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TINTO PESQUERA

Crianza 2014

(Ribera del Duero, Spain) $27

Spain is a country that takes its masculinity seriously (not to mention its wine). And so—after just a sip or two—a writer could be forgiven for an imagination, momentarily unleashed, that leaps to broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped bullfighters and smoky late-night cafes. (Okay, never mind). This part about the wine is true: Pesquera emerged on the international scene in the 1980s with such generous, sumptuous, and delicious tempranillos that a whole new style of tempranillo was born. Pesquera’s vanilla, earth, and sweet tobacco-leaf flavors bolt out of the glass, yet the wine has wonderful beauty and sophistication. (14.5% abv)

94 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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CORISON

Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

(Napa Valley, California) $100

If one stellar cabernet is in your future this holiday season, this would be a brilliant option. It’s a cabernet of magnificence and beauty, precision and radiance—as though every single molecule in the wine was beaming out delicious flavor. Cathy Corison (who’s made wine over more than 40 vintages) has a reputation for exquisitely balanced, complex, long-lived cabernets that exude finesse. You could be forgiven for thinking it was Margaux in a good vintage. (13.6% abv)

96 points KM

Available at Corison Winery

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HENRY’S DRIVE

Shiraz 2013

(Padthaway, South Australia, Australia) $45

Beautiful structure and lift. Tight, focused, sleek, and exact. Gymnastics? No … wine. Henry’s Drive Shiraz comes from Padthaway, in the southern part of South Australia near the open bay known as the Great Australian Bight. This is a classic example of shirazes from that region which are sleeker and taste perhaps a bit fresher than many Barossa shirazes. One hallmark of nearly all top Australian shirazes is their generosity of fruit and flavor. This is one delicious, mouthfilling example. (14.5% abv)

90 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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BISOL

“Jeio” Prosecco Superiore Brut NV D.O.C.G.

(Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy) $16

Who doesn’t need a really good sparkler that’s a steal at this time of year?  The operative words are “really good,” because Prosecco can be a little too bitter or a little too fruity or just plain neutral. It’s a hard wine to get right. But Bisol—founded in 1542, making it one of the oldest prosecco producers—has a terrific track record. Their “Jeio” (pronounced JAY-O) is clean and vibrant with wisps of pear and lemon. Not a touch of bitterness.  It’s made mostly from glera, the traditional Prosecco grape, plus small amounts of chardonnay, pinot blanc, and pinot grigio. A simple, quaffable beauty. (11.5% abv)

89 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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NINE HATS

Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 

(Columbia Valley, Washington) $20

While an expensive cabernet sauvignon might be tasty, it will usually always miss the mark when it comes to structure. And if there’s one thing you want in cabernet, it’s definitely structure. Think of structure as a commanding framework—the flying buttresses of a cathedral of fruit. Nine Hats has real cabernet style, dark cassis flavors, and a fine tannic structure. The brand is the invention of Allen Shoup, one of Washington’s most creative wine men. Shoup assembled nine top international winemakers to each make great (expensive) wines with Washington grapes. The cabernet grapes that didn’t make the ultra-top cut went into this baby. So you’re drinking a lot of talent at a fraction of the typical cost. Party season is coming. (14.5% abv)

88 points KM

Available at Nine Hats Wines

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J VINEYARDS

Pinot Noir 2016

(Russian River Valley, California) $40

I remember a smell from my childhood on Cape Cod—walking along a path in summer and smelling the sun-warmed raspberries hanging on the thickets of bushes that lined the lane. The berries themselves were juicy, soft, and delicious. A lot like this pinot from J. There’s earthiness here too—a signature characteristic of pinot noirs from the Russian River Valley—plus wisps of spice. Pinot noir’s first duty is to be deeply satisfying, and this one is. (14.3% abv)

90 points KM

Available at J Vineyards & Winery

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EMBLEM

Chardonnay 2017

(Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast, CA) $35

When non-oaked California chardonnays arrived on the scene about 15 years or so ago, I thought: yes! Now, I’m resigned to thinking: no. Because while they may not be made with oak, most of them are still buttery and as sweet and dull as marshmallows. Then, recently, I tasted Emblem, a fresh, snappy, sophisticated chardonnay that pulses with cool-climate personality, and delivers a lovely sense of richness at the same time. It has a discreet touch of oak, and it’s more than good. It is (I hope) a sign of (chardonnay) things to come. Emblem is part of the Michael Mondavi Family of wines. (14.5% abv)

90 points KM

Available at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

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PEDRAS

Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

(Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA) $90

Ninety dollars is not inexpensive. But I recently snuck this gem into a blind tasting of Napa cabernets over $150, and it came out on top. No surprise. For not only is Pedras delicious, beautifully structured, and spellbindingly long, it also has what I call choreography—waves of flavor, volume, and velocity. Great wines do not sit dully on the palate; they appear to move physically and spatially. Or, like this wine, they fairly whirl around the palate. If you love cabernets that are rich but vibrantly alive, this wine from a small family winery in the heart of the valley is for you. (14.5% abv.)

95 points KM

Available at Pedras Wine Company

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POST SCRIPTUM

“De Chryseia” 2016 

(Douro Valley, Portugal) $20

Dollar for dollar, the top dry red table wines of Portugal offer more flavor and personality than any other wines in the world. And flavor that’s fascinating—a dark mysterious deliciousness that combines spiciness, pepperiness, and minerality with loads of earthy luscious fruit. Chryseia (the name means “golden” in ancient Greek) is a blend of touriga nacional and touriga franca, the two leading grapes of the Douro Valley. The wine has beautiful structure and is long on the palate. The winery itself is a joint venture of two of the top European wine families—the Symingtons of Portugal and the Prats of Bordeaux. Great winemaking is in their blood. (13.5% abv)

92 points KM

Available at Vivino.com

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ELENA WALCH

Pinot Grigio 2016

(Alto Adige, Italy) $17

I’ve often thought that pinot grigio is like a white T-shirt—everyone needs one, but in terms of character, it’s serviceable at best. Elena Walch’s pinot grigio is different; it’s pinot grigio with a brain. Minerally, refreshing, and with just the right edge of lively flavor, it’s the kind of wine you can drink and drink. (I drink it on weekend afternoons when I’m cooking). Elena Walch and her daughters have won dozens of awards for their artisanal wines, all of which are from Alto Adige on the Italian side of the Alps. This is their simplest wine. But even here, you can sense the hand of a woman who knows what she’s doing. (13% abv)

89 points KM

Available at Vivino.com