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Tuesday Trials and Tribulations
Save A Bundle. Invite The Neighbors In.

By Charles Olken

I don’t know about you, but in my neighborhood, there is an annual block party coming up soon, and the wine is always a major part of the festivities. The folks who have lived near me for some years now know what I do for a living, and they assign me the honors of bringing a few choice bottles—of which it is understood that I have a few.

And because I am not alone in helping slake the thirst of the holiday hordes, I offer the following lists of wines that will make your holiday shopping easier on your wallet and happier for your palate.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON When the topic turns to Cabernet , it is always a challenge to find priceworthy bottlings from what has turned out to be our most expensive varietal. Consider the concentrated, very solidly varietal STEPPPING STONE Napa Valley 2010 ($35.00) and the 2010 MILL CREEK Alexander Valley 2010 ($35.00) as alternatives to the three-digit beauties. For drinking now, they excel. And, the stylish MILBRANDT The Estates Wahluke Slope 2010 ($25.00), the curranty SEXTANT Paso Robles 2010 ($25.00), the plushly textured GHOST PINES 70% Napa County/ 30% Sonoma County 2010 ($23.00) and the well-focused ROUTE STOCK Napa Valley 2010 ($22.00) all remind that good, honest Cabernet still can be found for $25.00 or less.

CHARDONNAY Among favorites for the price are the energetic, extremely well-focused effort, the ZACA MESA Santa Ynez Valley 2010 ($16.00), one of the very best Chardonnay buys to be had, and the fresh and buoyant STEPHEN ROSS Edna Valley 2011 ($24.00). Look, too, for the direct and juicy CA’ MOMI Napa Valley 2012 ($20.00), the nicely defined BARRA Mendocino 2011($18.00), and the very likeable, keenly fruited KENDALL-JACKSON Vintner’s Reserve California 2012 ($17.00). The EDNA VALLEY VINEYARDS Paragon Central Coast 2011 ($15.00) and FIVE RIVERS Central Coast 2011 ($15.00) are honest, clean-as-can-be Chardonnays that hit the mark smartly for inviting value.

PINOT NOIR If you have not noticed, the price for good Pinot Noir has been on an upward spiral of late, and, when a couple of difficult vintages follow one after another, the search for good values becomes harder than ever. That said, there are always a few prizes to be had led by the lovely RUSACK Santa Barbara County 2010 ($30.00, a deep and wonderfully energetic working that shows great cellaring potential. Also easy to recommend are the AUGUST WEST Santa Lucia Highlands 2011 ($32.00), the outgoing CARMEL ROAD Arroyo Seco 2011 ($22.00) and the surprisingly good STEELHEAD Sonoma County 2011 ($15.00), a wine of unparalleled value. Consider also, the ripe and rounded BRIDLEWOOD Monterey County 2011 ($18.00) and, if a bit wide of the classic varietal mark, the LINE 39 Central Coast 2012 ($12.00) that wins the nod for its smoky richness and its easy-to-like raspberry fruit.

SAUVIGNON BLANC If picking good-value Pinots takes a bit of work, the latest crop of new Sauvignon Blancs presents nothing short of an embarrassment of Best Buy riches. The CADARETTA SBS Columbia Valley 2012 ($23.00) is a rich and very lively blend of Sauvignon and Semillon that steers to honeyed richness, and the brisk and very vibrant ALYSIAN Floodgate Vineyard North Face Russian River Valley 2012 ($20.00) is as a deep as it is lively and will age famously. The nicely filled OBERON Napa Valley 2012 ($18.00) and both the DRY CREEK VINEYARD Dry Creek Valley 2012 ($16.00) and its companion, the DRY CREEK VINEYARD Fumé Blanc Sonoma County 2012 ($14.00) are well-made wines that continue the winning streak from a most reliable producer. Fans of Sauvignon’s grassier side will find plenty to like in the CHACEWATER Lake County 2012 ($14.00), the firmly built WHITE OAK Russian River Valley 2012 ($16.00) and the snappy STEELHEAD North Coast 2012 ($11.00), while the mildly figgy YORKVILLE Randle Hill Vineyard Yorkville Highlands 2012 ($18.00), the well-balanced DI ARIE Lodi 2012 ($18.00) and the juicy, melon-like VINA ROBLES Paso Robles 2012 ($14.00) are fruity, well-focused renditions that are a bit more temperate with respect to the grape’s herbal leanings.

ZINFANDEL Zinfandel has always been a source of plentiful good buys, but the difficult vintages of 2010 and 2011 have made the hunt for fine values less than easy. If, however, bargains are farther and fewer between, there are still successful bottlings to be had. The TIN BARN Gilsson Vineyard Russian River Valley 2011 ($29.00) is a deep and outgoing Zin that is at once rife with fully ripe fruit and isremarkably well-balanced for the big wine that it is, and it is joined at the very head of the class by the equally well-balanced B.R. COHN Gold Label Sonoma Valley 2010 ($28.00), another rich and fully ripe wine that exhibits surprising proportion and polish. Keep an eye out as well for the GREEN & RED Chiles Canyon Vineyards Napa Valley 2010 ($23.00), the BIG VINE Dry Creek Valley 2011 ($20.00), and the solidly fruited, ANCIENT PEAKS Paso Robles 2011 ($17.00), each of which joins the DRY CREEK VINEYARD Heritage Zinfandel Sonoma County 2010 ($19.00) and the spicy RAVENSWOOD Old Vine Napa Valley 2011 ($15.00) as an unqualified Best Buys.

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