With all the holidays, parties, family gatherings and variety of foods, December might be the best month for adventurous wine drinking. It also presents challenges deciding what to drink and what you can afford. Not to worry; I'm here to help with a shopping list of good, affordable wines from my recent tastings.
Chardonnay is the most popular wine among Americans. For the many of you looking for modestly priced but still flavorful versions: 2016 Sbragia Home Ranch ($20), 2015 La Crema Monterey ($20), 2016 Raeburn Russian River Valley ($20), 2016 Wente Morning Fog ($15) and 2016 Notable Australia ($15).
Pinot Gris is a fine alternative, offering fresh citrus and melon with similar weight. Here are two: 2016 MacMurray Ranch Russian River Valley ($20) and 2016 La Crema Monterey ($20).
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red wine in the U.S., second only to Chardonnay. These will satisfy your craving: 2015 Louis M. Martini Sonoma County ($20), 2015 Pedroncelli Three Vineyards ($20), 2015 Ravage California ($15), 2014 Bridlewood Paso Robles ($15) and 2016 Trivento Reserve Argentina ($11).
About a dozen years ago, Merlot was dissed in the movie "Sideways" but always has been a reasonable alternative to Cabernet and plenty good in its own right. These are two high-quality options: 2013 Cline Sonoma Coast ($20) and 2014 Benziger Sonoma County ($19).
Zinfandel's brambly fruit is a good choice for me any time of year. And the first two of this trio are Old Vine Zins: 2014 The Seven Deadly Sins Lodi ($16), 2014 Klinker Brick ($19) and 2015 Frei Brothers Sonoma Reserve ($20).
Pinot Noir presents more of a challenge for value hunters, but they are out there. These offer good varietal character for not much money: 2013 Light Horse California ($15) and 2015 Bread & Butter California ($15).
Multi-varietal red blends are best when multiple grapes come together to make a whole that is better than the sum of its parts. Check out these two: 2014 Besieged ($15) and 2014 Saved Red Blend ($25).
There are plenty of import values, too. Here are just a few.
When looking for values in France, it is advisable to look to its southern climes. First stop, Côtes du Rhône for grenache-based blends: 2015 Les Dauphins Reserve ($13) and 2014 Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône-Villages Puyméras ($20).
Another neglected area with fine values is the Languedoc. The first two are syrah-based; the third is a white blend: 2015 Chateau Paul Mas "Clos des Mures" ($20), 2016 Chateau Paul Mas "Belluguette" ($20) and 2016 Chateau des Cres Ricards "Stecia" ($20).
Fine values are in Beaujolias, too, such as the 2015 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages ($13). And the Europeans set the benchmarks for Riesling, my favorite white wine. Two great options: 2014 Helfrich Alsatian Dry ($16) and 2014 Louis Guntrum Germany Trocken ($23).
Italy has fine values up and down the peninsula, if you know where to look: 2016 DaVinci Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie ($15), 2015 DaVinci Chianti ($15) and 2015 Niro Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($18).
Same with Spain, but I was especially impressed by these Rioja: 2013 Vivanco Crianza ($18) and 2016 Vivanco Blanco ($13).
Finally, from Argentina, two Malbec-based gems: 2016 Trivento Cabernet-Malbec Reserve ($11) and 2016 Alamos Malbec ($13).