Funny how the first strains of “Jingle Bell Rock” send even the most reasonable shoppers into a state of panic. With holiday party invites turning iCalendars into Mondrian paintings, and lists of gift recipients growing at a rapid pace, it’s likely that many customers will be relying on their local retail shops for unique bottle recommendations this holiday season. While $15 to $20 tends to be the sweet spot for purchases throughout most of the year, customers are willing to up the ante in December. Here, retailers across the country share their picks for wines and spirits around $50 (prices listed are the retail prices of these products in the featured shops).
1. Nonino Amaro, Friuli, Italy; $44.50
Recommended by Melissa Watson, amaro specialist and social media manager, Bitters + Bottles, San Francisco
This 120-year-old grappa distillery, now being run by three generations of Nonino women, also produces a highly regarded amaro. Watson, called a botanical specialist by her boss, says, “It’s a great medium-bodied, lightly bittersweet amaro—not [as] challenging [as] a Fernet.” She uses it in cocktails or simply serves it with two ice cubes and an orange twist.
Perfect for: A host gift. Not only does Watson like this amaro as a digestif after an indulgent holiday meal but she notes, “It’s a gorgeous bottle—I always have it on my bar cart.”
2. Domaine de Chassorney Saint-Romain, Sous Roches, Burgundy, France 2014; $59.99
Recommended by Jim Knight, co-owner and import buyer, The Wine House, Los Angeles
Citing Burgundy as one of his favorite wine regions, Knight says, “Frédéric [Cossard]’s wines are exceptionally pure and a sheer pleasure to drink.” As the natural wine category continues to pique customers’ interest, “well-made natural wines [like this] are becoming more and more sought after by wine drinkers.”
Perfect for: Both a wine geek and a person who’s just getting interested in wine. “Burgundy shows you care,” says Knight, a person of any level of connoisseurship will appreciate this bottle.
3. Bergström Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2015; $44.99
Recommended by Anthony Yambor, owner, pH Wine Merchant, Atlanta
“Willamette Valley has really emerged as one of the top wine-producing regions in the U.S.,” says Yambor. This wine, he says, with its “very pure expression of the redder spectrum of fruit profile, along with nice minerality and a long finish with a refined texture,” exemplifies why this is a region on the rise.
Perfect for: A commemorative gift. Yambor calls this wine age worthy, so while the recipient could drink it right away, Yambor says it can also be cellared and enjoyed further down the road.
4. McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, Oregon; $54.95
Recommended by Brian Sullivan, purchasing manager, Pearl Specialty Market and Spirits, Portland, Oregon
Oregon’s not just a hotbed for wine and craft beer; this unique small-batch whiskey is aged in Oregon oak barrels but is made with traditional Islay Scotch methods and ingredients, resulting, says Sullivan, in a “complexity of peat, smoke, and caramel.”
Perfect for: Locavore drinkers interested in domestic craft spirits.
5. Cantina del Pino Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy, 2013; $40.00
Recommended by Michael Teer, owner, Pike and Western Wine Shop, Seattle
Winemaker Renato Vacca’s small-production estate—which produces around 5,000 cases annually—is leaving a big impression on the store team this holiday season, Teer says. This 2013 Barbaresco is “red-fruited with a nice perfume, but is structured and will age well,” he says, which makes it an ideal pairing for all the heady comfort food we feast on during the holidays.
Perfect for: An Italian wine aficionado who can appreciate Nebbiolo’s diverse charms.
6. Mezcal Vago Elote, Oaxaca, Mexico; $57.00
Recommended by John Keife, owner, Keife & Company, New Orleans
“For those new to mezcal, the Elote is very approachable and a great gateway,” says Keife, who notes its “clean, subtle smoke and tropical notes, [which are] balanced by a creamy, slightly sweet finish.” Drinkers already familiar with mezcal’s charms will appreciate this bottle’s unique twist: “After the first distillation,” says Keife, “the spirit is macerated with roasted corn, then redistilled.”
Perfect for: “Your friend [who’s] developing a well-rounded bar,” says Keife, “or your spirit-loving cousin who’s feeling adventurous.”
7. Pierre Gerbais Brut Reserve NV, Champagne, France; $46.99
Recommended by Jason Cook, buyer/general manager, September Wines and Spirits, New York City
“Something special about the holidays is being able to go back to Bordeaux, Barolo, and Champagne,” says Cook. These classic appellations—and their higher price tags—tend to be purchased primarily as special occasion wines rather than for daily drinking. But people are willing to splurge a bit more during the holiday season, says Cook. “I tend to be an evangelist for Champagne having a place at the dinner table on any given night,” he says, “but the fact is, it remains a celebratory drink” in many people’s minds. Cook is enthusiastic about this grower Champagne and says that it’s an elegant choice for a holiday gift. “It has verve and energy,” he says, “along with a rich, opulent, and luxurious texture, so you get the best of both worlds.”
Perfect for: Someone who appreciates the classics.
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Shana Clarke is a wine, sake, and travel writer, and the author of 150 Vineyards You Need To Visit Before You Die. Her work has appeared in Saveur, Fortune, NPR, Wine Enthusiast, and Hemispheres. She was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer 2020 International Wine Writers’ Awards and ranked one of the “Top 20 U.S. Wine Writers That Wineries Can Work With” by Beverage Trade Network in 2021. She holds a Level 3 Advanced Certificate from Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Sake Sommelier. She will always say yes to a glass of Champagne. Learn more at www.shanaspeakswine.com and follow her @shanaspeakswine.