10 Chicago Wine Pros Pick Their Go-to Bottle Under $20

Or, how to be a great holiday house guest on a budget

December 13, 2018 9:00 am

‘Tis the season to find yourself roaming liquor-store aisles wondering what the heck to bring to that holiday party you’re invited to. But while every host appreciates a nice bottle, very few hosts will know (or care) how much you spent on that bottle.

Here to help you gift intelligently: 10 of Chicago’s top wine pros, whom we asked to share their picks for a solid choice that will only set you back $20 or so.

And don’t forget to put a bow on it.

Alpana Singh, Master Sommelier, Host of Check, Please!, and Owner, Terra and Vine
Gruet Brut Rose

“Easy! Gruet Brut Rose from New Mexico. You can never have enough sparkling wine on hand for the holidays and this is a festive and affordable choice to bring to parties or for gift-giving. The fact that it is from New Mexico makes it a fun conversation piece.”

Richard Hanauer, Wine Director for RPM Restaurants
Brokenwood Hunter Valley Semillon

“Hailing from outside of Sydney, Australia, this Hunter Valley Semillon from Brokenwood is one of the great values available today. The wine is fascinatingly complex: It has low alcohol, high perceptual acidity, incredible aging potential and texture. All of these combined attributes create a very versatile wine that pairs well with almost anything that swims. It truly is a sensational wine at a sensational price point.”

Leslie LaRue Lamont, Sommelier, The Publican
Cleto Chiarli “Centenario” Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro

“From a great producer like Cleto Chiarli, Lambrusco can offer a beautiful balance of juicy red fruit, delicate but savory black pepper notes with a tart, fresh and effervescent finish. This inexpensive red sparkler is a perfect match with everything from a holiday meat and cheese plate to a rich and hearty entree. Lambrusco is low in ABV (around 8%) so you can drink a few glasses without fear of getting super blitzed before dessert. Give this tasty bottle of Italian bubbly a try! Your palate and your wallet will thank you.”

Jon McDaniel, Sommelier and Founder, Second City Soil
Bodegas Caro ‘Amancaya’ 2015 – Mendoza, Argentina

For reds – I always love shocking my friends – especially ones that are so dead set in their ways and what they like. You know the type – ones that only drink big Napa Cabernets. For those friends, I bring out this great red blend called “Amancaya” from Bodegas Caro. It’s a blend of Malbec and Cabernet from Mendoza, Argentina that is bold, smoky, a touch of Cuban Cigar and Elf Spices that drinks like a $50 retail Napa wine, for around $18.”

Kevin Bratt, Concept Wine Director, Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab
Jansz Tasmania Premium Rose NV

“My favorite go-to bottle is Jansz Non-Vintage Brut Rosé from Tasmania. The wine will normally retail around $20, but you’ll often find it for less. It’s the perfect year-round bubbly, with light notes of strawberry and fresh raspberry. Refreshing on its own, or matched with my personal fave, fried chicken.”

Alan Beasey, Head Sommelier, The Purple Pig
Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay “Zeppelin” Riesling

“2017 is the current vintage, and it’s a good one. Most of the fruit for this wine comes from the Mülheimer Sonnenlay vineyard, but a very small percentage is sourced elsewhere. This puts the wine in the Qba category even though you’re essentially getting a single vineyard Riesling from one of the great producers in Germany. The Qba designation means the customer gets to pay a lower price for a great bottle of wine. The wine is beautifully balanced between bright acidity and honeyed sweetness. It’s always a crowd pleaser with nice flavors of apple, white peach, and pineapple. It’s great with food but also tasty enough to drink on its own. It is an excellent party wine. Most quality wine shops will have between $12 -$17.”

Alisandro Serna, Head Sommelier, Boka
2017 “La Kiuva” Arnad-Montjovet, Vallée d’Aosta DOC, Italy

“‘What I love most about this wine is the re-discovery of an old Italian favorite, Nebbiolo. It’s made up of at least 70% Picotendro, the local Nebbiolo clone of Vallée d’Aosta, located in northwest Italy, in the Alpine region where France, Switzerland and Italy border one another. This wine shows a unique expression of what Nebbiolo can be. The wine is lighter in body, with subtle tannins and lower alcohol, unlike those of Piedmont in Barolo. It still maintains a rustic sense of place, but well defined by its aromatics and a surprisingly light body. This makes for an extremely versatile wine. Drink it all year round, at any time of day, and with a wide array of foods. As a restaurant professional, I love wines that have the acidity to enhance the food, but the character to be drank on their own. Next time you are at restaurant or in a wine shop, be on the lookout for ‘La Kiuv’ Arnad-Montjovet — you will be pleasantly surprised.”

Christopher Harris, Wine & Service Director, Entente
2016 Bodegas Juan Gil Silver Label Monastrell

“The Juan Gil Silver Label is a perfect, comforting wine on a wintry evening. Its full body coats your palate with darker red fruits, smoked meats, and velvety tannins. I suggest enjoying this Monastrell with bleu cheese, meatier fish (sturgeon!), and stewed dishes.”

Derrick Westbrook, Sommelier, Bibliophile
Crazy Creature, Gruner Veltliner

“What’s the next big thing in wine you ask? Well for the last three years, Gruner Veltliner has been at the top of this list! The grape is bright, minerally and super mouth-watering. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay drinkers can find a common ground in this cool white wine. Outside of being yummy, it also cuts through the weight of heavy foods and makes a great gift with its fun label.”

Jamel Freeman, Wine Director, Bellemore
Guy Breton Marylou Cuvee 2014

“Guy Breton Marylou Cuvee 2014 is Gamay from 40-year-old vines sourced from the surrounding sub-zones of the village of Morgon within Beaujolais. Breton along with three other vignerons (wine makers) of Morgon are affectionately known as the ‘Gang of Four.’ Bottlings from these producers seek to express the naked qualities of wines from this region; without fuss or doctoring in the vineyard or winery. Guy Breton achieves this through very gentle work during the fermentation process, in part using natives yeast help express a clear terroir. The Marylou Cuvee, named after Breton’s daughter, is fresh and lively, showcasing wonderful stone minerality, hibiscus tea, rose petals and tart cherries. I love wines of this character and this is a perfect choice for those seeking an easy wine for the holidays — especially those curious about wine from Beaujolais that isn’t Beaujolais Nouveau. Older vintages may exceed the $20 mark, but the 2014 Marylou Cuvee hovers just under target.”


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