5 Best Bottles Under $20 to Gift This Season
The lights are strung, the tinsel is hung, and a bounty of gifts foots the tree. You’ve made your list—exhausted it twice—and discovered that your monthly wine budget has begrudgingly funded this year’s goodies.
What’s a thirsty elf to do?
With all of the dinners, holiday parties, and family gatherings that punctuate this season, funds are tight and sanity is even tighter. Wine is a must for us all. Whether seeking out a unique bottle to gift a friend or curating the perfect “crowd pleaser” lineup for your annual Christmas bash, here are three keys to finding festive bottles under $20.
Versatility. In a season where the same glass could be drunk alongside cranberry stuffing, spicy sausage balls, or a smorgasbord of sweets, your wine should be flexible. The key to finding universally pair-able wines: balance. Avoid anything overtly sweet, intensely acidic, or high in tannin. The mellower the overall character of the wine, the less it will fight with food as well as satisfy a variety of drinkers.
Drinkability. Just as the collection of holiday cuisine can vary drastically, so too can the contexts for celebration: formal family dinners, awkward work parties, or rowdy get-togethers with old friends. But regardless of the nature of the event, the ultimate reason for the season is fellowship—so keep it fun! Most occasions will not call for decanters and crystal stemware to complement five-course meals. Find a wine that sings well on its own, and don’t be afraid to drink it as a “cocktail.”
A good story to tell. It is a season for gifts and celebration, so bring a bottle whose story is worth telling. The oft forgotten lifeblood of wine and winemaking is—after all—families, farmers, and small growers whose only outlet to leave a legacy might be the bottle on our kitchen table. Forego the big brands and sidestep everyday bottles, and ask a retailer not just for a new wine, but for a new narrative to share.
Try 5 of our favorite bottles under $20 to gift or serve this season:
Graham Beck Brut NV ($16)
A pop of excellence from South Africa—a relative newcomer to the international wine scene—this traditional method brut sparkling sees nearly 18 months on its deliciously toasty lees, surpassing the legal 12-month requirement for non-vintage Champagne. Established in the late 1980s by native pioneer and entrepreneur Graham Beck, the winery was one of the first from South Africa to break into the US market, and has since been a celebrated frontrunner for sparking “Cap Classiques,” vinified to rival those of Champagne. Bright in flavor and soft in texture, with a brisk, dry finish, this unique wine will make any holiday celebration sparkle.
Kermit Lynch Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Blanc ($17)
A secondary grape from an ostracized region, Beaujolais Blanc is one of Burgundy’s best-kept secrets. Due primarily to the region’s affinity for red Gamay, Beaujolais Blanc—AKA Chardonnay—proves one of the most affordable and drinkable styles of white Burgundy available. This unoaked, youthful version from Kermit Lynch is crisp and refreshing, making it sing with nearly any hors d’oeuvre or as an aperitif, while still holding enough weight to satisfy during chilly December weather.
90 Plus Cellars Pinot Gris ($13)
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, 90 Plus Cellars is knocking off quite a host of admirable vintners. Just as the brand’s name implies, the company sources grapes from an ever evolving group of remarkable vineyard sights the world over in order to offer consumers 90+ scored wines at approachable prices. This playful, unassuming Pinot Gris comes from vines cultivated by one of Sonoma’s most classic producers of the variety. With lively flavors of peach and pear preserves and a fresh, citrusy finish, this $13, 90+ point bottle begs to be sipped and shared around the table for Christmas dinner.
Earthshaker Tempesta di Stelle Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($16)
Remember those brilliant business minds behind 90 Plus? Well, Earthshaker is one their most recent projects created with an apt nametag for wines from more obscure varieties and regions worldwide. Promoting minor grapes like central Italy’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, these wines introduce some radical players that can offer MLB quality at AAA prices. The second most planted red grape in Italy after Sangiovese, Montepulciano can run the gamut from blueberries to mocha to dusty earth, but its ever pleasing, mellow-dark character seldom disappoints among large parties.
Charles Smith ‘Boom Boom!’ Syrah ($17)
An ex-pat rock band manager turned self-taught vintner, Charles Smith dismantles any and all pretentions of winemaking. A boisterous and unapologetic innovator, his labels are bold, straightforward, and ultimately of veritable likeness to the juice inside the bottles. The Boom Boom Syrah—made of 100% Washington state fruit—is plush, peppery, and will both satisfy and intrigue you as it bounds from the glass with flair. A classic match for smoked or grilled meats, but ever enjoyed alone by most any bold red drinker.