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Local picks for holiday wines

Sparkling ... and otherwise

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The cathartic release of tiny bubbles emanating from the base of a glass flute makes sparkling wines almost a prerequisite for celebrations, especially during the holidays. But not everyone is fond of champagne and other sparkling wines. I attribute that to the unfortunate consumption of cheap wines masquerading as sparklers. Nevertheless, sparkling wines, whether champagne, cava, or a sparkler from Oregon, pair nicely with oysters, lobster, sushi, fried chicken, white pizza, tapas, even late-night eggs.

I asked some of the wine guys around town for their take on the best deal, best splurge, and best traditional wines to celebrate the season.

Robert Balsley, owner of Arthur's Wine Shop in Belk with its new location near the ground entrance, says that now is the best time to buy sparkling wines. His best deal is Nicolas Feuillatte champagne, which usually retails for $45 and is currently $29.99. "It's French and it comes beautifully packaged," Balsley notes. For his splurge, he recommends the gorgeous, elegant and consistently delicious Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé ($89.99). Balsley suggests a big cab for the holidays: Stratton Lummis Cabernet Sauvignon. "It's the hottest thing I've got. Tastes like Caymus, but costs $21.99."

Tim Wallace, owner of The Wine Vault, 9009 J. M. Keynes Drive, says his best deal is the Sean Minor Cabernet Sauvignon. "The only way I could sell more is if they sold it in IV form to inject directly into peoples' arms. This cab has huge fruit, nice silky mild tannin texture and a fabulous, slight graham cracker note on the finish." He notes that during Christmas week, the cost drops to $13.50 a bottle in a full case. Wallace's splurge wine is Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir ($60.99), which is "long complex cherry, strawberry, slight complex Burgundy herbal notes" and is "perfect for impressing dates and delicious with ham." A winning combination, I'd say. His traditional choice, actually what he's drinking this holiday season, is Château Roc de Candale Saint-Emilion Grand Cru ($37.99), the second label of Château de Candale. "This is a big, fat, chewy, concentrated wine with lush aromas of cherry and vanillin oak."

Brian DuBois, store manager at The Wine Shop, 2442 Park Road, says his best deal is the 2007 Sterling Vineyards SVR, which regularly retails for $59.99 but is now $29.99. This wine has rich flavors and bright acidity pairing well with lamb and braised beef dishes. His spurge choice is Ciacci Piccolomini D'aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso 2006 ($74.99), noting, "This Brunello eschews raw power for finesse and harmony — the Chateau Lafite of Brunello." For the holidays, he recommends J Vineyards Cuvee 20 Sparkling Magnum (1.5 liter). "Nothing says the holidays like sparkling wine and nothing beats sparkling wine out of a magnum! Great price: $44.99."

Owner Chris Woodrow of Vin Master Wine Shop, 2000 South Blvd., says his best deal is the Cooper Hill Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. He notes while most pinots from Oregon cost between $30 and $40, this wine is only $16.99 and is "elegant, organic with nice cherry berry fruit." His splurge wine is Le Ragnaie Brunello 2005 for $57.99. "If you want to go big, go Italian," Woodrow says. "This brunello is everything you want about Italy with tannins nicely absorbed — plus, it goes great with most foods." For a traditional holiday wine, Woodrow prefers sparklers: "Everyone likes bubbles." He says the best American sparkler is the Argyle Brut 2007 ($31.99). "This wine has crisp fruit and fine bubbles while lacking the heaviness. Argyle stays light and clean."

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