Top Rated Wines for Gifts

7 bottles that are sure to please


When choosing a wine as a gift, there are many considerations that one can take into account.

Is the region famous enough? Did it have a great vintage?

Is the producer well known for producing great wine? Will people realize how much I spend when they see the name?

Does the package look fancy and expensive?

Another option is to simply to buy wines that over-perform. Wines that will make their recipients stop to look at the label when they taste the wine. Wines that make people say, “Wow that’s really good.”

That’s the tact I take when choosing wine gifts, and this list brings together some of my favorite wines for gifting today. These are wines that one can drink know or cellar, so you don’t have to worry when they’ll get opened. You’ll just have to be comfortable in knowing that when the corks are finally popped, you’re going to make some people very, very happy!

Photo courtesy amandacphoto via Flickr/CC

2009 Christian Moreau Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons $40

Great Chablis is like no other Chardonnay. It’s at once rich yet light, with layers of fruit and mineral flavors that refresh the palate and whet the appetite. Most of the finest Chablis producers have seen the prices that they can charge blow through the roof over recent vintages, but Christian Moreau continues to hold the line. This is a dynamite Chablis, rich and exciting to drink with good short-term ageing potential. It’s delicious even today, with powerful citrus and tropical fruit tones cut by classic Chablis minerality.

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2006 Selvapiana Bucerchiale Chianti Rufina Riserva $35

People often don’t think much of Chianti, but Chianti Reserva is not only a cut above regular Chianti, but when it’s as good as this Selvapiana, it’s in a whole ‘nother world. This is not your typical Chianti, it’s not even your typical Chianti Reserva. It’s a pure and elegant expression of the Sangiovese grape that loses none of its inherent beauty, yet is made with the texture and finesse of fine Burgundy.

Bright with cherry and raspberry fruit and touched with a hint of wood spice that sets of the mineral and herbal nuances that Sangiovese provides, this is just a remarkable wine. Complex and long, it is already drinking well, but can improve with several more years in the bottle.

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2009 Thomas Fogarty Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot Noir $25

Sometimes a wine comes along that changes the way you think about wine. Such is the case with this bottling from Thomas Fogarty. Great Pinot Noir has a delicacy and finesse that is unrivaled. It is able to capture the terroir, the taste of the earth, in which it is produced like few other grapes. Bringing all this together in the New World has been a challenge, particularly at an affordable price.

This Pinot Noir brings together a lacy structure with rich, ripe red raspberry and black raspberry fruit, laying it over a firm, sinewy structure that is just so characteristic of the Santa Cruz Mountains terroir. For lovers of Pinot Noir, especially from Santa Barbara, the Russian River Valley and Oregon, this wine is an eye opener.

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2007 Hidden Ridge 55% Slope Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon $40

Cabernet is Cabernet right? Especially at $40. Wrong. If you’re looking for a distinctive Cabernet that combines the structure of mountain fruit with rich, dark berries and wraps it all up with well judged oak, then this wine is for you.

2007 was a stunning vintage in California's northern wine reaches, with small berries that were packed with everything needed to make profound wine. At Hidden Ridge, it looks like they found every thing that was packed away! Tremendously complex on the nose, with leather and tobacco accents that meld into the creamy core of dark cherry fruit before finishing with depth and length, this wine pretty much blows away the competition at this price. Buy some for gifts but don’t forget some for yourself.

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2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial $30

Rioja generally has three classifications to officially identify the quality and ageing process of their wines. Every so often, a vintage comes along that is so good that producers reach for yet another way to let their customer’s know about exceptional quality. They use the term “Reserva Especial” in these rare cases.

2001 was an exceptional vintage, and after many years of ageing, La Rioja Alta released its 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial. Let me tell you, it was worth the wait! This is an absolutely gorgeous bottle of wine with rich fruit, a silky texture and lovely integrated spice tones from extended ageing in oak barrels. This wine is resting in my cellar and at this price, it’s a value that simply can not be beat.

Buy this wine at Sherry-Lehmann!

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La Follete Manchester Ridge Chardonnay $45

If you’ve ever been faced with buying a gift for a couple and one half of said couple claims to not like Chardonnay, this is going to be your solution. Greg La Follette had a storied career creating many renowned wines in California, and while he approaches wine making as a science, he is the first to admit even he has a lot to learn.

His current project, the eponymous La Follette, is allowing Greg the opportunity to take everything he has learned during his decades of winemaking and produce the wines that he likes. These are not your typical wines. In many cases, they show more similarity with Burgundy than California, something that is certainly true with the Manchester Ridge Chardonnay. Born from fruit that enjoyed a long, cool growing season 2,000 feet up in Mendocino County, this Chardonnay is light and elegant, ripe and even a bit creamy, but crisp with green apple and tart pineapple fruit. As good as it gets in California!

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2009 Huet Vouvray Le Mont Premier Trie Moelleux $65

I’m often asked to recommend wines to people, and it seems that one of their favorite questions is, “what is the best wine in the world”?

There are of course an infinite number of answers to that question, but one of the best wines in the world, and certainly one of the greatest wine values on the planet, has to be the wine of Huet.

Made from Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley, Huet produces a full range of Vouvray from bone dry to unctuously sweet, as well a superb value sparkler, though the sweet wines are what Huet is best known for.

These are wines that are nearly immortal, and not in the sense that they last, but rather because they endure, gaining unbeatable complexity and depth with age. This Vouvray, a selection from a specific vineyard, is packed with sweet yet vibrant fruit and accented with sweet almond and vanilla tones. It’s fabulous today but will be peaking when our grandchildren start drinking!

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  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 10,511

    Being a Cab bigot I was intrigued by the Hidden Rdge wine. I am totally unfamiliar with this winery and was also fascinated with the name "55% Slope." I was wondering if that meant that 55% of the grapes were mountain and 45% were valley floor. Well, some internet research lead me to the information that their vineyard is located in the Mayacamas Mountains on slopes that reach up to 55 degrees. Now a 55 degree slope is not the same thing as a 55 percent slope. So, the reporter may have mistaken that, but both of them are pretty darned steep.

    I have to ask you, though, Greg, to take another look at the label. This appears to be a Sonoma vineyard, not Napa valley.

    Dec 09, 2011 at 6:54 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    You are absolutely correct. My mistake and it has been corrected. I drove past the vineyard, making my way up from St. Helena. Must have imprinted Napa on my mind. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

    Dec 09, 2011 at 7:17 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 10,511

    You know, I really should not have even commented on the Sonoma thing. The fruit is mountain grown. That tells me more about the wine than what side of the county line it's on--and in this case it happens to be real close to that line.

    On the other hand, my comment that both 55 degrees and 55 percent were both steep was even more inaccurate. A 55 percent slope means that for every 100 feet of horizontal travel there is 55 feet of vertical travel. That is fairly steep. However, on a 55 degree slope, there will be more than 100 feet of vertical travel (143, actually) for every 100 feet of horizontal travel. That's not just steep, that is precipitous. Obviously, the reporter had that all wrong. Oh well, he's a wine guy, not a trigonometry guy.

    Dec 10, 2011 at 11:08 AM

  • Snooth User: whauptman
    864967 2

    Why not just find out what your friends would like? Isn't that the easiest way to satisfy tastes? All of the wines you recommend are surely very fine, but I see no champagne, or Barolo, no sweet dessert wines, all of which could be favored above the wines you recommend. I think it wise to know what your friends tastes are before offering something. An aged red Burgundy? Perhaps a fine Tuscan superwine? Perhaps a really good Port?

    Dec 12, 2011 at 8:00 AM

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