Wine Spotlight - 8 Best Buys And Ratings For The Holiday Season

As I pursue my Level 2 WSET Advanced Certification in Wine, I decided to share with you my "8 Best Buys" for wine this season along with tasting notes and rating. I will also list my favorite wines right now regardless of expert ratings, cost, and availability (PA has limited distribution for some of these wines).

If you’re a penny pincher and don’t want to spend a lot of money on wine, but want good, quality wines, then these wines will satisfy your palate and budget. All bottles listed are under $30/bottle, which constitutes a “best buy” in my opinion. I tried to include all different wine types, but a little partial to the wines of Oregon and Washington State these days. Official ratings from “Wine Enthusiast”, but I also offer my notes . Many of these wines listed are hard to find, but available through ordering. ABV (Alcohol By Volume) is the measurement of alcohol. The value is between 9.5% (low alcohol content) and 16% (high alcohol content). Ratings chart here –


Classic 98-100:  The pinnacle of quality

Superb 94-97:  A great achievement

Excellent 90-93: Highly recommended

Very Good 87-89:  Often good value, well recommended

Good 83-86:  Suitable for everyday consumption, often good value


90*  La Crema 2015 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast).

Thick tannins gird the powerful fruit in this wine – a mix of red cherry and strawberry that mellows with time in the glass. Toasted oak and baking spice touches provide additional context and pleasure. Pinot Noirs is one of my favorite wine styles and this one is splendid and light. ABV 13.5%, Price $25


90*  Prophecy 2015 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough).

A pretty nose of delicate citrus, tropical fruit, and floral tones is followed by some buttery base notes. The oak is showy but there are many who will like the creamy texture and spice it brings to the palate. I don’t drink a lot of whites, but this one is a keeper. Very light and fruity. ABV 13.7%, Price $14


91*  Noble Vines 2016 152 Pinot Grigio (San Bernabe).

Another clean and tasty bottling from this label’s numbered series, this shows light nectarine and lemon aromas on the nose. The texture is grippy and bright in acidity, offering crunchy Asian pear flavors that prove quite refreshing, with decent length. Ideal for white wine drinkers who want something a little heavier than a Sauvignon Blanc. ABV 13.5%, Price $12


85*  Kirkland Signature 2015 Pinot Noir (Carneros).

Bay leaf and eucalyptus figure prominently on the nose and palate of this wine, making for an intensely earthy, herbal experience, peppered by forest-floor notes. A nice light red for the winter months. If you’re a Noir fan, then stock up on this great value! ABV 13.9%, Price $10


*92  Balletto 2015 Estate Grown Estate Bottled Chardonnay (Russian River Valley).

Apple skin, sea stone and lemon notes comprise the light-bodied narrative of this balanced, bright, and complex wine. From a vintage known for its modest yields, this wine shows the quality of the producer’s estate vineyards, which range across the appellation. A little pricier than most everyday chards, but very exclusive if you can get your hands on it. ABV 13.7%, Price $28


*91  Ponzi 2016 Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley).

This is done in a crisp, fresh, and leesy style, with lime-drenched minerality. Flavors of white peach and guava gain volume and density as the wine warms on the palate. It was kept from malolactic fermentation, enlivening a lingering, resonant finish. I am particularly fond of wines from the Willamette Valley region. ABV 13.2%, Price $19


91*  Apolloni 2015 L Cuvee Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley).

This elegant wine appeals from the first sniff to the last lingering flavors. Vibrant in color, it tastes of rose petals, raspberries, and cocoa powder. Supple and balanced, it shows impressive structure and length, with hints of citrus. Drink now through mid-2020’s. ABV 13.7%, Price $22


90* Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Indian Wells Merlot (Columbia Valley).

Barrel aromas are at fore, with notes of vanilla, cocoa, milk chocolate out in front of blackberry and black cherry. The palate also mixes fruit and barrel, showing pleasing depths of flavors and intensity along with a silky texture. A full-bodied and heavy with higher than average alcohol content. ABV 14.5%, Price $18


Some of my favorites

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)

Tall Dark Stranger Malbec Mendoza (Argentina)

Claiborne & Churchill 2016 Dry Riesling (Edna Valley)

Resonance 2014 Pinot Noir (Resonance Vineyard, Oregon)




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