When it comes to the holiday season homestretch, even the most confident customers aren’t immune to gift-giving anxiety. Maybe they’ve got their holiday party bottles covered, but it’s easy to hesitate when picking a serious, special occasion gift (with a high price tag to match). All the more reason to turn to a trusted bottle shop to recommend a surefire hit for the VIPs on their lists. After all, who wouldn’t be delighted to receive a genre-bending biodynamic Roussanne or a rich and nutty 20-year-old Madeira? Here, six top retailers around the U.S. share their picks for gift-worthy bottles at $100 or up (the prices listed are the prices of these products in the respective shops).
1. Emidio Pepe 2010 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy; $150
Recommended by Doreen Winkler, consultant at Urban Uncorked, Brooklyn, New York
The cream of the Italian biodynamic crop, this Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Emidio Pepe “has some real magic,” says Doreen Winkler. “The reds are crushed by hand; everything is done with as minimal impact as possible.” The wine is fermented in concrete, aged in the bottle, and has notes of wild herbs, dried cherries, and mushrooms.
Perfect for: A lifelong friend. “It’s a delicious, deep wine with long aging potential,” Winkler says. Give this to someone who’s going to be in your life for a while—perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to share the bottle with that person down the line.
2. Paolo Bea 2010 Pagliaro Sagrantino, Montefalco, Italy; $118
Recommended by Duey Kratzer, owner of Mondo Vino, Denver
This big, bold Italian red is made by one of Umbria’s best producers, and it’s a wonderful wine for the holidays. “Paolo Bea is a little fanatical about holding on to his wines until they’re really excellent before selling them,” says Duey Kratzer. This Sagrantino is a prime example. Rich with soft tannins and notes of chocolate and cherries, the 2010, Kratzer thinks, is “a little hedonistic—it’s perfect to pair with a big holiday feast!”
Perfect for: “True Italian wine obsessives,” Kratzer says. “This is one of the most cherished Italian wines.” Bottles feature a handwritten label from the producer too.
3. Hourglass 2014 Blueline Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California; $139.99
Recommended by Phil Altherr, general manager at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits, Annapolis, Maryland
Phil Altherr feels strongly that this oak-forward, classic Napa Cab from Hourglass overdelivers for the price. “It’s a beautiful, well-made bottle,” he says, praising the notes of blueberries and boysenberries, heady tannins, and a little bit of leather. It’s great for pairing with rich holiday meals too. “Do it with a prime rib or a standing rib roast,” he says. “Something with a lot of fat on it!”
Perfect for: A Napa Valley obsessive. “This is classic New World style, and a definite teeth stainer!” Altherr says. “Someone very special on my list would get this bottle.”
4. Jean-Yves Péron 2014 Les Barrieux Roussanne Magnum, Savoie, France; $142
Recommended by Alex Leopold, employee at Ordinaire, Oakland, California
Nothing says holiday spirit quite like a magnum—and particularly this macerated, biodynamic Roussanne from Jean-Yves Péron. “I love this wine for its textural qualities; it has a good deal of tannin and is quite versatile,” says Alex Leopold. “It’s uniquely suited for food. I’d even it pair it with red meat, or ideally, roast duck.”
Perfect for: A maverick wine drinker. “This wine is perfect for someone who’s open-minded and adventurous,” says Leopold. And it’s an ideal wine, he says, for someone who isn’t set on what white wine “should and shouldn’t be.” Bonus points if the recipient is a duck lover too.
5. Henriques & Henriques 20-Year-Old Terrantez Madeira, Portugal; $122
Recommended by Lou Amdur, owner of Lou Wine Shop, Los Angeles
“Turning people onto Madeira is absolutely one of my agendas,” says Lou Amdur, praising this Henriques & Henriques Terrantez as a more accessible option for sharing the flavor-packed beauty of aged Madeira. “It’s [spent] 20 years in the barrel, so there’s really an opportunity for esterification to happen.” Amdur also loves the herbal and butterscotch notes drawn from the increasingly rare Terrantez grape.
Perfect for: “Your 26-year-old natty wine bro,” Amdur says, laughing. “Or a natty wine friend who thinks that only the most disturbing bottles are going to rock their world.” According to Amdur, one sip—or sniff—of this Madeira might change everything.
6. Compass Box No Name Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Scotland; $195
Recommended by Jesse Kirkpatrick, concierge at Holeman and Finch Bottle Shop, Atlanta
One of the newest whiskies from Compass Box, No Name is a blended malt Scotch, and it’s the peatiest, smokiest whisky yet to be released by this new-school Scotch purveyor. “This is a delicious, intensely smoky Scotch,” says Jesse Kirkpatrick of her pick. “It’s definitely not an entry-level bottle.”
Perfect for: “A mezcal-lover looking to get into brown spirits,” says Kirkpatrick. No Name is ideal for drinkers who already have a penchant for the smoky stuff.
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Lauren Sloss is a San Francisco–based freelance writer who focuses on food, drink, and travel (in writing and in life). You’ll often find her drinking Syrah out of camping cups on Ocean Beach. Follow her on Instagram and at laurensloss.com.