The holiday season has officially arrived. And amid all the reveling there probably won't be too much swirling, sniffing and spitting. Let's face it--most partygoers don't pay serious attention to wine. However, because a good host takes pride in offering wines that if not profound are nonetheless pleasurable, I've selected 10 great values from among all the bottles I tasted to write the just-published FOOD & WINE Magazine's Official Wine Guide 2000. Not only do they all cost $12 or less (some considerably less), I promise that every one is completely delicious.
1998 R. H. Phillips Night Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, CALIFORNIA, $7
Delightfully light and refreshing, this wine has a fruity, slightly nutty nose and wonderfully lively grassy and citrusy flavors. "Night harvest" means the fruit is fermented at cool temperatures to better preserve its flavors.
1997 Echelon Chardonnay, CALIFORNIA, $12
Creamy, full bodied and fruity, this totally dry wine is marked by delicious flavors of tropical fruit and melon. Echelon was created by Chalone as an affordable alternative to its Acacia and Edna Valley wines.
1997 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio, ITALY, $12
The aroma of this wine is unmistakably reminiscent of lemon mousse, with just a hint of nutmeg. That's followed by flavors of lemon, cream and nut, bound up in a long finish.
1998 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Sémillon-Chardonnay, AUSTRALIA, $8
Sémillon dominates in this light, appealing wine, providing pineapple and peach flavors, while the Chardonnay adds citric notes and bright acidity.
1998 Cape Indaba Sauvignon Blanc, SOUTH AFRICA, $8
The nose of this wine is lemon-lime and pineapple, and its gentle acidity makes it easy to enjoy. A portion of the sales of all Cape Indaba wines goes to a scholarship fund created to help black South Africans study enology.
1997 Domaine La Garrigue Cuvée Romaine Côtes-du-Rhône, FRANCE, $12
Spice, strawberries and a wild gaminess are some of the words that come to mind to describe the aromas of this wine. The finish is elegant, with fine tannins and complex flavors.
1996 Château Barréjat Madiran, FRANCE, $12
Round and forward on the palate with bright acidity, the concentrated berry flavors of this wine are well framed by its big, chewy tannins. Made predominately from Tannat grapes, it's one of many values from southern France.
1997 Castelvero Barbera del Piemonte, ITALY, $8
This wine opens with a blast of incredibly succulent fruit and nuances of smoke and mushrooms and follows through with a powerful acidity that provides backbone and lift. It's one of many terrific Barberas produced in Piedmont in the terrific 1997 vintage.
1995 Acinum Valpolicella Classico Superiore, ITALY, $12
Transcending the industrial reputation of the Valpolicella region this beautifully made wine is marked by sweet, ripe, intense cherry and blackberry flavors and intriguing notes of earth and spice.
1995 Santa Carolina Merlot Reserva, CHILE, $9
This lovely wine, from one of Chile's most respected producers, has slightly developed aromas of plum, chocolate and tobacco. Chocolate and plum flavors continue in the mouth, with a hint of earthiness in the finish.