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Excellent wines for $15 or less

December 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
This holiday season, whether you've got a crowd coming or you're the invited guest, a nice wine can complement the meal. We're already spending a great deal for holiday gifts so why not find some excellent wines for $15 or less?Restaurateur John Crabtree has an extensive wine collection, with 6,000 different wines for customers to choose from.

"With different ingredients crossing over into different dishes, it gives you the opportunity to pair red wines with white fish and white wines with red meat," said Crabtree.

Consumer Reports just evaluated two popular wines that are good for the holidays - chardonnay and pinot noir. It had industry experts blind-taste 32 different ones, most costing under $15 a bottle.

"Depending upon the stylistic components of chardonnay, you can have them before your meal or you can have them with anything from grilled fish to creamy soups like New England clam chowder. And pinot noirs are really versatile with foods," said Consumer Reports' Maxine Siegel.

Among the chardonnays, Consumer Reports top-rated Kendall Jackson's Vintner's Reserve 2008 at $12 a bottle.

"This wine has heavy wood flavors with butter, vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch flavors all balanced by a crisp acidity and lighter fruit flavors," said Siegel.

For a more fruity chardonnay, try Four Vines Naked Santa Barbara 2008, also for $12 a bottle.

When it comes to pinot noir, you can expect a more subtle wine than other reds, like cabernets and merlots.

"They go with a variety of foods, anything from lamb to grilled salmon and mushroom risotto," said Siegel.

Consumer Reports rated two pinot noirs excellent, including the Estancia 2008 Monterey County Pinnacles Ranches. It costs just $15 - a very good price for a quality pinot noir.

Any of these wines are a good choice for a holiday meal, whether you're the guest or the host.

Consumer Reports says you can spend a little less and still get a bottle of pinot noir that's almost as good as the Estancia, try the 2008 Red Tree for $9. As for less expensive chardonnay, testers recommend the 2008 Alice White for just $8 a bottle.