Affordable Wines for Gift Giving: Red and Sweet Wines

I hope you enjoyed last week's sparkling and white wine holiday gift recommendations. This week, it's time to move on to red and sweet wines. Whatever your budget, whatever the occasion, there are so many interesting wines to choose from that make great gifts. Happy shopping!

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Red Wines

Red wines probably form the backbone of any gathering around food. As with last week's wines I have been keeping special notes all year on wines that I feel would make great holiday gifts. And there are choices for every budget and palate.

Below $15

2006 Schiava, Cantina Nalles Magrè, Alto Adige (Italy) $13 – I just love this wine. Made from the local Schiava grape (also called Vernatsch in German), it is wonderfully dry, yet packed with bright fresh red fruit. Nice, earthy, forest floor notes add complexity.

2006 Water Wheel "Memsie" $14 – From Victoria in Australia, it is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Fruit forward, but with great fruit concentration all across the palate and a long finish. Black and red fruits prevail, with hints of cracked black pepper and minty notes.

$15 - $25

2006 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso (Sicily) $16 – I first discovered this wine about 18 months ago and have been a huge fan ever since. Made from local Nerello grapes, it has layers of black and red cherries, earthy notes, subtle smoke and a lovely floral character that adds an elegant touch. Great with roasted and grilled meats.

2006 Lagrien, Muri Gries - $17.99 – Another gem from the Alto Adige region of northern Italy. Made from the indigenous Lagrein grape, Muri Gries is a working Benedictine monastery. Concentrated with plenty of cherry, plumy notes, chocolate, spice and cedar.

2006 KAIKEN Ultra Malbec, Argentina $23 – This wine is 100% Malbec, from old vines near Mendoza. Enticing wild berry aromas and flavors. Concentrated, with notes of mocha, forest floor and lifted floral notes. Great with all sorts of red meat, spicy sausage and fiery tomato sauces.

2004 Lodola Nuova , Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG $22.00 – Made by renowned Chianti producer Ruffino, this wine is made from a local clone of Sangiovese. It combines elegance and great depth of flavor. Packed with all sorts of ripe cherry and raspberry flavors with lingering spicy, earthy notes

$25 - $40

2005 DARE Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley $40 – Made by Delia Viader, a winemaker that I admire greatly. Made with mountain fruit from Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley. DARE is vibrant, intense and really long. Ripe dark fruits mingle with smoke, spice, pepper and that wonderful Cabernet Franc floral note.

2005 Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays, $34 – A long time great wine from the Languedoc. This is a red blend based on Cabernet Sauvignon, and lots of other local red varieties. This wine always takes me back to the south of France, and that omnipresent aroma of ‘garrigue’. Vibrant, with lots of ripe red and black fruits, savory herbal notes, spices and floral tones. A robust, yet elegant wine, that will pair with most rich and hearty dishes.

$40 - $50

2005 Franciscan Magnificat, Napa Valley, $50 – Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, but with some Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Made by another winemaker that I greatly admire, Janet Myers. Rich, smooth and lingering are the words that immediately came to mind on tasting this wine. A wine for contemplation, packed with ripe dark fruit and layers of chocolate, spice and pepper adding complexity.

2007 Patricia Green Cellars “Ana Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Oregon $45 – A few years ago I visited Patricia “Patty” Green, and was struck by her honesty, brilliance and commitment to expressing the fruit of the vineyard. Ever since I have been a big fan of her wines. This Pinot Noir, a single vineyard, is wonderfully fresh, lively and packed with so many layers of flavor.

2005 Montes Folly, Chile $98 – Made from 100% Syrah. While above the $50 mark, I decided to include this wine for a number of reasons. Firstly it is delicious, immediately engaging with intense and complex flavors, yet lingering and contemplative. Secondly, it is probably Chile’s greatest ultra-premium Syrah, and made by the great man himself Aurelio Montes, who has brought us so many amazing wines and helped put Chile on the winemaking map. Finally, it is a beautiful bottle with a beautiful label, created by artist Ralph Steadman. Decant for at least an hour before serving. Great with all red meats and game, as well as pasta with rich sauces and even bouillabaisse.

Sweet, Dessert and Fortified Wines

It is quite amazing, that even though dessert is the favorite course for many people, dessert wines are among the least bought and even less understood. What I especially love about this category is the diversity of styles, from the simple off-dry wines to the decadently unctuous.

Below $15

2007 Moscato d'Asti, Produttori di Govone, Italy $10 – Always a winner, even with people who don’t like wine at all! Sweet and slightly frizzante, it is a delicate, flavorful wine. And an extra plus is that is rarely goes above 6% alcohol. Drink chilled. Great with cake and lighter desserts such as bread pudding or other steamed pudding desserts.

Mavrodaphne of Patra Kourtakis, NV, Patras, Greece $10 – Made from the black Mavrodaphne grape. This is a specialty from Patras. Serve chilled with chocolate biscuit cake, biscotti or pears in red wine.

NV Osborne Oloroso, Bailens, Sherry $11 – I just love Sherry. It really is an unsung hero of a wine and also such good value. Sweet style, great on its own instead of dessert, with cheese or with Pecan pie.

$15-$25

2007 Brachetto d'Acqui "Rebecca", Nuova Abbazia di Vallechiara, $18.99 – a Northern Italian gem. Not overly sweet and slightly frizzante. Very cherry, berry flavors, that pair well with fruit desserts and also ice-cream.

2005 Pacific Rim Riesling, Vin de Glacière - 2005 (half bottle) $19 – An ice-wine made from Riesling. Beautiful orange, peach and floral flavors. Serve chilled with dessert or on its own.

NV Alvear Pedro Ximenez, Solera Cream , Sherry style from Montilla-Moriles (500 ml bottle), $20 – Here I go again with Sherry. So unctuous, sweet and nutty. On its own, poured over ice-cream or with very rich desserts. It can take them all.

$25-$40

NV Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Dulce/ Amoroso, Sherry "Matusalem" VORS 375ml, $36 – Another beautiful Sherry. V.O.R.S means that the youngest wine in the blend must be at least 30 years old. You can just imagine all the complexity that conveys – raisins, prunes, toffee, nuts, citrus peel, spice, caramel and I could go on. A favorite sherry of mine to sip slowly, while chatting among friends.

2007 Mönchhof Mosel Slate Riesling Spätlese, $25 – Wonderful Riesling from the Mosel in Germany, with all its minerality and enticing floral notes. Spätlese means late harvest, whereby the grapes are harvested later that normal, and the wines have quite a bit of residual sugar. However, this sweetness is perfectly balanced with the wine’s high acidity. Serve chilled with dessert or on its own.

$40-$50

2003 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos "Red Label", Royal Tokaji (500 ml bottle), $43 – Early in 2009 I will do a full feature on the glorious wines and history of Tokaji in Hungary. Stunningly delicious, with layers and layers of citrus marmalade, earthy notes, golden raisons, apricot, peach, spice and toasted hazelnuts. Great acidity balances the sweetness.

2006 Prum, J.J. Riesling, Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Auslese, Mosel $45 – From the very well known and regarded Prüm family, who have resided in the Mosel for over 400 years. The term Auslese means special selection, in that the grapes have been selected for their specific character. Usually, some of the berries will have been affected by ‘noble rot’ Delicate and ethereal is how I would describe this wine. While it can be served with dessert, it also works with seafood, and especially Asian foods.

Taylor Fladgate 20 Yr. Reserve Tawny Port, $47.99 – With over 20 years of aging, this is a complex, wine, with a much nicer texture and more woody notes. The overall balance is much cleaner with flavors that should be savored for as long as possible.

Happy shopping, happy holidays and enjoy some great wines.

- Mary

Related: Affordable Wines for Gift-Giving: White and Sparkling

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Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.