A wine expert’s eight wines worth celebrating during the holidays

File photo. File photo.

As Wine Guild of Charlottesville co-founder, I taste a lot of wine.

There’s a lot of great wine out there, and some not-so-great wine too; after awhile, though, I end up with a substantial list of wines that I love, or that are overperformers in their category, or both. So, with the holiday season upon us, I thought it would be nice to furnish you with a wine buyer’s cheat sheet.

These are some of my top picks of 4Q 2013 for value, quality and character—the three most important things to look for at this point in the season:

Louis de Sacy ‘Brut Originel’ Champagne NV ($35): Great Champagne, that with both classic styling and unique character, is a relative rarity under $50. There are a handful of producers, though, that have really started to make inroads into bringing affordable yet worthwhile entry-level juice to the marketplace, and Louis de Sacy is one of them. This dry bubbly, made with nearly 70 percent Pinot Noir, is bright, fresh and lively up front, with a bit of lemon curd and vanilla. As it develops on the palate, a richness and a touch of toast comes through; it displays a nice bit of weight and seriousness towards the end.

La Meuliere Chablis 2011 ($20): No Thanksgiving table should be without Chablis, and the La Meuliere is a fine example of why. Another classically styled wine, a bit reserved, but with very elegant fruit and the aroma of wet stones and cellar must just below the surface. A balanced, food-friendly wine that will complement nearly any complex meal.

Stolpman Vineyards ‘Golden Point’ White Blend 2011 ($24): This is a wine of purity and light (hence its name and label…a golden point of light), while still having a modicum of richness to keep the edges nice and soft. It’s undoubtedly a feminine wine, and it is comfortable in its own skin. The juicy pineapple and white chocolate that Roussane embodies is front and center, and the balance between that opulent side and its leaner, more acidic side is ultimately what makes this whole package work.

Tselepos Mantinia Moschofilero 2012 ($18): The perfect wine for Sauvignon Blanc fans who are looking to branch out, the Mantinia is a unique cobbling of both juicy passionfruit and subtle herbaceousness. It’s a very giving, expressive wine, never shy; there’s a little more weight to this bottling, yet still it maintains enough acidity to stand up to food (or just refresh the palate on its own).

Chateau Chamilly Bourgogne 2009 ($20): Great, inexpensive red Bourgogne is my “white whale,” and this is a new favorite. A feminine wine at its core, the Chamilly has the elegance and grace that Challonaise Pinot should, but it also has weight, and substance, and color…and it’s actually assertive. At the same time, it’s fresh and vibrant, full of red sour cherries and plums. Finally, there’s real character and interest, like eucalyptus, sage, oatmeal cookies, and old wood.

Podere Castorani Cadetto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010 ($15): This Montepulciano retains all of the dusty, earthy, dried-fruit-and-red-stones-and-old-leather qualities that are the foundation of great dry Italian table wine, but it’s what happens beyond that that makes the wine exceptional. A very big herbal component is up front, with garrigue and eucalyptus and sage that recall memories of great Bandols and intrigue your palate right off the bat. Beyond that, there’s a slight touch of sulfur (in a very good way), sanguine iron, fruit that’s a touch riper than you’d expect, and subtle baking flavors like allspice. The texture is ripe and soft in the center, but is flanked by assertive acidity and dusty tannins that hold the balance. Perhaps the perfect Italian table wine?

Castillo del Barron Monastrell 2010 ($10): One of the best values in everyday red wine that I’ve tasted all year, this Monastrell (a.k.a. Mourvedre) is bursting with sun-drenched red fruit and a pleasant earthiness. It comes across a bit like northern Rhone Syrah, with a healthy dose of black peppercorns, and finishes with some gentle acidity to leave your palate clean and wanting more. This is something to buy by the case and drink with your friends through the season.

Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($55/375mL): This makes the list not just because it is one of the only American dessert wines that, for me, has ever stood up to the classic greats of France’s Sauternes; it also is one of the best sweet wines that I’ve tried this year. Like Sauternes, its grapes fall victim to a natural fungus in the vineyard, which concentrates the sugars and flavors. It is dominated by notes of caramelized orange peel, a touch of dusty wood, golden raisins and wildflower honey; it has the expected richness and a viscous texture, but it’s never cloying, and it actually finishes quite clean. A tour de force in American dessert wine.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of the wines above, contact The Wine Guild of Charlottesville (www.wineguildcville.com), or reach out to your favorite local wine shop.

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