BEN GILIBERTI When choosing holiday wines, it's go for broke, but that doesn't mean taking out a second mortgage. At this time of year, it's easy. Retailers run holiday sales, and wineries time their hot new releases to coincide with the peak shopping periods. Many are arriving now.
The following are my picks to top your holiday list. They are extravagant in style, but not in price. Although all are in good supply, no store is likely to have every wine, so it pays to shop early and to be flexible. Prices are approximate.
Chateau de Virecourt Pillebourse "Bordeaux Superieur" 2003 ($13; Winebow): The torrid summer heat of the 2003 vintage has turned out to be a bonanza for inexpensive red Bordeaux like this, endowing them with extra-intense flavors. Though classified as a humble Bordeaux Superieur, this chateau resembles a pricier Pomerol. The vineyards are in Fronsac, just to the west of Pomerol, and the Pomerol-like 90 percent merlot and 10 percent cabernet franc cepage (grape blend) augments the Pomerol connection. A finishing sheen of vanilla from aging in new American oak barrels enhances the bright cherry fruit. Although this lighter scaled wine won't be mistaken for Chateau Petrus, it is a splendid Bordeaux at a great price, and it's ready now.
Beaulieu Vineyard 2002 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($25; Napa); Beaulieu 2002 Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($17); Beaulieu Vineyard 2002 Napa Valley Merlot 2002 ($17): Since first crafted by the late Andre Tchelistcheff in 1938, the great Beaulieu Georges de Latour Private Reserve cabernets have come from Beaulieu's No. 1 and No. 2 vineyards in the heart of Napa's Rutherford area. Regarded among best cabernet vineyards in the world, the two vineyards also are a major component of Beaulieu's less expensive "Rutherford" cabernet sauvignon. In the 2002 vintage, the vineyard pedigree really shines. The $25 Rutherford is a virtual knockoff of the $90 Georges de Latour Private Reserve -- it has superb balance, fleshy red and black fruit and the legendary earthy note imparted by the vineyard, called "Rutherford Dust." The 2002 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is also impressive, especially for the price. Though not from Rutherford, it, too, follows the classic Georges de Latour recipe of focused cabernet flavors layered upon a firm tannic backbone. The 2002 Napa Valley Merlot is a notch below the cabernets, but its softer style goes well with light meats and poultry.
Kendall-Jackson 2003 Syrah California Vintner's Reserve ($10-$13): This entry-level Kendall-Jackson's syrah is no slouch. It comes from premium, cool climate hillside vineyards and gets a full quotient of oak aging. Although ripe and fruity in the California mode, the more austere flavors of the hillside fruit provide a robust, rustic style. Appealing to both California and Rhone wine lovers, this will prove a crowd pleaser.
Thieuley 2000 "Heritage de Thieuley" Bordeaux Superieur ($25; Bacchus): This blend of 70 percent merlot, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, and 15 percent cabernet franc from the best old vine parcels of Chateau Thieuley offers up a thrilling bouquet of toasted almonds and fresh cedar. The palate is equally impressive, with smoky, roasted fruit flavors supported by a ripe, tannic finish.
Andeluna 2003 Malbec Winemaker's Selection ($12; Kysela); Andeluna 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Winemaker's Selection ($12; Kysela): Both of these are knockouts. Big, plush and delicious, the malbec is a textbook example of Argentina's mastery of this varietal. The lush cabernet displays generous flavors of fig, baked cherry and chocolate supported by robust tannins on the finish. It has the complexity to accompany a classic roast of lamb or herb-rubbed roast pork.
Ben Giliberti, The Post's wine critic since 1987, can be reached at email@example.com.