The end is nigh, isn't it? Just a few more weeks, and we'll be putting 2006 to bed. In the meantime, there are roughly 11 million parties to attend, with an attendant gauntlet of horrifying "festive" beverages to run. The great thing about showing up at a party with a vinous contribution is that it is firstly a very nice gesture, and secondly a guarantee that there will be something attractive for you to drink. This month, we'll have a look at a trio of party-goers that are bursting with pleasure, but won't burst your holiday budget. I would also like to note one slight change to the format: As any wine fan learns, no wine store carries every wine you'd like to try, and sometimes, having the wine's name is not enough to make special-ordering easy. So from now on, I will include each wine's Maryland wholesaler at the end of the review; this way, your local wine shop should have all the information it needs to get a bottle or six for you.
Claude Branger Muscadet "Terroir les Gras Moutons" 2004 $14
Quality, well-made Muscadet may be the most under-valued white wine in France. Lucky for us, because the best examples are still completely affordable. Claude Branger's old-vines cuvée is one such revelation. It is made from 40- to 70-year-old plantings of Melon de Bourgogne. Ripe, unctuous notes of lemony citrus and intense minerality abound. The wine is impeccably balanced and certainly capable of aging if you wish. December, being in possession of an "r," is the perfect month to try this wine out: It is a classic companion for oysters, especially raw ones. With a wine like this in your glass, you'll have no need for cocktail sauce, lemon slices, or mignonette. (A Vintner's Selections)
Crios de Susana Balbo Syrah-Bonarda 2004 $15
Syrah is the well-known grape of the Northern Rhône Valley responsible for sublimely powerful Cornas wines, as well as frightening brand-engineered Australian Shiraz. Bonarda is an entirely unknown blending grape from the Piedmont region of Italy. Susana Balbo has married the two in this delightful Argentine offering. Syrah's power, its dark red fruit flavors, and its structure are immediately evident, offset by the floral aroma and prim body of Bonarda. It's versatile, standing up to heavy holiday fare without crushing lighter appetizers or substantial fish courses. (Bacchus Importers Ltd.)
Saõ Pedro Porto Late Bottled Vintage 1997 $15
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Ports are a good starting place for someone interested in the finer points of vintage port, but without the means to pony up $30 to $60 for one. Individual producers will release an LBV if they believe they have made a good wine that doesn't quite merit a "vintage" declaration. These are typically more finessed and interesting than the non-vintage wines, but without the price tag of the "vintage" stuff. The rich ruby color of this deliciously sweet offering is as festive as the season. Its juicy bright plum and cherry notes are adorned with attractive spice highlights. Just the thing for post-meal contemplation on a cold night. (Monsieur Touton)