According to a recently released study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American spending on alcoholic beverages jumped more than 15 percent last year, with sales of holiday-time staples such as sparkling wine driving much of the industry’s recent growth. As wine and spirits consumption reaches its peak during the holiday season, retailers enter the busiest—and most profitable—time of year.
But in order to maximize profits during the whirlwind stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, a well-curated selection in key categories and price points is essential. From trending tequila to stellar single malts, having a great selection is how top retailers help customers spend wisely over the dollar-draining holiday season—and achieve ambitious year-end sales goals.
With the holiday season fast approaching, Sevenfifty Daily asked five wine and spirits retail pros from around the country for their top splurge and save recommendations in consumers’ most asked-for gift categories. (All picks are listed with the retailer’s price per bottle.)
Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights. Sign up for our award-winning Daily Dispatch newsletter—delivered to your inbox every week.
Splurge Pick: Old Elk Four Grain Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Colorado; $130
Save Pick: St. George Spirits Baller Single Malt Whiskey, California; $49.99
Chosen by Ryan Maloney, owner, Julio’s, Westborough, Massachusetts
For nearly 50 years, Julio’s has carved out a niche as a family-owned business with deep ties to the whiskey world. One of the first retailers in the country to offer customers single-barrel bourbons, today they have up to 60 hand-picked whiskey barrels, from which they can offer bespoke bottlings for their bourbon-loving clientele. For a holiday splurge, owner Ryan Maloney recommends Old Elk Four Grain. This bourbon whiskey contains a 105.9-proof blend of 51 percent corn, 22.5 percent wheat, 19 percent barley, and 7.5 percent rye that range in age from six to seven years old, all aged in first-use American oak. “The complexity is special,” says Maloney. “You can taste all the components of the four grains together, and they really meld well—there’s some spiciness from the rye, nice mouthfeel from wheat, a little sweetness from the corn, and beautiful caramel notes from the virgin oak. It’s very balanced and the finish is long.”
For his customers looking for excellent bang for the buck, Maloney stands behind St. George Spirit’s Baller Single Malt Whiskey. “I love the Baller. It was originally put together by distiller Lance Winters so he could make high balls to drink at his favorite ramen place.” Alone or high-ball style, there’s a savoriness to the whiskey that, coupled with its ABV of 47%, makes it incredibly versatile. “It has an evolved flavor profile because Winters uses unique barrels as well as American barley. It’s great on its own, it’s fantastic with a cube of ice, and also lends itself to mixability for great cocktails. Plus, for gift giving, the label has a samurai warrior on the front, so it just oozes coolness!”
Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Splurge Pick: Ardbeg 25 Years Old, Islay, Scotland; $1,499.99
Save Pick: Benriach The Original 10 Single Malt Whisky, Speyside, Scotland; $61.99
Chosen by Paul McGinlay, vice president and general manager, The Whisky Shop, San Francisco
The Whisky Shop began in 1869 as both a Scottish-based whisky store and kilt maker. They expanded into the U.S. in the 1990s, and offer one of the largest, most dialed-in Scotch whisky selections in the country. Around the holidays, Paul McGinlay’s clientele look to him for hard-to-find selections for special gifts, which he curates with this specifically in mind. For fans of peated whisky, his splurge pick this year is the strong and smokey Ardbeg 25 Years Old, at an ABV of 46%. “Ardbeg is an iconic brand with a great following, and the 25 Year Old is not only amazing whisky—the most complex and oldest Ardbeg ever produced—but is also very limited production. Imagine a bonfire or campfire, and there are also notes of pine resin, fennel, banana, pepper, and toffee.”
For his clients looking for more wallet-appealing quality whisky, McGinlay has stocked up on Benriach The Original 10 Single Malt Whisky. At 43% ABV, Benriach’s 10 Year Old whisky is triple-cask matured in both ex bourbon and sherry casks, as well as virgin oak barrels. The result is, as McGinlay puts it, layers of luscious orchard fruit, honeyed malt, and toasted oak flavors, with a subtle trace of smoke in this richly layered Speyside single malt.
Splurge Pick: Amatiteña Tequila Añejo, Jalisco, Mexico; $99.99
Save Pick: Pueblo Viejo Tequila Añejo, Jalisco, Mexico; $22.99
Chosen by Mike Moreno, Jr., co-owner, Moreno’s Liquors, Chicago
In 1977, when Mike Moreno, Sr., founded Moreno’s Liquors in Little Village, a thriving Mexican-American neighborhood in southwest Chicago, even his neighbors thought he was a little crazy to put so much stock in the beautiful diversity of agave-based spirits. Today, with tequila sales up over 30 percent in 2021, and more growth on the horizon, he and his son, Mike Jr., are now seen as clever visionaries. Super premium agave spirits are in high demand, so for a splurge Mike Jr. recommends Cava de Oro’s Amatiteña Tequila Añejo, known for their traditional, additive-free production methods and small batches. “They pay homage to Amatetan, the birthplace of tequila in Mexico. It has a lot of buzz with the tequila nerds and I personally love the presentation and flavor profile,” he says.
For his saving-minded customers, Pueblo Viejo Tequila Añejo offers a lot of bang for the buck. “For that price, it’s hard to find a tequila of such good quality. It’s made in San Matias, the oldest distillery in Jalisco, and they’ve been making fantastic products there for a long time,” he says. “It’s a little herbaceous on the palate, with some notes of chocolate on the finish. For me, Pueblo Viejo is great if you’re looking for something to enjoy with friends, use in cocktails, or have a little shot. You can’t beat it for the quality you’re receiving.”
Splurge Pick: Contratto Metodo Classico Special Cuvée Pas Dosé, 2012, Asti, Italy; $90
Save Pick: Château de Plaisance Crémant de Loire Chenin Brut Nature NV, Anjou, France; $45
Chosen by Anna Castellani, owner, Ana Wine & Spirits, New York City
Since she opened ANA Wine & Spirits in late summer on level one of New York City’s Hudson Yards, Anna Castellani, the founder of Foragers Market and Foragers Table, and on-staff sommelier David Smith have curated a formidable selection of bubbles to cater to the shop’s corporate client base, many of whom are collectors and like to gift in cases of sparkling. The Piedmontese Contratto Metodo Classico Special Cuvée 2012 might seem placed at a demure price point for a splurge, but to Castellani, it’s all about what this vintage bubbly offers. “It’s a hidden gem in Italian sparkling wine,” says Castellani. “This is a very serious and expensive Champagne-style method of production. It’s 90 percent Pinot Noir and 10 percent Chardonnay, with six years of aging on the lees.”
Sparkling from Chaume in the Loire Valley often gets the nod from somms in the know, and Castellani and Smith are stocking Château de Plaisance Crémant de Loire Chenin Brut Nature NV, as much for winemaker and owner Vanessa Cherau’s devotion to dry-style Chenin as to the long-lived quality of the vines she tends. “This cremant is a true expression of the diverse terroir of the Loire Valley,” says Castellani. “It’s also organic and biodynamic, and another of our favorites highlighting women owners and natural winemaking.”
Splurge Pick: Domaine Mallard et Fils Ladoix Premier Cru La Corvée 2014, Burgundy, France; $59.99
Save Pick: Mocali Brody Rosso Toscana 2018, Tuscany, Italy; $15.99
Chosen by Sharon Sevrens, owner, Amanti Vino, Montclair and Morristown, NJ
Sharon Sevrens’ days as an investment banker seem as far away as New Jersey is to Burgundy; she opened her first Amanti Vino shop in Montclair 17 years ago, and a second in Morristown four years back. While she’s learned that customers can be as unpredictable as any given vintage, she’s certain that a little high-value restraint will be appreciated by her clientele this holiday season. Red Burgundy certainly speaks to luxury, and Sevrens’ perennial favorite is the Domaine Mallard Ladoix Premier Cru La Corvée 2014. “[Michel Mallard is] the winemaker at Domaine d’Eugenie in Vosne-Romanee, and this is his small family project,” she says. “The wines are absolutely beautiful and accessible to everyone. It has a little age, some tertiary aromas, and all of the fruit. If someone is a die-hard Burgundy lover and wants that earthy, gamey wine, the Corvee ‘14 will make that wine geek very happy.”
Through a serendipitous relationship forged on a trek to Vinitaly, Sevrens managed to charm visionary Montalcino producer, Mocali, to make a wine for Amanti using mainly their younger-vine Sangiovese Grosso. The sub-$20 Mocali Brody Rosso Toscana 2018 (named for one of her two beloved black Labs) is her favorite affordable pick any time of year for high quality at a pocket-friendly price, but it will especially be her go-to for the holidays. “It’s our house wine. It’s the perfect pizza wine, easy drinking, and it’s great for a party when you need to buy cases.”
Splurge Pick: PM Spirits Hommage a Yves & Jean-Noel Pelletan, Cognac, France; $500
Save Pick: Vaudon Single Cask Cognac 1996, Cognac, France; $150
Chosen by Adam Kamins, owner, Off Premise, Chicago
After 20 years working all aspects of the restaurant business, Adam Kamins bought Off Premise in 2018, vetting and buying entire barrels of Cognac and other bespoke, unadulterated brandies to offer his clientele a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Hommage a Yves & Jean-Noel Pelletan is a non-additive, cask-strength Cognac from the unicorn hunters at PM Spirits, blending two rare casks—one from the 1920s and another from the 1940s. “Nicolas Palazzi in my opinion is one of the most important people in the spirits industry today with far reaching relationships throughout France that allows his private-labeled products to stand alone in the brandy category,” says Kamins.
Kamins’s save selection comes in the form of the incredibly vibrant fruit and slight rancio notes of the 1996 Cognac Vaudon Single Barrel from Through The Grape Vine, which he selected with the help of La Maison Du Whiskey out of Paris. “Vaudon currently has limited or no current distribution on their own in the United States, so LMDW was able to help us with the selection process,” he says.
Sign up for our award-winning newsletter
Don’t miss the latest drinks industry news and insights—delivered to your inbox every week.
Amy Zavatto is the author of Prosecco Made Me Do It: 60 Seriously Sparkling Cocktails, Forager’s Cocktails, and The Architecture of the Cocktail. Her stories appear in Liquor.com, Imbibe, Beverage Media, and many others. She judges at the American Craft Spirits Association annual competition and the New York Wine & Food Classic, and she earned her Level III Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, but her favorite way to learn is through taste and travel. She’s a big fan of underdogs and talking with her hands.