It's a common scene during the holidays: customers rushing frantically through wine stores, examining dozens of labels in search of the perfect bottle to take to a party or dinner. Yes, the time for giving is upon us, and the gift of choice for many Americans--including busy entrepreneurs--is wine.
Tony Princiotta, general manager and wine buyer for The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, is already juggling gift basket assembly, wine shipments, and wine and cheese tastings for groups of more than 65 people. And that was just one weekday. Without a doubt, the steady stream of shoppers can be overwhelming for wine shop owners and managers. But it pays off. Debbie Brown, general manager for PlumpJack Wines in San Francisco, says 25 percent of their annual sales are made in December alone. "Some people abhor the holidays because it's so busy," she says. "I thrive on it."
Despite their hectic schedules, the owners and managers of 10 wine shops and wine bars from across the country recommended their favorite wines for the holidays. At less than $20, their first selections are ideal when you need to entertain a crowd. Their second recommendations, which retail for less than $100, are sure to impress your loyal clients and employees who receive them. If you're really short on time this holiday season, wine shops, including PlumpJack and Oakland, California-based JJ Buckley, offer corporate gifting programs. Give them your list of recipients, specify a price range and leave the rest up to them.
The Cellar Door
Retail wine shop
Wines recommended by Bryan Shuttleworth, wine buyer
2006 Quattro Mani Montepulciano D'Abruzzo; $9.99
"This Montepulciano is a perfect hearty red for any holiday gathering and is very, very versatile and fun. This down-to-earth number is a project of four celebrated Italian winemakers creating a wine that expresses the strength and varietal character indigenous to Italy. Chock full of cherry, licorice, rosemary and leather, this is a delightful red that would be served at just about any trattoria in central Italy."
2004 Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Cuvee Boisrenard"; $74.99
This Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a special cuvee from one of the famous region's most magnificent producers--a great gift for any wine collector. Loaded with rich, dark layers of black currant, blackberry, truffle, mure, mocha and herbes de province, this pumps aromas that are reminiscent of a profound Grand Cru Burgundy. Best from 2010 through 2030."
NOBLE Food & Wine
Restaurant and wine bar
Wines recommended by owners Chris Velona, Mariano Penaflorida and Will Tinson
2006 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc Icon; $18
"While not currently on the Noble Food and Wine list, it's a personal favorite. A refreshing hint of citrus makes it a great complement to a crisp salad or pan-seared sea scallops. A great base for a traditional French Kir."
2000 Cune Imperial Reserva Rioja; $90
"This is a deep red that's very smooth with a hint of spice. A great complement to meat dishes, like our short ribs and kale stew."
Forest Park, Illinois
Retail wine boutique with a focus on small, independent producers
Wines recommended by Isaiah Estell, wine buyer
2005 Melipal Malbec; $18
"This wine is an excellent value. It finds favor with a broad range of tastes, particularly those appreciating a wine with dark, spicy fruit character and a profound density of texture."
1999 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino; $75
"We are pleased to handle an outstanding single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino from Mastrojanni. It is from the 1999 vintage and, having matured gracefully, appeals to refined tastes who appreciate the elegant balance of power and grace found here."
Yield Wine Bar
A "green" wine bar that offers wine made from organically and biodynamically grown grapes.
Wines recommended by co-owners Celine Guillou and Chris Tavelli
2006 Familia Zuccardi, Vida Organica Sparkling (Chardonnay), Mendoza, Argentina; $18
"This is an affordable alternative to champagne and cava. A very fruity, off-dry sparkling wine with tastes of green apples and almonds. It stands out because there aren't a lot of organic sparkling wines available."
2003 Medlock Ames, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, California; $50
"Spicy with tastes of cherry, vanilla and chocolate. This wine is balanced and has a lot of finesse. The 13.9 percent alcohol content is low for California cabernet, giving a smoother and balanced style."
More wine recommendations
The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills, California
A cheese, gourmet food and wine store
Wines recommended by Tony Princiotta, general manager and wine buyer
2005 Elio Altare Dolcetto d'Alba; $19
"The lightest of the Italian reds, this dolcetto pairs well with light meats and game."
Cheese pairing: Piave, an Italian cow's milk cheese
2005 Domaine Ott Rose; $42
"This wine has such structure and will keep for a year or two. It pairs well with light meats, such as hams and turkeys."
Cheese pairing: Banon, a French goat's milk cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves
Jaleo Wine Shop
Wine shop with a focus on Spanish reds, housed at tapas restaurant Jaleo
Wines recommended by Antoni Yelamos, director of operations
2004 Bodegas Y Vinedos Maurodos Prima; $18
"This is a new wine made by Mariano Garcia, owner of Bodegas Maurodos, from vineyards planted in sandy clay soils in three different areas in Toro, [Spain]. Aged for 11 months in oak barrels. Unfiltered. This wine shows the unmistakable touch of Mariano's masterful use of oak whereby concentrated dark fruit aromas and toasted, spicy aromas from oak coexist and it is nearly impossible to tell one from the other."
2000 Bodegas Y Vinedos Alion Reserva; $77
"One of the finest vintages from this winery owned by Vega Sicilia. Deep ruby, purple color is followed by a glorious, smoky nose of espresso, dried herbs, roasted meats, sweet black currants, new saddle leather, plums and cherries. True to its origins this is a rich, complex, full-bodied yet amazingly elegant wine."
Firefly Grill and Wine Bar
Restaurant and wine bar
Wines recommended by Jim Barrasso, owner
2002 Fallbrook Winery Chardonnay, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard; $19
"This buttery, rich chardonnay is a delicious, smooth blend of perfection with such a fabulous quality it is hard to believe it can be found for less than $20."
2002 Mi Sueno El Llano; $35
"A big, rich, red blend of cabernet and shiraz from Napa Valley that leaves the tongue longing for more."
Hingham Wine Merchant
Retail wine shop
Wines recommended by Duncan Routh, partner
2004 Can Blau Montsant; $16
"In this price range, I would recommend a 2004 from Spain. A great wine from a great region, made of carignan, syrah and Grenache. And the bottle is gorgeous."
2005 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Clos des Papes; $87
"This is a hard-to-find, great bottle of wine that shows the character of the Rhone region. It's the perfect fireside wine. If the snow piles up and you don't have the right food, you can drink it with Triscuits and a block of cheese and it will still be wonderful."
Wine store founded in 1992 by Gavin Newsom
Wines recommended by Debbie Brown, general manager
2005 Husch Pinot Noir; $18
"A very contemporary wine that's versatile, elegant and not too heavy. It goes well with spiciness. During the holidays, you want a wine that will go with the different types of food offered."
2005 Chateau de la Maltroye Chassagne Montrachet; $49
"This is one of my favorite wines. Even though a California chardonnay is good with holiday food, this wine is for people who want more acid, structure and lighter oak. It's crisp, but full-bodied and round. The longer it's open, it evolves and gets better and better."
Online wine retailer
Wines recommended by Shaun Bishop, lead wine buyer
Roederer Estate NV Brut Rose; $18
"For the holidays, go with something sparkling. This is a great name, and a non-vintage French Champagne would be $25 to $30."
2004 Caymus Napa Cabernet Sauvigon; $65
"When giving wine as a gift, I would recommend choosing a recognizable brand. People who don't know much about wine will recognize the label."