells wine made from almost 100 varietals. This is much larger than just a few years ago, and includes grapes like albarino, which no one has paid much attention to until the past couple of years. What makes the numbers even more relevant? Its customers aren’t as old as the traditional U.S. wine drinker – two-thirds are younger than 50.

Several other trends after talking to a variety of retailers about holiday wine 2017:

• The most popular price this holiday season? The range from $15 to $25, as consumers don’t mind spending money to buy a better bottle of wine. The catch, though, is that they will only pay if it’s a better bottle. We’re not trading up just to trade up.

• Rose remains popular, with sales continuing to increase everywhere, including So do pinot noir and sweet red blends.

• Champage is regaining some of its popularity, but Prosecco – the Italian sparkler that’s about one-third the price and a little sweeter – remains the best-selling bubbly category in the country.

• One reason younger wine drinkers opt for non-traditional wines is value. Customers at New Orleans’ Pearl Wine Co. love a South African cinsault blend, says owner Leora Madden, because it offers so much more value than the $12 price. At Dcanter, says Warner, someone who wants to buy a red Bordeaux will leave with a red from the much less known and much less pricey Cahors region.