Vini Ciccariello, an ultra-cheap but decent Italian merlot that will serve admirably for a large party full of people who are not there to swirl and sniff. It retails for about $4 to $5. We have met its brother pinot grigio before, and liked it, too.
2009 Temptation, whose label packs more punch than the wine. (Certainly a shoo-in for our Gallery.) This Sonoma County zinfandel might strike you as a rather wimpy compared to the lush, high alcohol fruit pies most zinfandels are. But pour it as another nice, anonymous red to wash down the Christmas Eve finger foods, and you will like it fine. Retail, about $15. .
1999 Château Simard -- at last, a real Bordeaux. Deserving of real tasting note haiku:
complex fragrance --
smoke, cedar, meat
mashed berries and apple skins
leaner, denser, drier than ...
May I shamelessly pilfer from Château Simard's publicity materials? "Château Simard is located near the ancient and beautiful town of Saint-Emilion, home to the Right Bank's most prestigious estates. ... A quintessential Saint-Emilion producer, Château Simard's vineyard is surrounded by the region's first growth vineyards. ... Château Simard produces only one wine. It is classically elegant, with a refined style that results not only from the excellent location, but also from the traditional winemaking methods employed at the château and the number of years the wine is aged in the cellars." 70% merlot, 30% cabernet franc. Retail, about $20.
2002 Kenwood Artist Series cabernet sauvignon -- this one may not necessarily be sitting waiting for you on your local liquor store's shelves, but Kenwood makes a good, more modest line of wines, too, retailing for about $12. Our Artist's Series cabernet, if you can find it --
still a young, purple mulberry color
fresh --fruity -- elegant -- full
-- will sell for about $60.