Great Wines for Around $45

Darn it, I deserve a good bottle of wine!

There are times when any wine will do. You know what I mean. A stressful day, a fight with a friend or family member, a PTA meeting, watching Project Runway.

But for those occasions when you want—nay, deserve!—something more upscale, we’ve consulted some North Shore wine experts to make sure your hard-earned money doesn’t go to waste.

I hate that feeling when you go to the store, pick out what you hope will prove a lovely bottle of wine, shell out $45, then open it only to find you’ve made the wrong choice. We are confident that these recommendations will save you from that fate— especially important with the holidays approaching.

So roast that leg of lamb, invite guests over for dinner, and open up one of these wines with the confidence that it’s been pre-screened and certified delicious.

The Sommelier Recommends …

Evanston’s Laura Levy Shatkin is a certified sommelier and wine journalist, as well as the owner of Wineing Women, where she arranges private wine tasting parties and coordinates group wine trips, then blogs about it all. I asked Laura for a few go-to favorites in the $45 range, and these were her suggestions and tasting notes.

Plumpjack Winery Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley, Calif., either 2008 or 2009 vintage ($49.99 at
Aromas of warm apples and pear cobbler, with a hint of cinnamon and spice coming through on the finish; pairs well with cheeses, fish and white meats.

Fiddlehead Cellars Pinot Noir Cuvee 728, Santa Rita Hills, Calif., 2006 or 2007 vintage ($35.99 at
Sustainability is the guiding force behind this velvety pinot; aged 16 months in French oak; bursting with flavors of cherry and dark berries, with a hint of white pepper; excellent with holiday fare.

NV Phillipponnat Brut Royale Reserve, Champagne, France ($9.99 at
Hints of honey and nutmeg with the brightness of baked apples; this wine is a beautifully balanced sparkling gem with a luscious, creamy texture (mostly Pinot Noir with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier) that will be the perfect start to a celebration.

The Wine Marketing Guru Suggests …
Kathy Newlands moved to Winnetka a few years ago after many years spent in the California wine industry, and she knows her stuff. So I was thrilled when she agreed to share some of her favorite $45 wines with us.

Given her customary zeal, it wasn’t surprising that Kathy ran out to her local Dominick’s to make sure these wines were in stock, so you wouldn’t be disappointed! And she was very excited to discover some big bargains among them.

Ramey Russian River Valley Chardonnay
($48, on sale for $37):
This wine expresses bright fruit: pear, melon, citrus and green apple. Elegant and refined but not overworked with a great balance of fruit and character.

Ramey Napa Valley Cabernet ($48, on sale for $37):
Big and bold but more austere tannic reflection versus its Napa counterparts. Juicy and deeply extracted red fruits with hints of chocolate and licorice on both nose and palate. A tremendous buy!

Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($51, on sale for $41):
Year on year, Farrell delivers an elegantly refined Pinot Noir; reflects plum and dark cherry with a great balance of oak and fruit. A hint of spice on both the nose and palate.

Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($66.99, a big splurge, but oh-so-delicious):
A benchmark wine, rich in color and aromatics with deep rich fruit on the nose and palate. Well integrated and elegant without being overblown. Yummy with a big steak!

The Wine Merchants Advise…
Skokie’s Schaefer’s Wines, Food & Spirits has long been a mecca for serious wine buyers. Manager Sandra Peterson and Sommelier Janel Syron took some time with MIBs to recommend a few bottles that they’ve enjoyed.

Chateauneuf du Pape Domaine de la Solitude 2007 ($49):
Sensational perfume of kirsch, cassis, plums and licorice; full-bodied, broad, savory and layered, a huge rich wine that could cellar for 2 or 3 years. Great with stews, wonderful for the season.

Flowers Chardonnay 2008 Sonoma Coast ($44.95) or Pinot Noir ($49.95):
Everything from this producer is “awesome,” Sandra says. When she splurges on a bottle, this label is one of her faves.

Solera Pedro Ximenez Alvear Sherry
Brown sugar and caramel flavors, amber color, nutty, viscous but not cloying. Sandra served this with a pineapple upside-down cake and the crowd went wild.

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