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December 26, 2012

GRAPE SENSE: The holidays, a time to splurge on a bit pricier wine

TERRE HAUTE — If there is ever a time to splurge on something special, it’s the holidays for most of us. For five years now Grape Sense has focused on value wine under $20. That’s not going to change. But for one column, here are some suggestions that will range $10 to $20 higher than the wines normally mentioned here.

One of the great adventures in a wine education is discovering price point differences relative to quality. There are many differences of opinion. My experience is that when you break about $15, there is a jump in quality.

Here are some wines for a special occasion that should deliver a real bang on the palate for just a 10 or 20 spot more than the usual $12 to $15 bottle. It may take a wine shop to find them, but all should be available in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.

Lange Willamette Valley Pinot Noir — The Lange Pinot at about $22 is one of the best “entry level” Oregon Pinot Noirs on the market. Jesse and Don Lange deliver better fruit than most at this price. The wine remains light-bodied and well-balanced, the key characteristics of great Oregon Pinot Noir.

Klinker Brick Zinfandel — There are plenty of under $15 Zins on the market, but few under $20 that provide the bang for the buck that Klinker Brick delivers. This is on my all-time list for great wines under 20 bucks. This is old vine Zin which delivers big fruit that balances the higher-than-usual alcohol. It’s dynamite red wine for winter meals.

Tamarack Cellars Merlot — The oft-maligned red grape is making a comeback of sorts. Washington state producers have been leading the pack in developing interesting Merlot wines with dark fruit, spice and chocolate flavors. This wine has been a 90-point-plus entry from most of the critics. It can be found at $20 to $25.

Ca’ De’ Rocchi Ripasso Montere — This is the best value Italian red wine I’ve ever tasted. Ripasso style wines from the Valpolicella district have been hot. It’s made from the Corvina, Rondinella and Moliara grapes. The combination creates a fruit wine with some real depth. It’s perfect for food and friends who may not always be big wine drinkers. Look for it at $20 to $24. The wine is an incredible value buy.

Obra Prima Reserva Malbec — As much as the Ripasso above is good for wine novices, the Obra Prima isn’t for newcomers. For the wine drinker who likes big dark fruit, dark chocolate, wonderfully balanced acid and tannin, here is a pick for you. The 2007 vintage in current release sells for $17.

Fleur Cardinale Grand Cru Saint Emilion — If you want to go all out for a special night or impress your friends, reach for Bordeaux. Wines from the world’s greatest regions are famously wonderful and expensive. This Merlot-driven blend is a great way to see what the wine world swoons over when it comes to the iconic French region. Robert Parker rates it at 90 points, and I think it’s even a tad bit better than that. It really does taste well above the not-so-cheap price point of $45.

Billaud-Simon Premier Cru Montee de Tonnerre — Taste the terroir of Burgundy with this great bottle of Chablis (Chardonnay) from one of the region’s greatest producers. This wine is stunning with poultry or smoke salmon. Chablis has long suffered from poor imitators. It’s rare you can enjoy a bottle of some of the world’s very best wine for the average price of $25.

Up next: Check out the annual list of Top 10 Value Wines of the Year.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine every other week for 21 Midwestern newspapers. Reach him at: hewitthoward@gmail.com.

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