Great wines for the holidays and experiments from the Vegetarian Kitchen

With Experiments in the Vegetarian Kitchen


I know we are all in full gift mode right now, so it’s time to take a look at some of the top wine buys in the marketplace. You can always scramble after the “Best vintage anywhere, ever!” but the truth is that much of the hoopla that surrounds the “best” vintages is based on the potential of the vintage.  I don’t know about your friends and family, but the only potential mine are interested in extends over days, if I'm lucky.

With limited space, I’ve hit the main wine producing regions, but let me preface this all by saying my strategy for finding values is to look for the overlooked. Now I’m about to rattle off a series of vintages and wines that offer great drinking and super values, but the truth is that many of the regions I’m going to gloss right over always offer great value, though they may not be perfect for that special gift.

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Bordeaux – The thing about Bordeaux is that people chase the points. Whether it for a specific Chateau or a vintage that point chasers have turned Bordeaux into a commodity so look where there is insufficient demand, which really should be almost everywhere these days but, what are you gonna do? Look at 2004, 2002 and above all 2001 Bordeaux, that’s what! These are all solid vintages with excellent balance and all the depth and complexity a Bordeaux aficionado looks for , yet without the insane pricing. I’ve recently enjoyed the 2001 Cos d’Estournel. It’s not cheap, about $100 a bottle but it’s a spectacularly good bottle of Bordeaux.

A little more than you were looking to spend, then seek out Boyd Cantenac, Pontet Canet, or Leoville Barton from some seriously good bottles. If you want to wring the most from your dollars some of the lesser-known Chateau make excellent wines that are still extremely affordable. I’m thinking of my old stand buys Poujeaux, Meyney and Sociando Mallet, who also hit it out of the park in 2001. These three can all be had for less than $50 a bottle, in some cases much less.

Burgundy – Red Burgundy has never been known as a land of values, neither have the white of course, but there are some reasonably good opportunities in today’s market for a careful shopper. Take a look at the best of 2000 for example. Never I highly touted vintage, the 2000s are pretty much mature and are simply fun to drink. No intellectual exercises, no fantasizing over what the wines will be like in 2020, these are ready to go and delicious.

Look for some of the best sites in the Cotes de Beaune for your best values. Pomard, Volany and Corton. At least that’s where I’ve been shopping.  With the limited nature of these wines, production is measure in thousands of bottles, as opposed to cases in Bordeaux; it’s difficult to make specific recommendations. I’d be looking for some of my favorite producers such as Voillot, Mugneret - Gibourg, Chandon des Brialles and would definitely be paying attention to the best negociants such as Drouhin, Jadot and Boisset.

California – Now this is a tough doggie. Californian wine pricing doesn’t seem to follow much of a rhyme or reason, and most vintages are excellent so what’s a person to do? Well there are a few options. The new breed of negociant, epitomized by Cameron Hughes, is a great chance to secure top-level wines at every day prices. These negociants are buying unwanted, or unsalable in today’s market, stocks of high-end wines and putting their own label on the bottle. Confidentiality agreements protect the brands that are selling the juice, but everyone knows after tasting some of these wines that the only problem they have is the price. There is a lake of great wine going unsold in California and the 2007 vintage is stellar so try some negociant wines and don’t be afraid of a new label: it just might be declassified juice.

Another option in California is to take a look at regions such as Paso Robles, Mendocino and, one of my favorites: Lake County. These winemaking regions are more than just miles from Napa, and increasingly Sonoma. They are just at a different place of their evolution and live with a different state of mind. Exploring these regions can yield great rewards.

One avenue worth exploring is revisiting some of California’s greatest winemaking families who’ve paid off the ranch and have quietly been producing great wines at affordable prices for decades. That’s decades longer than most of their Napa upstart neighbors. Names such as Charles Krug, Pedroncelli, and Kunde should be on everyone’s must try lists.

Tuscany – Now here’s an easy one. Avoid Brunello and the Super Tuscans and rely on Rosso di Montalcino, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and the Great Chianti Classico Riservas to provide some of the greatest food wines the world has to offer. Even the greatest vintages of these wines are amazingly affordable. In Chianti my go to estates include Monsanto, Castellare and Volpaia but I would also include Nozzole, and San Giusto a Rentennano, Val delle Corte and Selvapaina on any short list.

An exception, sort of, to the no Super Tuscan list would have to be Montevertine. Every wine produced by this estate is not only a bargain, but also a Super Tuscan of sorts, since this producer eschews the usual Chianti classification. Montevertine should be on every wine lover’s radar.

With Rosso di Montalcino simply track down your favorite Brunello producer and grab a bottle of the Rosso. I have never been disappointed by the quality, and value, I find in Rosso di Montalcino. Producers like Val di Suga, Silvio Nardi, Caparzo, and Costanti are some of my stand bys.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is somewhat harder to come by here in the states but wines from quality minded producers like Dei, Boscarelli, Valdipiatti, Poliziano and Tre Rose always deliver exceptional value with a wine that straddles the styles of Chianti and Brunello. It’s a winning combination for my palate, and one that deserves more attention from all you self-confessed Italophiles out there.

Well that’s my quick run down of great value wines. I’ll follow this up with a look at value priced sparkling wines soon. I hope you all share your great finds, and values, with all of your wine loving friends on Snooth! Happy hunting everyone.

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: rednikki
    29621 48

    This article is really great - but your two pull boxes at the top are misleading. I clicked on "Check out her great recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits (Mmmm) with Spinach and paprika Mushrooms by following this link." about five times. It kept reloading the page and I wondered why I wasn't seeing the article. Then I scrolled down and found out. Headline below the fold = bad idea.

    Dec 04, 2009 at 12:20 PM

  • Thanks rednikki, but you're right, it's quite confusing. Hopefully it'll be remedied soon. Glad you liked the piece! Cheers!

    Dec 04, 2009 at 2:19 PM

  • Snooth User: cygilbert
    145427 17

    I was interested in the Astor listing of the Domaine de la Pepiere, but *they* say it's actually Cot (French for Malbec--a VERY different wine). What gives, Senior Snooth?

    Dec 04, 2009 at 2:50 PM

  • Domaine de la Pepiere actually makes a Cot and a Cabernet Franc (both with the same label) and they're both delicious!

    Dec 04, 2009 at 3:54 PM

  • Snooth User: Kenner
    118554 34

    You allude to something that many people don't get: it is easier to modify a recipe to fit the wine, rather than match a wine with a dish. The wine is a finished product, the dish is malleable and under control of the kitchen. And yes, when the two meld.... heaven.
    A combo that I like is spicy salmon roll with Aussie shiraz. Same idea as your hot paprika/acid combo. Match the weight and intensity.

    Dec 04, 2009 at 4:03 PM

  • Snooth User: hugh27
    Hand of Snooth
    253137 65

    Regarding the comments re Cabernet Franc- This is not a wine with great Wine lovers attention and most surpisingely the best I have tasted come from lesser Known regions of the wine world. Ontario's Wines are not famous internationally but the Cab Franc produced here is world class- look particularly for Calamus Winery Cab franc and also the Valdivieso Single Vineyard from Chile is a 95 pointer

    Dec 04, 2009 at 5:57 PM

  • How do we know who the negociant California labels are?

    Dec 04, 2009 at 7:20 PM

  • Snooth User: rfabbre
    303627 7

    Love your article. I do note that among the lessor known California areas, you don't mention Lodi. I find their wines very good, especially those from Michael David. Their "Lust" label wines are exceptional.

    Dec 04, 2009 at 8:22 PM

  • Snooth User: Olderdude
    318249 4

    I've also had some remarkable Cab Franc from the Columbia River Valley in Washington State.

    Dec 04, 2009 at 8:53 PM

  • Snooth User: Olderdude
    318249 4

    I might also add that I've had many fine and affordable wines from a region that is mostly ignored except for dessert wines, that being Portugal. Really outstanding, robust and affordable red table wines from the Alentejo VR.

    Dec 04, 2009 at 9:00 PM

  • Snooth User: hugh27
    Hand of Snooth
    253137 65

    I must agree with older dude- Washington does produce great Cab Franc- there are also a few sleepers from Castillon, Bourg and Blaye that tend to hold up the Bordeaux flag for CF- It appears that this is a variety that in the colder climate wine regions reaches levels normally only found in Riesling and Gewurztraminer- so this may be an area to look for, and could be considered as a possible flagship for the wine regions that may develop further north resulting from the Global Climate changes-

    Portugal has some of the best hidden Values today - from the Dao, Douro and Almierim- Look there particularily for Quinta da Alorna and Quinta do Font d'Ouro

    Dec 05, 2009 at 11:57 AM

  • Snooth User: schellbe
    Hand of Snooth
    247770 225

    Thanks, Greg, for the suggestion about the 01 Cos. A local store has this for $80, so I think I'll spring for it. Stored at 70 degrees for a couple of years, but I think I'll gamble. Our stores have good air conditioning, unlike some of the CO stores (A little CO-WY rivalry.)

    Dec 05, 2009 at 7:31 PM

  • Thanks for the comments and recommendations!
    This makes for yet another experiment, Cab Franc wines from the New World...I wonder how they might pair with the same dish, and how that same dish might need to be yet again altered to fit the wines.

    Dec 08, 2009 at 1:51 PM


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