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Expensive Red Wine for X-mas Dinner

My brother and I have started a X-Mas tradition of going in on a fairly expensive bottle of red to share for Christmas Eve dinner. Last year we bought a 1985 Chateau Montelena Cab (disappointing.) Any ideas this year for something in the $150 range? We both tend to like California Cabs and Meritages although Rhone varietals are fine too. Don't worry about the menu. Thanks!

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  1. WOW! What an open ended question!

    If I were going to spend approx. $150 on a CA Cab/blend or Rhone for drinking right now I would probably get a 1994 Chave Hermitage or Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon. Well... *I* would get the Chpoutier which is probably a little less ready to drink but more to my style prefrence. (The Chapoutier will probably be a slightly bigger wine with a little more oak influence.) 1994 was a very good year for the Northern Rhone and for some reason, it is always overlooked. Man, now that I just did a wine-searcher search on those wines and found that they are buyable for $150 the wheels in my brain are deffinitely turning. Hmmm... can I sneak them in to the apt. without my fiancee seeing? ;-)

    1. Are you having steak or prime rib for your Christmas dinner ? Otherwise a great Cab wouldn't be my first recommendation... it might actually be a quite unattractive match with your food.

      Why not break with your tradition and start with the FOOD, then bring the right wine to maximize the experience !

      2 Replies
      1. re: Chicago Mike

        The OP said don't worry about the food. What is the difference? I OFTEN decide on the food by what wine i am in the mood to crack open or what is drinking nicely in my cellar.

        1. re: chow_gal

          Thanks Chow Gal! Although I am sure a lot of the people here have a much more refined plaate than I do.

      2. We are either barbecuing tri-tip or having lasagna. I was thinking of using this as an opportunity to try a great Cab I would normally not spend the money on, such as a Caymus or Spotteswoode, but I am open to suggestions. Any ideas Chicago Mike? (Great post on Bourbon Tastng on the Spirits board, btw. Bourbon is my avocation.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: AlabasterDisaster

          For straight "grilled" beef, cab is a good to great match, especially if you use some cab-friendly peppercorns in the marinade of the beef...

          On the other hand if you're doing more of a "smoky & saucy" BBQ, then I would recommend a Zinfandel or Shiraz instead. Try a knockout Ridge single-vineyard Zinfandel (Geyserville or Lytton Springs for example)... just make sure you're talking a great year. In Shiraz you have alot of options: California, France, Australia... again just make sure you have a good year.

          You might do an interesting tasting and have one bottle of zin and one of shiraz to denote the differences in flavor and how they match with the BBQ.

          To continue with the shiraz/zin theme, bring some awesome cheese matches for these wines and have a cheese course. The best for both wines: Plain Chevre and Parmesan Reggiano match both incredibly.

          As for lasagna, I'd lean towards Barbera if you have dominant tomato/bolognese flavors. If more of a lasagna primavera with alot of veggies, then look at a gorgeous high-garganega Soave Classico or a Sauvignon Blanc.

          But getting back to the original premise of a meal for an expensive Cabernet, I don't think this is it at all. Save the cab for an incredible prime rib.

        2. Chiming in - are you spicing the tri-tip (i.e., with a peppery dry rub) or using a marinade - and lasagna....I'd initially lean toward Italian/sangiovese, but think high end Syrah/Shiraz might pair nicely with both dishes...how about Cote Rotie with some age on it?

          1. 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia

            1. Well, if you are serious about wanting an expensive wine, and are willing to look for it, try to find:

              a Dalla Valle Maya Napa Valley or Cabernet Sauvignon Napa
              Valley from any year you can find it from 1995-1999

              1999 or 2001 Peter Michael Les Pavots Knights Valley

              Just about any Joseph Phelps Insignia

              1994, 1996, or 1999 Ridge Monte Bello

              1997, 1999, or 2001 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection

              1996 or 1997 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato

              5 Replies
              1. re: dinwiddie

                And, please, PLEASE, if you find a '95, '96, '97, or '99 Maya for $150 and they have more, let me know somehow. At $150/bottle I would buy out the stock on any '90s Maya other than the '98 ;-) (It is my favorite CA wine from the '90s)

                1. re: whiner

                  Holy Smoke! I just found a 1999 Dalla Valle Maya Cab for $600!! You got some fine tastes whiner. I also found a 1996 DV Napa for $130 (and a 2003 DV Napa for $110.)

                  1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                    Yeah, DV Maya from '91-'99 is just about my favorite wine -- certainly my favorite from CA. My comment was more a response to dinwiddie (a friend) who mentioned it as a possibility, that there is just NO WAY that you could find that for anything close to what you are talking about. However, I also love the basic DV Cab and $130 for the '96 is an excellent price. If you can find the '99 in your price range -- yes it is very young, but it is also great. The '95 is also probably fantastic based upon the Maya, but I haven't had that one.

                    1. re: whiner

                      Actually whiner, I saw a 97 Maya in a wine shop in NJ for $200 last year and before I could pick it up, someone else did. I asked why it was so cheap and the clerk said that they did not know how it had been stored and had gotten it cheap so they wanted to get rid of it. I wish I had been faster but I had my hands full at the time.

                2. re: dinwiddie

                  Sad to say that the 1996 Monte Bello is not drinking very well. I pulled two bottles out of my cellar over thanksgiving and noticed that the flavours were muted and softer than they had been on the bottle I had just a couple of years ago.

                  In this price range, I drank a 97 Stags Leap Fay recently and thought it was very good.

                  1. For Cab I'd go for a Shafer or Stag's Leap. You'll fine them at the links others have posted. For that price range you'd do really well with either one of those. See which vintages you can afford for $150, they have a range.

                    1. For around $150, even with Cal Cabs, you're not going to find the really extraordinary wines with any decent age on them. Even the '97 Insignia, which is a great Cab, but not at the level of a Hillside or Araujo or DV or other TRUE cult cabs, has current bids between $165 and $175 on WineBid and other places... they will generally sell for over $200 on the auction market, higher at retail. By the way, not all Phelps Insignias are great... for example, the 98 was a failed year for them... I would seriously recommend avoiding that vintage.

                      True cult cabs, unless you're on the direct winery mailing list, are all several hundreds of dollars each... note the DV example above. In fact, I was a retailer a few days ago that just sold out of the current Araujo release for $460 per bottle... I can assure you that I bought my allocation for FAR less than that... and that is the current release... I'm sure it's great right now (haven't opened any of my bottles), but it needs some time to get really good.

                      All that being said, I think you would do much better with some Old World selections for the $150 price range. You should be able to find some good options going with an Hermitage - either a Chave or Jaboulet... or perhaps even some second growth Bordeaux with age. I have recently bought some first growth Bordeaux from '95, '96 for under $200 per bottle... and they are drinking very well right now. Also you may want to try a good vintage of Chateuneuf du Pape... excellent wines, and you can get a great bottle for the price range requested.

                      The website suggestions given by Robert Lauriston (rarewineco and KL) are very good ones for this type of search. Where are you located? If you're in the LA area, I can recommend a couple of really good shops that will take very good care of you.

                      One final comment... nearly all of the wines you will get for this price range will GREATLY benefit from extended decanter time... I would plan on letting them air out for at least an hour or two. I recently opened a '96 Pichon and it took 6 or 7 hours before it really showed well... 90 minutes into it, it was shut down and terrible.

                      1. Thanks Woojink. I am in West LA and I frequent the Wine House, Moe's and Wally's. I will look into some Old World options. I tend to be ethnocentric about my wines because Cali vino is where my modest base of knowledge lies. It is tme to break out, however.
                        Do California wines need as much time decanting? I drank a 1991 Grgich Hills last year and it disapeared after 30 minutes or so.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                          Hey AD. Young Cal Cabs require quite a bit of time and air. Although there has been some debate about this on other threads, by and large most (not all, most) Cal Cabs don't really age that well past 10, or maybe 12 years. Of course there are several exceptions to this. However, your experience with '91 Grgich in '05 is very typical. That wine probably hit its peak right around Y2K, probably sooner. Can you get a good Cal Cab that ages well? Of course you can... is that the norm? Not in my experience.

                          If you've been focused on Cal wines, that's great... but this is a great time to expand into some great Old World wines. You may want to write down some of those suggestions and talk to some folks at the wine shop. If you like Syrah at all, I would really check out the Hermitages from Chave or Jaboulet... really outstanding. They do need a lot of air. I opened a 2002 Chave Hermitage a week or two ago, it needed like 3 hours... then it drank beautifully. But as most will tell you, opening an '02 now is a bit infanticidal. Still it was great juice.

                          You have good list of shops on the west side there. If you ever get to Silver Lake, I would check out Silver Lake wines. They have some really good stuff in your price range in addition to their wide selection of lower priced stuff. The guys there really know their wine, I believe one or two of them were Sommelier at Campanile. Worth a conversation.

                          1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                            Unfortunately it's hard to guess whether an unfamiliar older wine should be drunk immediately or needs time to open up until you open the bottle.

                            1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                              I just realized you've now had two negative experiences with older Cal Cabs. I think you will find, as a general rule of thumb, that old world wines do age better than cal cabs.

                              1. re: woojink

                                I am realizing that, although I did have a very good 1991 Chimney Rock cab right after Grgich Hills debacle.

                                1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                                  It really does depend on a lot of factors. My experience on this is really just a general rule of thumb. My disappointment with cal cabs older than 12-14 years far, far outweigh my good experiences. And it is also highly producer dependant. However, my positive experiences on aged old world wines far, far outweigh the disappointments.

                            2. I think you should try a Bordeaux that's ready to drink now. K&L has some honeys, if you go to their website, lick on on and rare wines, then bordeaux. You can sort by price, and here are some of the wines:

                              1999 Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol, $129.95
                              1989 Leoville-Barton, St-Julien, $139.95
                              1995 Palmer, Margaux, $139.95
                              1988 Leoville-Las-Casas, St-Julien, $149.95

                              These are some pretty amazing wines, and I trust K&L to have stored them properly. They are awfully good at shipping, too.

                              We sprang for a properly aged Bordeaux (the 1985 Leoville-Las_Casas) for a holiday dinner a few years ago and it was just amazing. Nobody talked about anything but the wine for the whole dinner.

                              It is worth asking the wine merchant or going on a good forum like Wine Spectator to ask about opening it up and decanting it. Turned out with our wine the folks who drink this regularly recommended opening it just 30 minutes before dinner and decanting it, then letting it evolve slowly through dinner. They were right.

                              1. If I were going to get a Bordeaux for $150, I would seek out 1995 Angelus.

                                On the cult Cab question, I just did a wine-searcher search and it is possible to find Karl Lawrence Reserves for about $150. They don't submit their wines for review so they are much less expensive than similar quality low production wines from CA. The '01 and '02 Morisoli are both shut down. The '01 and '02 Herb Lamb are both tightly wound, but drinking pretty well with 5+ hours in the decanter. The '03 Dr. Crane isn't available anywhere via wine-searcher but is tightly wound but drinking well with 4+ hours in a decanter. I hear the '99s are begining to open up but are only available at auction. I hear the '02 Beckstoffer is shut down.

                                I still reference back to my original suggestion of 1994 Hermitage ;-) You could also go for a 1989 Jaboulet La Chapelle.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: whiner

                                  I can't find the 95 Angelus for under $150, but if you can then it would certainly be a find and a good buy.

                                2. I would go for Insignia.
                                  See if you can locate any Grace Family, it can be pricy however.

                                  Track down a 98 Silver Oak, we are going to have one tonight.

                                  Please let us know what you choose.

                                  We also like FREEMARK ABBEY BOSHE.


                                  1. I had the opportunity to try a 1978 R. Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Saturday night. It was still quite fresh and alive. If I hadn't seen the bottle I would have guessed it was from the mid 90s.

                                    1. If you are having lasagna and the sauce, I presume, is tomato based, look for a vintage Brunello di Montalcino. The wine will present more favourably with the tomato base. There are some absolutely incredible older vintages, not your daily Chianti.

                                      If beef, and not too spicy, I echo Phelps Insignia as a meritage. Shafer Hillside Select (Stags Leap District) is beautiful. Take a look at Vineyard 29 and Harland Estates. Cabs are not my favourite, but after the release tastings in the valley, I found some were surprisingly nice. Also consider Christian Moueix's Dominus.

                                      Don't fo

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: SanseiDesigns

                                        Hillside is a great wine, but you need several years of bottle age for it to reach it's peak, and at minimum 3 hour decant. Also, HSS will blow the budget. Current release - non gray market, direct, is nearly $200. It's very, very hard to find and oftentimes sold for way above 200-300 per 750. I've been collecting HSS for years and have a pretty long vertical of it.

                                      2. Pardon me, but I don't understand your logic. Why does the wine's price matter more than the quality or attributes of the wine. I like other Chowhounders suggest starting with the food you will be eating, and then pick the wine based on that criteria. I also know that there are many fine bottles that fall way under the $150 mark that are excellent. Go to a fine wine purveyor in your area, and talk to someone who know wine/food pairings and go from there. Good luck.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Lex

                                          I couldn't agree with this more...

                                          Although I do fully understand the idea of a "splurge bottle" of wine...

                                          The greatest splurge is finding a wine that ISNT in the splurge price range, but delivers incredible flavor and is matched perfectly to you food.

                                          As an alternative, why not develop a tradition of a splurge DESSERT wine ??

                                          SO, to spend your 150 bucks, you find an awesome wine(s) to go with your food for 25 to 50 bucks, then you spend the remaining 100 on a sauternes, port, muscat, eiswein, or late harvest_____/etc...

                                          Match all the wines up with great food pairings, cheese pairings, etc... you're still in the 150 range but now you have a holiday feast thats way over the top!

                                          1. re: Chicago Mike

                                            <The greatest splurge is finding a wine that ISNT in the splurge price range, but delivers incredible flavor and is matched perfectly to you food.> I couldn't agree with you more! and for you Bordeaux / Meritage lovers who might not be familiar with it, I suggest Escudo Rojo from the Mouton Rothschild folks, but Chilean. At around $16 a bottle, it truly tastes more like at least $40. It's a terrific "Beef wine," imo.

                                        2. I have 2 suggestions... both of which have been tried and proven to go with rich, hearty, meaty dishes.

                                          #1: 2002 Staglin Cabernet 20th Anniversary: This is very, very hard to find but it's better than any mass-produced high-end California Cab like Joseph Phelps or Caymus or Dominus. You really just have to taste this to understand how incredible it is. It is not in need of any serious aging... a 2-hour decant will open up the wine just fine.

                                          #2: 1998 Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape... this wine's age really DOES matter... this is a pretty perfect CdP to drink right now and it is probably one of the most food-versatile wines available. It is definitely at its peak... its texture is like velvet and its finish is LOOOONG! This is another one that must be tasted to undetstand how incredible it is.

                                          Both these wines are very hard to find but within your price-range... try www.wine-searcher.com (and register for Pro) to find your nearest source.


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: ladymonty

                                            Staglin 2002 is great.

                                            Also from southern Rhone - 2000 Clos de Caillou les Quartz - mind-bogglingly complex, warm and delicious.

                                          2. the 98 is a great beaucastel. beaucastel is a lovely wine that I have been drinking for years. too bad the price has gone up so much on it, although not bad compared to the price escalation of bordeaux and burgunsy.

                                            1. If it's not too late, 20-20 in Los Angeles has the 1997 Chave Hermitage for $150.
                                              Parker gave it a 94 and said it's ready to drink now.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: SteveTimko

                                                Great wine. Would definitely recommend. Would decant for at least an hour... maybe longer.

                                              2. In regards to the original post, we ended up splitting the difference between a Jarvis 1997 Cab and a 1985 E. Guigal Cote du Rotie. Our menu is still taking shape. Any opinions?

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                                                  Which Guigal Cote Rotie? If it's a La Mouline or a La Landonne, can I come to dinner as well? ;-)

                                                  1. re: SteveTimko

                                                    Suspect the 85 is the regular bottling... Brune et Blonde. The single vinyards (La Mouline and La Landonne) are selling for btw $600-$800. To complete the scenario 1985 was also the first bottling of the 3rd single vinyard from Guigal... called La Turque. 1985 was an amazing year for Guigal... the La La's are amazing. The regular bottling sb excellent as well, just without the incredible complexity and length of the la la's.

                                                    Both the guigal and the jarvis are nice picks. Enjoy!

                                                    1. re: WineTravel

                                                      Nothing wrong with Brune et Blonde! It's one of my personal favorites!

                                                      1. re: ChefJune

                                                        It is indeed the Brune et Blonde. Any tips on decanting?

                                                        1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                                                          I don't know that I would decant, given its age. I would pull the cork and let it aerate, perhaps taste a little bit and check it's progress.

                                                2. Don't know if you can find a 2001, as the wine needed some time in the bottle, but Merriment from Basel Cellars in Walla Walla Washington is a PHENOMINAL blend that would make a wonderful holiday bottle.

                                                  1. Agree... wouldn't decant. This wine should not have a lot of sediment... the sediment will be very fine... not like an old bordx... and this wine will not need time to breathe ahead of time.

                                                    POURING TIP O THE DAY:
                                                    As with any wine that you're not decanting that may have some sediment (fine as it may be)... pour your glasses in one motion... ie. pour glass one, keep the bottle in the same position (do NOT tip it back)... then pour glass two... and down the line, etc. So w/o that back and forth motion, the wine does not get "mixed up". Any sediment that's there will remain in the bottle till the end. This will ensure the clearest wine possible.

                                                    1. Thank you! What about the '97 Jarvis Cab?

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: AlabasterDisaster

                                                        I would decant this wine, mainly to let it breathe a bit. Suggest opening it around 20-30 mins prior to drinking. Never had this particular vintage of Jarvis, but 1997 is a big year and figure it will need a little air, may seem a little dumb at first but will improve.