New Year’s Recommendations

I’ve got some advice to dish out for end-of-the-year celebrations and beyond, especially if your wallet is still stuck in recession mode.

Stocking up for a big party, but working with a tight budget and don’t know what sparkling wine to buy?

There are lots of good California-grown options for bubbly, but this year I’d recommend trying a newcomer from a good source of bargain wines — Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi.

2009 Brut Woodbridge by MondaviThis 2009 brut sparkling wine is part of the value brand that the Mondavi family created to counterbalance its Napa Valley lineup of higher priced varietal wines.

Mondavi has never been a major player in sparkling wine circles, but it’s putting a nice first foot forward with an all-chardonnay sparkler made from grapes grown mostly in the Lodi appellation.

No one is going to be fooled into thinking this is fine French champagne, but for a big crowd, this wine will get the job done at a price that won’t blow your budget out of the water.

Suggested retail is $10 a bottle, but you can probably find it on sale for a buck or two less at any large liquor outlet and/or supermarket. In fact, on the Mondavi Woodbridge website, you can buy this sparkler at a 20 percent discount.

This is a good sipping wine. There’s a bit of citrus edge on approach and a bit of creaminess on the tongue. It’s not sharp or too acidic, like some low-priced sparklers, nor is it too sweet — making it a good foil for most lighter-flavored appetizers.

Good to Go, in a Box

I’ve been searching for a good boxed wine from California, and until recently I hadn’t really found one to recommend. That changed when I got a box of It reserve chardonnay for review.

The first thing I noticed was the color. The wine practically glows golden-yellow in the glass. And, it tastes good.

Like the sparkler above, this is an all-chardonnay wine grown in Lodi. There’s a nice touch of oak to complement the fresh citrus taste.  It also has a touch of pineapple that’s quite pleasant in the mouth.

Retail price is about $16 for a three-liter box, which works out to $4/bottle. A great bargain for a decent wine that would work great with appetizers or by itself.

The boxed wine is the brainchild of a company called pl360 Beverages in Colorado, which has also developed a lineup of wine brands from Germany, Spain and Argentina.

Soon-To-Be-Released Red

Urban Legend Cellars in Oakland has a whole new lineup of wines since my last review. I recently re-visited the winery, in an industrial area near Jack London Square (621 4th Street) and got an opportunity to try some of the newest offerings.

It was love at first taste when I tried the unreleased Urban Legend 2009 grenache ($25) from Amador County. I’ve liked other wines from this region, mostly zinfandel and syrah, but this lovely grenache takes the cake.

It’s a smooth, medium-bodied red wine full of cherry flavors with just a tiny bit of tannic edge to keep the fruit in check.

The grenache is tasting great now and I believe it will only get better with a bit more bottle age. Check with the winery for release dates.

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