In spite of our best efforts, the holidays hurt. We budget, we plan, and we fail. Our loved ones demand that extra twenty-five dollars. Twenty five dollars that, when added to an additional twenty five dollars, again and again, becomes a four figured monster that mom’s loving tussle of our hair and calming words can not banish to the land of Maurice Sendak. Thankfully, when it’s time to return to our wine glasses the world’s vintners are seemingly on our side with their cut-rate, high quality offerings below $25 if you know where to look.

From South Africa to Australia, and back again through South America, the wine world is there to pick us up with a lovingly applied Band-Aid to our scraped knees, and wallets. Noble grapes and new friends abound if you just take the time to look for them. It’s almost like a James Taylor song, Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall.

FALESCO, VITIANO 2008

This Umbrian offering was fantastic prior to “Wine Spectator” determining it merited a 94 years ago. An unheard of 4.9 stars for under $10. Since, this ethereal mix of equal parts Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cab S., lost a few years of bottle aging and added a few dollars, yet remains a foil to wine that prices itself in the stratosphere of name recognition. I challenge you to find, or prepare, a meal that isn’t improved by this unknown region of table wine splendor.

TAMARACK, “FIREHOUSE RED” 2008

The Columbia Valley of Washington state remains a go to for the budget minded wine buyer. Seattle, and it’s cliched rain, tries to rein in a state that is home to big reds that wear silk rather than flannel. While larger producers like Columbia Crest malign the state’s genius in viticulture, Tamarack reminds us why we love us some Washington.

VERAMONTE, PINOT NOIR, CASABLANCA 2008 (RITUAL)

The idea that a pinot noir makes this list staggers me. This fickle, thin-skinned, red headed stepchild of the wine world takes its place on this list with aplomb. Forget Burgundy, forget Oregon state and their marketers who view a price tag as a starting point. This bottle has the subtlety that pinot drinkers demand, with a rare nod to lingering flavor at this nonsensically priced offering.

FETISH, SHIRAZ, BAROSSA VALLEY 2008 (THE WATCHER)

From the land of criminals comes this nod to what is right in the world. A black peppered explosion of lush dark fruits that leaves you wanting more. Good thing that at this price, you bought a case. Silly accents aside, this family run winery knows what it’s doing.

ACHAVAL-FERRAR, MALBEC MENDOZA 2009

These Argentine geniuses leave off the pretension in a country that does it better than any. Known for its single vineyard offerings and exorbitant price tags, it is a pleasure to see this hallmark of class and honesty return to their roots. A blending grape that has became an understated star is all we ask of the new merlot.

DURIGUTTI, MALBEC MENDOZA 2008

In spite of a wine cap depicting a bored cupid, I fell in love nonetheless. This three vineyard collaboration of tannin and juicy, yet restrained fruit, explodes in the mouth but knows its place is not to overwhelm, but compliment that ribeye you painstakingly prepared over wood chips and charcoal. We could include another 50 malbecs from Argentina on this list but would prefer you take it slow and enjoy your education.

ST. COSME, COTES DU RHONE 2009

Generally speaking I only employ the word cosmic to refer to my sex life but…..this is a clever, thoughtful lover with a price tag that makes the honest shopper question if a mistake was made with the price gun. This medium bodied Cinsault backboned wonder makes you question why people hate the French so much. A little north of the CDP is just fine with me.

PETER LEHMANN, CLANCY’S BAROSSA 2007

Shiraz at its best. Tempered with over a quarter (27%) of merlot’s softness makes this romp in a violet field with a chocolate bar in hand an unforgettable experience. Australia has truly grown up and given us their best offerings outside of La Grange at a sailor’s wage. If this is what it takes to be Shanghai’ed I might get fall down drunk at the docks more often.

BODEGAS BERONIA, RIOJA RESERVA 2005

A bottle of wine with five years on it for under $20 is a staggering achievement that will, if my econ teacher is to be believed, not be around for long. Tempranillo is a grape that thankfully remains beneath the radar. Leathery raspberry in a glass is an achievement worthy of any meal. Rarely, does an old world wine beg to be unaccompanied by food; Beronia does it well.

CASTELIO d’ALBOLA, CHIANTI CLASSICO 2007

Chianti and the reckless abandon thrown into its production at its best. It frightens with its staying power that can compete with the steroid imbibing hunks that comprise California’s hunky reds. There is a sophistication about this bottling that is in no small part why Italy means wine. Medium bodied with in your face cherries and tobacco are what we have come to love from this storied chap.

Wine, quite simply, is your friend. Not a friend that calls you for bail money, but a friend that is the first to remember your birthday. A friend that challenges you to bring out the best in yourself. A friend that doesn’t break the bank but provides interest to you and your endeavors. A hound dog that warms your feet in winter and fans you in the summer. Enjoy each and every one of these suggestions like it was your last and know you did your best to sample the world one glass at a time.

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