Top 12 Wines Under $15 for the Holidays

Last night, Whole Foods Market introduced its Top 10 wines for the holidays -- except that this year, like the days of Christmas, there are actually 12.

Historically, some of the recommended wines have been held up at customs or in shipping, and WFM didn't want to run the risk of running out of their holidays wines this season, so don't be confused by all the Top 10 Wines signage you'll see around the wine section -- the surplus is for your own protection.

All 12 of the dirty dozen holiday wines are less than $15 a bottle, because no one needs to break the bank this year of all years. A few are bottles that stores carry year-round, while some are limited to the holidays or to WFM itself, as with the H&G Chalk Kill Cabernet Sauvignon. Only 5,600 cases of the $14.99 wine were produced, and WFM got them all.

Although the wines are already discounted for the holidays, you can get an even better deal on them when you buy in bulk: Purchase a case and you get 10 percent off each bottle. And, as always, feel free to mix and match your wines. Tonight, your local WFM will be hosting a tasting of several of the Top 10 wines for free, so swing by and taste the selection for yourself.

I tasted all 12 of the wines last night over some wicked Seaside Cheddar and Roquefort, and here are my recommendations in order (although your mileage -- and palate -- may vary):

12. Pacific Rim Riesling - $13.99

With notes of jasmine and white pepper, this organic wine has the honeyed sweetness of so many Rieslings but manages not to be cloying. It's surprisingly dry and lean, and would pair well with a ham.

11. Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay - $9.99

One of the most popular wines year-round, Cupcake's Chardonnay is barrel-aged in oak for nine to ten months. The result is a big, round, buttery Chardonnay with hints of vanilla and honey.

10. Earthstone Sonoma County Merlot - $8.99

This Merlot comes from an eco-friendly vineyard that uses solar power and other responsible farming practices. There are strong berry flavors throughout, with a big blueberry finish and vague notes of white pepper.

9. Cantora Carmenere Cabernet Sauvignon - $10.99

The lost grape of Bordeaux is alive and well in Chile, where this fair trade Cabernet comes from. It looks like Merlot and even tastes a bit similar to the Earthstone Merlot, with lots of plush, dark fruit and a little spice at the end.

8. H&G Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon - $14.99

This is an elegantly structured wine, rich on the middle of the palate and smelling faintly of chocolate through the big fruit flavors that rush in. Would be particularly good with a nice, rare ribeye or filet.

7. Tarima Monastrell - $10.99

The Monastrell (or Mourvèdre) grape is one of the most common grapes you've never heard of. This grape variety produces a dark, exotic wine in the Tarima, which almost tastes like the holidays: Cedar and warm spices blend with mulberry to keep it from being a straightforward fruit bomb.

6. Chateau Grand Claret Premières Côtes de Bordeaux - $10.99

This 2009 was a sleeper vintage, and lauded as one of the best Bordeaux vintages in the last half-century. It's a classic Bordeaux with a plush, soft finish and a few spicy notes to round out the blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes.

5. Rasteau Les Peyrières - $12.99

This wine is a blend of both Grenache and Syrah grapes, resulting in a dark cherry flavor with smoky, peppery notes and a hint of anise. It also has a striking herbaceousness, vaguely tasting of Herbes de Provence, making it a brilliant pairing with cassoulet or coq au vin.

4. Innovac!ón Malbec-Tempranillo - $9.99

This wine comes in a full liter bottle. A liter. For $10. Party on, and do it with this holiday-appropriate wine that tastes of winter spices and cocoa. It's a beautiful 50-50 blend of Tempranillo and Malbec grapes from Argentina, and it's exclusive to WFM.

3. Benziger Family Sauvignon Blanc - $12.99

Another wine from a vineyard that practices responsible farming (although it's not organic), this Sauvignon Blanc would be wonderful with a plate of Gulf oysters...if we're lucky enough to get any good ones this year. It's a bright, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc with sweetly herbaceous notes of grass.

2. Pascual Toso Sparkling Brut - $9.99

For only $10, this is a sparkler you'd be proud to bring to a party or kick off a dinner with. It's not too yeasty, not too sweet and brightly effervescent. It would even be great in mimosas, especially with blood orange season coming up...

1. Don & Sons Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - $13.99

This is a 100 percent Pinot Noir from the colder part of California, meaning it has that classic Pinot funk to it -- think barnyards and forest floors -- without being overtly manure-scented. It still has bright flavors of currants and berries to round out its flavor profile, and being a Pinot Noir is a wonderfully utilitarian wine: Pair it with ham, turkey, salmon -- whatever you happen to be serving over the holidays -- and it'll charm the entire table.

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