With the holiday season in full swing, the anticipation of bringing out special wines increases the closer to Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s it gets. That does not mean the wines have to be overly expensive to be exciting—and the sparkling wine need not be Champagne—for simply moving away from the everyday towards the new and special is part of the joy of the season. Here are some red wines that fill that prospect.
Aperture Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($70)—Winemaker Jesse Katz has always been a leader of the Bordeaux blend style of Alexander Valley in Sonoma, as shown in this vintage composed of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, aged for 18 months in 50% new oak. It is unfined and unfiltered, which gives it a robust character and lush fruit with some pleasing tannins and underneath.
Sullivan Rutherford Coeur de Vigne 2018 ($105)—This blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot and 13% Petit Verdot is a big Napa Valley red with a sure density that winemaker Jeff Cole (since 2013) prefers and has developed. Coeur de Vigne (not to be confused with Bordeaux’s Château Lanbersac Coeur de Vigne) means “heart of the vine,” referring to the historic Sullivan estate in the heart of the Napa Valley, where the region was once split into two parcels, Rancho Caymus to the south and Rancho Carne Humana to the north. The wine needs some time to mature, so maybe Christmas 2025 would be a good time to pop the cork.
Pio Ceasare Barolo Pio 2017 ($85)—This year is Pio Cesare’s 140th anniversary, and the estate, in its fifth generation, is still firmly set within the grand traditions of Piedmont’s noble Barolo. The grapes are sourced from family-owned vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba (Ornato), Grinzane Cavour (Gustava), La Morra (Roncaglie), Barolo Novello (Ravera) and Monforte d’Alba (Mosconi). One whiff and sip and you will know what a classic Barolo is supposed to taste like, with elegance and balance. The vintage can go on for years but the tannins have softened and it’s a pleasure to drink right now.
Inama Carmenère Più Veneto Rosso 2018 ($21)—A good buy for an IGT wine from the Veneto, made with the increasingly popular Carmenère grape, with 30% Merlot to round it out. It is aged for 12 months in French oak barriques and 6-8 months in stainless steel tanks. For a big dinner party of people who know good wine, you could readily have three or four bottles of this unusual bottling at the table.
Lassègue Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2018 ($60)—This is a straightforward Saint-Émilion (Lassègue always is) with all of the richness that you expect from a grand cru, made by Pierre Seillan and his son, Nicolas. It is a blend of 62% Merlot, with 35% Cabernet Franc and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon for tannin, and its price is an added value for a wine of this distinctive character, which goes very well with roast goose or prime rib. It can certainly age for two or more years.
Hartford Family Winery Highwire Zinfandel 2019 ($60)—Zinfandel may have its detractors among those who regard it as an old workhorse grape, but when taken seriously, as does Hartford, it is a full-blown expression of a long history of California winemaking. The name Highwire derives from the vineyard’s trellising systems by which half of the parcel is head-trained and half is trained on a high wire trellis strung between each vine, permitting greater sun exposure and promoting even ripening. It’s a blockbuster at 16.1% alcohol, so you have to want to drink a wine of that density, with all its characteristic licorice spices, so it makes a capital choice for sweet flavors often found in holiday food.
Tenuta Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore 2018 ($85)—Bolgheri has become one of the most prestigious areas of Tuscany (Sassicaia and Ornellaia are also made there), and Argentiera makes one of the finest, from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc matured in French oak. Wisely, Argentiera eschews the outdated and never official “Super Tuscan” label, instead distinguishing itself by its planting of a “jigsaw” puzzle of parcels that take full advantage of sun exposure on different slopes. The result is a very elegant wine, softer than similar blends in Bordeaux and very Italian in its refinement.
Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Porto ($20)—Unless you’re the host, or planning to stay over after the party, spirits like Cognac and whiskey can be a bit too soporific. But Port has long been a classic in-front-of-the-fireplace drink, and it goes exceptionally well with all cheeses and roasted chestnuts. “Six Grapes” referred in the 19th century to barrels Graham thought were vintage potential but did not become so, but came real close. By spending a shorter time in barrel, it has a fresh, fruited aroma and flavor and toned-down sweetness everyone can enjoy. You certainly can’t beat the price.