Whether it be gift-giving, party-hosting, or just plain old everyday shopping, this is the time of year when many of us pull out all the stops. Holiday gatherings with good friends, good food, and of course, good wines, seem to make the season just a little more special, and if that means going over our anticipated budget, why not?

Certainly there are plenty of solid, value-priced wines to be had. But the holidays practically demand that you spend a few dollars more than you normally would for a wine to enjoy either on your own, with family, or perhaps as a gift for that special someone.

Just remember that the definition of a “wine splurge” is completely relative to your spending comfort zone. So while $20 a bottle may be considered a splurge by one person, something in the $40 to $60 price range might be more like it for others.

The key here, regardless of your spending limits, is that a step up in a wine’s price meets or exceeds your expectations for a step up in quality. If that happens, then the higher price was certainly worth it.

Here are a few suggestions of some special wines that you might enjoy any time of year, but especially during the holiday season.

$20 TO $40 “MID-RANGE” SPLURGES

Look to Europe for an incredible selection of food-friendly varietals at prices that fit the lower-end splurge category. Start with Italy’s Chianti Classico region, which offers Sangiovese-based red wines that pair nicely with everything from veal parmigiana to pepperoni pizza.

The Ruffino 2012 Riserva Ducale (about $25) and the Ruffino 2011 Riserva Ducale Oro (about $40) are two perfect examples. The Riserva Ducale displays savory touches of pepper and green herb that accentuate its core of red cherry fruit; while the Oro opens with fragrant violets and bright cranberry flavors that melt into darker dried cherry and a soft finish that is beautifully framed by a touch of bittersweet chocolate.

Those who favor bigger wines from France’s Bordeaux region should enjoy the Château Aney 2012 Haut Médoc Cru Bourgeois (about $24). This impressive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot is beautifully balanced, with hibiscus aromatics, black currant and black cherry fruit, tart acidity and a nice, meaty tannic structure. It’s a great value and easily comparable to other wines from the region at twice the price.

Big, full-bodied wines are also the order of the day from Napa California’s Baldacci Family Vineyards. A trio of current releases include the 2014 Sorelle Chardonnay (about $38) with tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and guava and a hint of field clover and orange zest on the extreme finish; the 2013 Elizabeth Pinot Noir (about $40) with dense red plum and berry on the palate, slightly chewy tannins, and a trace of earthiness; and the 2013 Fraternity Red Blend (about $40) with currant and blackberry compote flavors, supple tannins, and a full, round finish with plenty of staying power.

Malbec has become a rock-star favorite for many red wine lovers and Argentina’s Mendoza region has achieved worldwide recognition as a “go-to” source for this increasingly popular varietal. Indicative of the region’s quality is the Domaine Bousquet Grande Reserve 2013 Malbec (about $25), comprised of 85% Malbec with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah blended in. This is a gorgeous wine that delivers both character and elegance, with brambly raspberry and blackberry fruit, hints of baking spice, white pepper, and herbs, and a soft, velvety finish.

OVER $40 INDULGENCES

Rob and Donna Mellison from Washington’s Mellisoni Vineyards on Lake Chelan have put together a winning formula by offering wine enthusiasts a must-visit tasting room with stunning views, first-class service, and beautifully crafted wines.

Their 2013 Syrah (about $50) is a great example of what you’ll find on a typical tasting menu. It features a base of ultra-black plum with nuances of candied cherry, inky minerality, and firm tannins that suggest cellaring another three to five years for maximum enjoyment.

Oregon Pinot Noirs are sometimes a bit pricey, but the extra dollars can often pay off with an exquisite wine that really must be tried to be appreciated. A case in point: the Knudsen Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir (about $55) from Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills.

A visual and sensual delight, this wine’s shimmering ruby hue is followed by a whisper of smoke and raspberry on the nose, dark strawberry and red cherry fruit flavors, and a seamless, silky finish with a lovely touch of rose petals. Serving suggestions include poached salmon, duck, goose or roast turkey.

From Italy’s Tuscany region, the Avignonesi 2012 Desiderio Merlot (about $65) is another red wine gem that’s worth the splurge. It’s packed with black cherry and blueberry fruits, undertones of clove, cinnamon, and cocoa powder, and ample tannins that will require a bit of aeration. The addition of 15% Cabernet Sauvignon gives the wine additional character, depth, and structure and allows it to pair well with anything beef such as Ossobucco or a crown roast.

And nothing caps off a holiday celebration better than an extra-special bottle of Champagne. The Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve (about $65) is comprised of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, with nearly half of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming from reserve wines aged in stainless steel for an average of 10 years.

The Heidsieck’s striking gold color is highlighted with yeasty, fresh-baked bread and stone fruit aromas, layered, cherry-cream pie flavors, and a lengthy, nutty finish with a flourish of toasted vanilla bean. Exceptional!



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"The key here, regardless of your spending limits, is that a step up in a wine’s price meets or exceeds your expectations for a step up in quality. If that happens, then the higher price was certainly worth it."