2020 has been a crazy year. That being said, being stuck in quarantine gave me the opportunity to try plenty of wines which I am excited to tell you about. I tried to pick a mix of wines from different regions and countries that show great quality for the price, are (generally) less than $40 (at my local wine store; prices may vary) and widely available. SPOILER ALERT: There will be no Screaming Eagle on this list. So in no particular order, I give you Steve-O's 2020 Wine Gifting Guide.
Every time I hear someone mention that they "hate Chardonnay" I roll my eyes. Chardonnay is made in so many styles in so many places that it is nearly impossible to hate all Chardonnay. This particular Chard hails from the chalky soils of Chablis in France. It is a crisp respite to those buttery versions that your friends can't stand and would pair fantastically with oysters (or really anything). This is a crowd-pleaser, indeed.
As a wine "professional" (and I use that term very loosely), I am not supposed to like big, bold wines that are high in alcohol from bigger brands, but this is one that I can get behind. It is delicious and almost hedonistic, with lots of dark fruit and spice with that typical Aussie note of eucalyptus. You could pair this with a fatty steak, but this is one wine that can stand up on its own. It's definitely 'New World' in style.
OK, OK, so this one breaks my criterion on price, but (you guessed it) this was the wine that I opened on my 40th birthday this year for my wife and I when there was no one else around to celebrate. A classic producer and a very fine wine, this is by no means cheap, but I believe it was worth every penny to pop open on a special occasion. Mint, clove, raspberry, and balsamic notes were all present here. For those who know me, I love Brunello, and this is one that I would be happy to drink again.
Albariño is a grape that is grown in Galicia, in Northwestern Spain. This part of Spain looks nothing like the Spain that you imagine, in that it is rainy and lush. For this reason it is often called "Green Spain." Good examples of Albariño exhibit a salinity, high acidity, low alcohol and light body that works well with creatures from the sea. It is also one of few wines that can handle a pairing with salad, due to its slight herbal qualities. Keep some of this on hand when you need a wine at your dinner table.
In the Southern Rhone Valley, if Châteauneuf-du-Pape is king, then Gigondas is queen. The wines here offer similar characteristics at a bit of a discount. This particular example is filled with an intoxicating peppery quality that would work well with smoked-meats. This is a very aromatic and balanced blend of predominantly Grenache and Syrah; a great wine. On top of it, the bottle is embossed with the village crest, so your recipient will think that you gave them something fancy.
This wine is one of my personal favorites, and has been for some time. Sta. Rita Hills is the appellation that I get to taste more than any other due to it only being a three-hour drive from my home, and I think that cool-climate Syrah from this appellation is what they do best. Here we have another wine that would do well with jerky or brisket, with an captivating white pepper quality that is very distinct. If you can swing it, buy the Gigondas and this Syrah and taste them back-to-back, as they have a lot in common. A new world vs. old world duel at its finest.
Rosé is everywhere. Yes way. All day. But have you had an Italian rosé yet?? Better yet, one made of Sangiovese? At 12.5% alcohol, this is food-friendly and very pound-able. And isn't that rhino on the label cute? The rhinoceros is actually from an illustration created by German artist Albrecht Durer in 1515. Drink this wine with all of the charcuterie this holiday season. Rosé is not just for poolside sippin'.
Old vines are awesome. They aren't as vigorous and don't produce the quantity of wine that young vines do, but the wine they do produce is interesting and delicious. The mineral notes on the nose here are fantastic. It is a bit more full-bodied than I expected, but it is really a solid wine from California's Central Coast at a price that is more than fair. Try finding a high-quality Mersault or Montrachet for under three Alexander Hamiltons.
Rioja makes some of the best values going today, and in this case they will even age it for you for a couple of years, and sell it to you for just $13 bucks. A very food-friendly wine, it will not overpower your dishes and it has enough fruit to keep things interesting. This wine is made of 85% Tempranillo, with the balance a blend of Garnacha and Mazuelo. Plus you can practice saying Crianza like the Spanish (cree-AHN-tha). This is one to stock up on!
This is NOT Pinot Noir, but if you like Pinot Noir, I think this is an amazing gateway drug to Italian wines. There has been an influx of winemakers from Burgundy (which specializes in Pinot Noir) coming to explore Sicily, because its terroir is so special. These grapes are grown on Mount Etna, one of the world's most active volcanoes. How cool is that? It's got a fruity quality, but the earthiness resulting from the volcanic soil is there. If you're buying for someone who is stuck in a rut, I think this is a good one to try.
I get it. You're not that adventurous. You don't want to drink wine from a volcano or that has a wild beast on the front of it. America is your comfort zone. Well, then I have a wine for you. Cristom is a traditional producer from the Willamette Valley (rhymes with 'dammit!') in Oregon that makes quality Pinot Noir juice for $30, which can be harder than you think. Out of all the major grapes, it's probably the most challenging to find good, cheap Pinot Noir. A bit lighter than those from the Russian River in California, it is a good buy at 30 bucks.