A gift of wine this holiday season is special on its face because it's personal. It's also a minefield for those choosing the gift. Those with little wine experience will have doubts about the quality or the price. Even those who know what they like in a wine might be reluctant to assume others will share their enthusiasm.
I will attempt to alleviate a bit of the anxiety by suggesting 10 well-priced (under $100 retail) luxury wines that are universally respected by wine connoisseurs. The following wines are among my personal favorites -- wines I would be happy to gift and honored to receive.
Black Kite 2016 Pinot Noir, Kite's Rest, Anderson Valley ($50) -- Brilliant winemaker Jeff Gaffner convinced the owners to divide their Anderson Valley estate vineyard into three distinct parcels: Redwoods' Edge, Stony Terrace and River Turn. Kite's Rest, a blend of those three specific terroirs, combines the elegance and aromatics of Redwood's Edge with the richness and depth of Stony Terrace and River Turn. You can't miss with this wine.
Cakebread Cellars 2015 Chardonnay Reserve, Carneros ($55) -- Richer and more layered than Cakebread's "regular" chardonnay, the reserve hit a home run at the 2018 Critics Challenge in San Diego, where it was named best-of-show white wine. This is a stunning wine that demonstrates California chardonnay can possess power and elegance at the same time.
Castello Banfi 2013 Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Italy ($95) -- From a special section of the Banfi Estate, Poggio Alle Mura has a long track record of excellence. The 2013 may be the finest vintage yet, and it's available this year as Banfi celebrates its 40th anniversary in Montalcino.
Corison 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($95) -- Winemaker/owner Cathy Corison is the queen of Napa Valley cabernet. She enjoyed a rock-star career as winemaker at Chappellet Vineyards before she struck out on her own, and her star is still shining as bright as ever. Corison has resisted the trend in recent years to opt for power over elegance. Her cabs are among the most elegant and well-balanced in the Napa Valley.
Domaine Carneros by Taittinger 2015 Brut Rose, Carneros ($42) -- This is a serious sparkling rose from perhaps the finest sparkling wine producer in the United States. Winemaker Eileen Crane oversees production, and the wines reflect her dedication to quality and style. They are impeccable in every way, and this vintage brut rose is a gem.
Dutton-Goldfield 2015 Chardonnay, Rued Vineyard ($55) -- Winemaker Dan Goldfield is perhaps best known for his scintillating single-vineyard pinot noirs. That said, his Rued chardonnay is about as good as California chardonnay gets. You won't be disappointed.
Gloria Ferrer 2007 Carneros Cuvee, Late Disgorged, Carneros ($80) -- Gloria Ferrer's prestige cuvee, Carneros Cuvee, gets the same tender, loving care a top-notch Champagne house would lavish on its $400-a-bottle tetes de cuvee. If you've never tasted an aged, mature bubbly, you are in for a treat.
Jordan Vineyards 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($56) -- This is the best cabernet sauvignon for the price in the world, bar none. And Jordan does it every year!
Merry Edwards 2016 Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane, Russian River Valley ($68) -- Merry, the queen of California pinot noir, retired this year, so this vintage from one of her favorite vineyards is one of her last. Long live the queen!
Moet & Chandon 2009 Grand Vintage Brut, Champagne, France ($78) -- Vintage Champagne from a top house at this price would be hard to pass up. So what are you waiting for?
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Palmer & Co. Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, France ($75) -- Palmer's blanc de blancs is an elegant, sophisticated Champagne, exhibiting exceptional length and richness without losing its subtle touch of minerality and stoniness. Showing notes of citrus, brioche and spice, it is beautiful as an aperitif but more aptly suited for smoked salmon or caviar. Rating: 96.
Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs, Napa County ($24) -- Mumm's blanc de blancs is exceptionally complex for a domestic sparkling wine at this price point. Fresh and lively on the palate, the current release shows notes of lemon, apple, vanilla and baking spice; crisp acidity; a creamy, toasty palate; and a long finish. Rating: 92.
Mumm Napa Brut Prestige, Napa County ($24) -- Mumm's non-vintage brut prestige remains one of the great values in domestic sparkling wine. The current release delivers a creamy palate with mouthwatering acidity, and a bright note of lemon with a hint of spice. Rating: 90.
Robert Whitley's column, "Wine Talk," can be found at creators.com.