Holiday Wines: What Vintages to Give and Drink Now

A prominent wine critic notes the best of what Hollywood's boldfaced are drinking -- vintages sure to provide good cheer as either presents or party options.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Hollywood has its share of discerning wine palates, as a number of moles in the vino industry attest. What these names are sipping these days makes a good place to start when putting together gift lists and finalizing entertaining menus this season.

Gwyneth Paltrow drinks Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir ($56), a bold,moderately priced fruit bomb redolent of California sun, perfect for grilled salmon with rosemary. A choice that tastes well above its $23 price is Bellus’ Girasole, a new super-Tuscan created by Jordan Salcito, a former wine directorat New York City’s Crown. In this vintage, merlot and cabernet sauvignon are blended into a Tuscan’s usual sangiovese, resulting in a lush wine with an iron backbone. Jay-Z and Beyonce are fans. The hip-hop mogul is also partial to Barolo, having reportedly gone on a recent buying spree in northern Italy that included stocking up on white truffles and a selection of Barolos — a sublime match — with a super-delicious one by Giacomo Conterno among his top picks. Barolo, made with the nebbiolo grape, is a traditional Italian Christmas gift, and though the revered winery’s 2005 Giacomo Conterno Riserva Monfortino will set you back $450 or so (at Wally’s in Westwood), it will earn you saint status with the receiver.

PHOTOS: What Wines to Give and Drink Now

Speaking of nebbiolo, film critic Elvis Mitchell fancies the grape and drinks vintages from Roagna, an extremely old-fashioned producer in the Barbaresco region. Among its offerings, Paje is a big favorite of his, aged in chestnut barrels instead of oak, allowing for the linseed, plum, tar and rose flavors of the grape to come through ($75,The Wine Hotel, Hollywood). Andif you’re a Burgundy lover like actress Gong Li, you could do no wrong choosing Domaine Leroy. Madame Lalou Leroy is a legendary producer in Bourgogne, and the Domaine Leroy Vosne Romanee Les Beaux Monts Domaine from theunderrated vintage of 2008 wouldbe a smart selection ($1,200, often in stock at The Wine Hotel).

“Burgundy does not need to be that pricey,” says Los Angeles chef and famous pop-up restaurateur Ludo Lefebvre, who in January will be a mentor on ABC’s cooking competition show The Taste. “On my Christmas wish list is 2011 Maison Ilan Morey-Saint Denis, premier cru, Les Chaffots” ($90, Woodland Hills Wines). This rare wine has a great plotline: Its maker, Ray Walker,is writing a memoir about how a nice black kid from the Bay Area headed to Nuits-Saint-George, France, and went Burgundian.

Sara Rue, known more for playing Claudia Casey on the sitcom Less Than Perfect than for her wine prowess, has a secret weapon in Jill Bernheimer, owner of Melrose Avenue wine shop Domaine LA,whom she calls upon to dream up the perfect vino gift. “I’m not drinking now!” says Rue, who is currently expecting her first child, “but I still need to buy gifts.” Bernheimer’s Burgundy tip for those who want to spend less but pack name-brand punch (and yum factor) is Clos des Vignes du Maynes’ 2011 Cuvee 910, from vineyards that have been in production since monks began cultivating them during the 10th century. At $35, it’s fantastic on its own or with food.

STORY: Cate Blanchett in Negotiations to Play Evil Stepmother in Disney's 'Cinderella'

Thinking about New Year’s already? Cate Blanchett drinks the hard-to-get Andre Clouet Grand Cru Cuvee 1911 ($100, The Rare Wine Co., Sonoma), but an easier-to-find bargain, providing bubbles of floral elegance perfect for caviar or oysters is Francis Boulard Les Murgiers ($50, Buzz Wine Beer,Downtown). For parties in need of quantity, Germain Gilabert Cava Brut from Spain, organic no less, is charming ($15, Domaine LA).

Small-production cult wines still reign high as gifts (partly because the receiver instantly will know what you spent), and any bottle from Sine Qua Non in the Santa Rita Hills makes a statement as a grand gesture from about $300— a rep for Silver Lake Wines says Hollywood heavy-weights frequently ask for them. But there’s a revolution going on in the American wine scene, calling for vintages of more balance (some would say sanity),lower alcohol, less brawn and less winery manipulation. Try selections from Arnot-Roberts, Los Pilares, Dirty & Rowdy, La Clarine Farm or Martian Vineyards. Getting a trio of them might not break $100 (at K&L Wines, Hollywood), but points for insider savvy easily will top 100. For extra credit, score Scholium Project’s The Prince in His Cave ($40). Asked who among the stars drink his wines, proprietor Abe Schoener, a former philosophy professor, tells THR, “There’s a rumor Jonathan Demme once bought a ton of it. Oh, and Anne Hathaway once wore the Prince.”

Wore it?

“Someone accidentally spilled a glass of it on her at a party.” Let the merrymaking begin.