Best known quality wine brands in the US?
January 13, 2013 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Need to gift a wine bottle to someone who enjoys red wine. I don't know what type of red. There are so many brands to chose from so since I don't know his taste I would prefer to give something from a recognized winery. Don't want him to think I picked the cheapest red :) Couple of brands that come to mind: Robert Mondavi Kendall Jackson Beringer Budget: up-to $50
posted by r2d2 to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would go to a well-staffed wine store and ask them for a great bottle in your price range. They tend to be really knowledgeable.

The problem is that the cheapest, most mass-produced wines tend to be the well-known ones, so that might not be what you want to go by. People who like wine tend to enjoy finding something rare-ish and unknown, from a small vintner, that they enjoy.
posted by supercres at 1:26 PM on January 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

Agree completely with supercres. To me, most highly recognizable labels like the ones you mentioned say "Costco." Novelty and exclusivity are big parts of the fun of wine, so get something a little obscure. A good wine shop should be able to help you out.
posted by jon1270 at 1:32 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Supercres nailed it - alternately, a gift card to a nice wine store in your area, or some kind of wine paraphernalia. My oenophile uncle loves his Vivid wine decanter (though it is a bit out of your range)
posted by arnicae at 1:33 PM on January 13, 2013

Yeah, those brands you mentioned can be nice (Mondavi Reserve has nice wines, for example), but they generally read as recognizably cheap, not recognizably good. Duckhorn is fairly well-known and I'd be happy to receive anything by them. Coppola is pretty recognizable and has the added conversation appeal of being associated with the filmmaker. Their wines are solid.

But yeah, don't be afraid to go with an obscure recommendation.
posted by Anonymousness at 1:34 PM on January 13, 2013

Where are you located? Try to find a nice specialty wine shop and ask for help. I'd lean towards something from a smaller winery located in the Pacific NW (not just because I'm from there, but because I think reds here are gorgeous and delicious).
posted by joan_holloway at 1:42 PM on January 13, 2013

Yep, I'd follow supercres's advice. Within your price range, you could also get a good bottle from Joseph Phelps. If you can find a bottle of the 2004 Muga Reserva tempranillo, I'd snatch that up; the 2008 isn't bad either, from what I've read.

But really, there are so many possibilities here that you should go to a specialty shop. If you're not sure about the recipient's tastes, I'd recommend a Rhône or Rhône-style blend, but that's probably just my own preferences showing. Or maybe a somewhat lighter red from the Loire valley, like a good Saumur-Champigny.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:49 PM on January 13, 2013

Price has some relationship with how enjoyable a wine is, but probably not as much as you'd think, and only the insecure automatically snub a wine based on price. For example, this past Christmas I brought a $70 Cabernet Sauvignon that regularly gets excellent scores in the wine mags, and a $20 Petite Sirah that is not unheard of but it's a Petite Sirah, as my contribution to the family dinner. We liked both, but honestly the Petite Sirah was the favorite.

To narrow your choices:
- Where are you? For example, if you are near the NY State area maybe you'd get a wine with grapes grown in the Finger Lakes area.
- Why do you think the recipient likes red wine in particular -- do you remember seeing them drink something? Any idea what it was?
- What kinds of foods do they like best? For example, if they love Italian maybe you'd get an Italian red wine. If they like steak, maybe a California Cabernet Sauvignon, but you might get a lot more bang for the buck with an Argentinian Malbec.
- Who are they in relation to you, or what is the general occasion? Giving a bottle of wine to your boss because you're his dinner guest in his home is very different than giving a bottle of wine to your friend or family member.

Can you give any more information than "red"?
posted by Houstonian at 2:02 PM on January 13, 2013

I'd personally get a bottle from Silver Oak, Alexander Valley, CA (make sure its that vineyard), either cab or pinot. Everyone likes Silver Oak and its expensive enough I don't buy it for myself and will be recognized as a nice gift, which is your intent. Ask which year especially if you want your friend to drink it now.

The 2008 cab is $70 online but check locally, maybe you can get it within your budget.
posted by fshgrl at 2:09 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all!!

"Giving a bottle of wine to your boss because you're his dinner guest in his home is very different than giving a bottle of wine to your friend or family member." - Houstonian

The above situation would best describe my scenario!
posted by r2d2 at 2:11 PM on January 13, 2013

Oops sorry, edit fail. Silver Oak only does cab. The pinot I'd recommend is Martinelli also Sonoma Co, its a-mazing.
posted by fshgrl at 2:16 PM on January 13, 2013

Glaetzer Amon-Ra, the 2008 or 2009. I don't know how easy these are to get ahold of in the US, but they regularly score 98 and 99 points and are outstanding gift wines. All of the Glaetzer wines make a class gift, in fact.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:21 PM on January 13, 2013

Nthing go to a well stocked wine store in your area and ask for advice.

As a wine geek, I think stuff like Beringer, Woodbridge, Mondavi etc. are like the McDonalds of wine and not really what you get someone as a gift.

Where you are located also makes a huge difference. When I lived in New York, most interesting wine was imported, and for a gift I'd typically go "old world" (i.e. France or Italy). Now that I live in California, the import section tends to be much smaller, less interesting, and overpriced for what it is, whereas there's a huge selection of great West Coast wines (California, Oregon, Washington). Also, in the US laws vary by state in terms of where and how wine can be sold, and what taxes are involved. So here in California most grocery stores have a decent wine selection, but back in New York, wines had to be sold in dedicated liquor stores. The whole approach to how wine is consumed seems to be different -- in CA there are a lot of simple affordable wines for everyday drinking, whereas in NY wine is more elite.

In my opinion, it also depends on the person and what you want the gift to say. I'd pick a different wine for my boss as opposed to my younger brother, for example. If it's a "hey, thanks for doing me a solid that one time", you can probably keep it simple, whereas if it's a really big deal, you want to go more upscale.

I just a few days ago made myself a list of good value West Coast reds to try in the new year -- MeMail me if you're interested.

If you're on the East Coast and looking for an Old World wine, you pretty much can't go wrong with anything imported by Kermit Lynch.
posted by Sara C. at 2:27 PM on January 13, 2013

Response by poster: Any specific old world (Italy / France) wines you can recommend? I would prefer to buy it online.
posted by r2d2 at 2:33 PM on January 13, 2013

You know, if I were getting a red wine for my boss because I was their dinner guest, I'd go just for name. I wouldn't bother with a small vineyard in some out-of-the-way place, made of obscure grapes on a good year. Although that can absolutely be good wine, in the case of for-the-boss, especially when I'm not sure of their tastes or even interest level in wine, I'd go just for name. A name that, when I give them the wine it says, "I gave you a nice bottle of wine" and, based on name alone, the boss thinks so too.

So, seconding Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard. Also throwing into the ring the fancier wine I mentioned earlier, Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon (main label, not Special Selection which falls outside your price range and is not really worth the extra money). Either of these should be available at your local wine/liquor store. Or, on preview, online. (I believe you have to be home to sign for delivered alcohol in the US, so there's that to remember.)
posted by Houstonian at 2:41 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you sure it's legal to buy wine online to be shipped to your area? Some states don't allow it, and in other states it's a massive pain in the ass.

For a little while, wine dork that I am, I wanted to sign up for all kinds of wine shipping schemes (little vineyards, deal of the day stuff, things like that) and then discovered that having wine shipped is way less convenient than just going to a store that sells wine.

The main hurdle, for me, was that someone had to be present to sign for the wine. Which meant a lot of wine getting stuck in UPS limbo.

Also, if you're looking for an imported wine, you likely can't order it directly from the vineyard, so you need to find a wine shop with an online store (which also means they need to be located in a state that allows them to sell wine online). In the US, there's no real equivalent of Amazon or NewEgg for wine.

Unless you live in rural Montana or something (or California, where it's dead easy to ship wine), it's going to be a lot easier to just go to a store that sells wine.
posted by Sara C. at 2:44 PM on January 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks again! I now know a lot more about wine. I might get myself one of those wines from a small vineyard.

For the boss Joseph Phelps, caymus or silver oak seem like good choices based on comments here. The criteria I guess is wines whose labels are recognized as 'not cheap'.
posted by r2d2 at 2:52 PM on January 13, 2013

Any Napa Cab that's in the $50+ range is going to be nice. Silver Oak is a standard; the Alexander Valley is in that range. Other great and recognizable labels: either of the Stag's Leap wineries, PlumpJack, Freemark Abbey, St. Clement. If you want to go old world, think regions: Bordeaux, Brunello, Barolo and let your wine shop guy guide you to the stars of the vintage in your price range. I like Chateaux Moulin-St Georges. Look at Washington State for very classy wines at more reasonable prices than CA. DeLille, Mark Ryan, Gorman, Hightower or Cayuse (if you can find it). Penfolds Bin 707 is a great cab from AUS, or the St Henri Shiraz.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:07 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

This previous AskMe might be relevant -- the asker is looking for something more in the $20 range, but a few more expensive wines are mentioned, and it might send you down an interesting rabbit hole or arm you with some key words. Barolo and Amarone, for instance, are very highly esteemed Italian reds that anyone would associate with quality.

Re "wines whose labels are recognized as 'not cheap', this is a somewhat inexact science.

What says "fancy" to me, as an intermediate wine person who doesn't usually have a lot of money to spend:

- The label itself should be either extremely conservative and minimalist, or look like a beautiful work of art. Anything that looks too clip-art ish or branded is bad.

- More foreign-sounding words. Less English text that evokes casualness like "barefoot", "flip-flop", etc. No puns of any kind. I recently read a good review for the "Goats Du Roam" brand; don't care, I refuse to take seriously anything with a pun having to do with livestock. I mean, I'd drink it, but I sure as hell wouldn't give it as a gift.

- No Chianti, ever. Similarly, for French you're probably going to want to avoid Beaujolais and Cote du Rhone varieties -- these can be great wines, but they're simple and affordable and widely known as such among wine people. Probably also avoid Moscato unless you know your friend specifically enjoys Moscato.

- For reds, look for a cork rather than a twist-off. This is changing, but I think for what you want, it can be a good indicator of a "serious" wine.

The bottom line is that, at your price point, you're going to be able to walk into any store that sells wine and immediately separate the wheat from the chaff. You're unlikely to find an undrinkable disgusting wine for $50, and you're also unlikely to inadvertently look like a rube by bringing Yellow Tail. Simply because by spending $50 on a bottle of wine, you're going to be jumping directly into the deep end of the pool.
posted by Sara C. at 3:14 PM on January 13, 2013

unlikely to inadvertently look like a rube by bringing Yellow Tail

Hey I like Yellow Tail - I think it's an excellent everyday drinking wine and I'm completely happy giving it as a hostess gift or serving it at events. It's just not a top-shelf gift wine.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:23 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


By the way - I misread the Previous Ask I linked to above -- the asker is looking for something up to $200, not up to $20. Either that or I meant to link a different previous wine question. But it should definitely give you an idea of what good Italian wine is about.
posted by Sara C. at 3:25 PM on January 13, 2013

I've given bottles of Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon to several people as gifts, and I've heard nothing but the same appreciation I felt for that wine myself.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:46 PM on January 13, 2013

I probably wouldn't give Silver Oak to my boss as a dinner gift, I'd stick to a $30 range: Balletto or La Crema pinot. But maybe we travel in different circles!
posted by fshgrl at 4:05 PM on January 13, 2013

A great go-to source is the Decanter World Wine Awards, which cover off the best wines by region, type and also have some price groups You can search the awards just for US wines if you wish. Grading the bestest bestest wine is a fool's errand in my book, but these awards do a good job at helping you pick pretty decent wines in my experience.

I'll just focus on US wines. If you want non-US you can still look on the Decanter site, but as others have said, focus on finding a great independent wine shop and just go in and ask. Once you get north of about $20 it is really quite hard to buy a bad wine and if you're spending $50 you should be getting a cracker.

The best Red Bordeaux Varietal over £10 was won by Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($100), for example.

Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvée 2008 ($40) won a Regional Trophy, as did Sbragia Family Vineyards Gino's Vineyard Zinfandel 2009 ($25) and Willakenzie Estate Aliette 2009 ($48).

Gold Medal winners - which will also be great drinkers - included Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages 2008 and Inglenook Rubicon 2008 (er, $175).

My local wine shop (in the UK), which is independent, selective, has no cheap wines and is staffed by very knowledgeable people who rely on repeat business consistently recommends Frog's Leap Merlot above all the other non-French wines they sell. They stock the 2008, which is $50 in the UK and likely cheaper where you are. According to the Frog's Leap website, the 2010 Merlot is $38.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:35 AM on January 14, 2013

Also - I should add that US wine is quite expensive* in my experience and a lot - a lot of it - caters for Robert Parker, which means while the quality is high you don't get as much variation in style as you'd expect between brands. As an aside, if you want to spend $50 on a wine that is the equal of $100+ French and US wines, then I'd have a serious look at the super premium Chilean and Argentinian wines. While they were once the preserve of decent, low price every day drinkers you see more and more very good, blockbuster wines being produced too.

*Because of exchange rates, so is a lot of Aussie wine too. South African wines remain good value for the moment and because of intense competition, once you step outside the big name vineyards, old world wines from France, Italy and Germany are less expensive than you might think.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:46 AM on January 14, 2013

I'd go with jeffamaphone's suggestions. They are perfect.
posted by jmmpangaea at 7:22 AM on January 14, 2013

« Older Quitting smoking: Life after butt   |   Name this Fish Face Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.