Go-To Wines for Gifting

By Robert Whitley

December 17, 2019 7 min read

During the gifting season, I am inclined to wander the wine aisles at the Costco near me hoping for a wine or two that speaks to me. The wines that speak loudest are typically my go-to wines. They've become my go-to wines because they are reliable, regardless of vintage.

For example, if I spy anything from Guigal, Chapoutier or Jean-Luc Colombo — three great producers from France's Rhone Valley — into the shopping cart it goes.

The same goes for Cakebread, Spottswoode or Duckhorn — three great producers from California's Napa Valley. Or Merry Edwards, Dutton-Goldfield and Jordan — three of my faves from California's Sonoma County.

The beauty of having a number of go-to wines is you really don't have to think too much. They are no-brainers.

In the spirit of the season, I offer these humble gifting suggestions for go-to, no-brainer wines from a few of the most popular categories.

Champagne: Moet & Chandon is widely available and rock solid. Bruno Paillard, Charles Heidsieck, Laurent-Perrier (particularly the rose) and A.R. Lenoble would also be on my short list.

Domestic Sparkling: You can't go wrong with anything from Domaine Carneros by Taittinger. Ditto Roederer Estate, Mumm Napa Valley, Chandon and J Vineyards.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Cakebread (especially the Dancing Bear Ranch), Spottswoode, Far Niente, Jordan, Nickel & Nickel (especially the Stelling Vineyard) and Corison all make excellent stocking stuffers.

Merlot: Duckhorn, Chateau St. Jean, Northstar and Nickel & Nickel should be on everyone's shopping list.

Pinot Noir: You won't go wrong with any pinot from Merry Edwards, Dutton-Goldfield, Talbott, Goldeneye, Foxen or Roar.

Chardonnay: Merry Edwards, Shafer, Dutton-Goldfield, Tongue Dancer and Sonoma-Cutrer will please even the most discriminating palates.

Sauvignon Blanc: Duckhorn, Spottswoode and Merry Edwards are the Big Three, but Silverado, Cakebread and Cloudy Bay won't disappoint, either.

While the producers mentioned here are tried and true from my own personal experience, they certainly don't represent all the worthy wines that might fit the go-to definition. My final suggestion is that everyone explore the incredible bounty that the modern wine world has provided and begin the process of creating your own personal list of go-to wines!

Best Value

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.

Decoy 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County ($20) — The 2018 Decoy is classic cool-climate sauvignon blanc from Sonoma County. Zesty and vibrant, it shows an intense note of grapefruit with good acid balance and a soft, rounding note of melon on the finish. Rating: 88.

Tasting Notes

Attilio Ghisolfi 2015 Barolo 'Bricco Visette,' Bussia, Italy ($89.99) — This stylish Barolo continues to exhibit firm structure four years on and could certainly benefit from additional cellar age. That said, it is a beautiful expression of Barolo from the white tufa Bussia district. Though firm, the tannins are polished and trending toward supple at this stage. On the palate, the wine shows notes of black truffle, dark cherry and wood spice. The finish is long and dazzling. Rating: 97.

Merry Edwards 2017 Pinot Noir, Georganne, Russian River Valley ($63) — What impresses most about pinot noir from the Russian Rover Valley is the exceptional depth the best exhibit. Georganne is one of Merry Edwards' favorite vineyards, and the 2017 has ample depth and impressive length, a signature theme among Merry Edwards wines. The 2017 Georganne manages to impress and maintain its elegance, a neat trick. This vintage shows aromas of blueberry, raspberry and spice. Firmly structured, it will benefit from additional cellar age. Rating: 96.

Migration 2016 Pinot Noir, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley ($70) — The first rule of winemaking is "use the best grapes money can buy." After that, the rest is relatively easy. Migration follows that path to perfection, producing another stellar vintage from the legendary Dutton Ranch in the Russian River Valley. The results are predictable. This is a powerhouse pinot, richly layered and beautifully structured. It shows impressive depth and complexity, with notes of raspberry and dark cherry and a gentle touch of wood spice. Rating: 96.

Laurent-Perrier 2008 Brut, Champagne, France ($79.99) — At 11 years old, this vintage brut from Laurent-Perrier exhibits remarkable freshness and lift. With a delicate mousse and notes of lemon oil, green apple and brioche; impressive depth and length on the palate; and a beautiful finish, the 2008 shows the firm backbone and elegance of this excellent vintage. Rating: 95.

Stephanie 2015 Merlot, Napa Valley ($45) — Ripe, rich and powerful, the 2015 Stephanie is not a merlot for the faint of heart. On the nose, it exhibits notes of graphite and cedar, with a strong scent of dark berries and spice. On the palate, the wine shows aromas of cassis and blackberry and oak vanillin. It drinks well now but will be better in three to five years. Rating: 93.

Siduri 2017 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley ($35) — Siduri's appellation series (as opposed to its vineyard-designate wines) consistently delivers exceptional value. The 2017 Anderson Valley pinot noir is no exception. The nose is fetching, showing a floral note and a bright cherry aroma, and those characteristics follow through on the palate. The wine is beautifully balanced and ready to drink now. Rating: 90.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]

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