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It’s the time of the season for holiday wine picks

By Dave Buchanan

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, this is a great time to snoop around your wine collection and fill in the holes for all those holiday parties.

The caveat, of course, is you're never going to please everyone.

Even with the immense range and depth of wines available today, with choices seemingly unlimited, there is no way you’re going to have the perfect wine that fits everyone’s palate.

I like to keep a variety of white wines and red wines on hand to match the day, the meal or the guests, but other than remembering that I’ll be the one drinking the leftovers, there are no strict rules for stocking up on holiday wines.

Maybe the only rule is to be sure they are something you want to drink, since the only palate you have to please is your own.

Besides, holiday meals, particularly the popular potluck gatherings, can be terribly schizophrenic and totally impossible to match with wines.

Offering a couple of whites, including a Chardonnay, a Gewurztraminer or Riesling, maybe a chenin blanc, should be enough to sate the white wine fans in your crowd.

Likewise, a small selection of reds, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, maybe a Malbec, Zinfandel or Sangiovese, should provide something to fit the occasion.

The proliferation and improvement of boxed wines (including the fascinating, multi-varietal Octavin series from Underdog Wine Merchants) makes it possible to have enough wine for a serious gathering without breaking the holiday budget.

The Octavin wines, for example, include blends as well as varietal whites (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio) and reds (Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon) for about $23 for a three-liter box, equivalent to four 750-ml bottles.

Plus, boxed wines stay fresh long after the party has ended, which means it's perfect to serve with day-after leftovers.

In line with a budget-conscious holiday, I’ve been searching out some well-priced wines, meaning those under the $15 mark.

You still can buy wines with a price in the stratosphere, and happy holidays to you if you can afford them. But most of us, and that includes many winemakers, are price-conscious as consumers, and there are many wines out today that offer good value for their price.

This week I'll talk about some affordable Chardonnay, America's favorite white varietal and readily available at most stores. Next, week, some thoughts on red wines for the holidays.

Blackstone Winery 2009 Monterey Chardonnay, $10 — California’s Central Coast has become a key provider of quality wine grapes and the consumer is the winner. The area suffered a heavy frost in April (similar to Colorado’s late-spring frost) but the long growing season, moderated by ocean breezes, brought out crisp flavors and acidity in what proved to be a smaller than normal crop. This Chardonnay is lightly oaked (many winemakers are going away from the heavy oak influences popular a decade ago) which allows the vibrant fruit including citrus, green apple and fig to shine through. The price has dropped since the last vintage and it’s possible to find this for under $10.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2009 California Chardonnay, $11 — Mondavi’s Private Selection label offers excellent value and delightful wines. The 2009 California Chardonnay emphasizes Central Coast fruit (82 percent of the grapes are from Monterey County) with a bit more oak influence to give this wine a richer, creamier mouthfeel than the Blackstone.

Cupcake Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay, $12 — Another offering from California’s Central Coast. My tasting notes read: “Plenty of oak influence but not overbearing, soft and luscious, more tropical fruit (mango, pineapple) than the two previous wines.” Cupcake Vineyards is part of the Underdog Wine Merchants lineup.

Plum Creek Cellars 2009 Colorado Chardonnay, $14 — Winemaker Jenni Baldwin-Eaton keeps a light touch on the French oak and brings out the bright fruit flavors of this popular, user-friendly wine. A third of the wine spends a few months in French oak with the rest fermented in stainless steel. Available around town and at the winery in Palisade.

Whitewater Hill 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay, $14 — Winemaker Nancy Janes bottles one of the few truly unoaked Chardonnays around. This tree-free wine spends its time in stainless steel, which makes this wine a bit leaner (similar to a Burgundian Chablis) than an oaked wine but also has none of the oak-produced vanilla, spice or butter that would hide this wine’s crisp acidity and luminous, fruit-forward flavors.

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