Five Wine Styles to Splurge On

Chicago-based Sommelier Dan Pilkey shells out extra for these stellar wines.


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The holidays usually mean buying presents for others—either pricey bottles or large-format bargain wines that can serve the whole dinner crowd. Now that the giving season is over, consider gifting yourself these prized wines.

Bonnes Mares (Pinot Noir), France, $200–$900

As much as any grand cru in Burgundy, Bonnes Mares delivers out-of-this-world aromatics combined with persistent palate length and polish. At just 15 hectares planted, you’ll find a range of producers, but holdings remain small enough for them to focus their attention on making flagship efforts. Drink Burgundy with anything rich and flavorful, like duck, lamb, salmon or foie gras.

Erste Lage (Dry Riesling), Germany, $50–$100

Many German wines are sweet, but don’t overlook the power and elegance of Grosses Gewächs or Erstes Gewächs. These rich yet dry wines open a whole new dynamic for pairing Riesling with food. Look to fish and salad combinations to be breathtakingly good, or dishes incorporating nuts or nutty flavors.

Vintage Port (Single-Vintage Fortified Dessert Wine), Portugal, $100–$250

Serving a vintage Port is more work (opening and decanting, making sure to avoid filtering if possible), but the end result is well worth it. Vintages are only declared about two or three times a decade, and the wines (because of fortification) are virtually bulletproof. Splurge on old vintages from the 50s, 60s and 70s, which can be surprisingly affordable. Relax by the fire with someone you love and an artisanal cheese plate or homemade dessert.

Super Tuscans (Internationally Styled Red Blends), Italy, $100–$450

These wines always impress and leave me contemplating terroir and modern winemaking. I love the Italian producers who are utilizing the traditional French varieties and making something that is their own. Super Tuscans let you understand how much the soil, climate and terroir can change the profile of these simple grapes. Super Tuscans combine the versatility of Merlot and Sangiovese, the balance of fruit with Syrah, and the sheer power and elegance of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, but the percentage of each variety used is decided by the producer. Super Tuscans are bold wines that can match easily with rustic Italian flavors like herb crusts or blackened/ charred dishes. Spend some time with an Italian cookbook and seek out recipes like costolleto di vitello alla griglia con porcini conservati (grilled veal chop with preserved porcini mushrooms).

St.-Estèphe (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot Blends), France, $50–$350

Bordeaux is complex. It has many winemakers, soils, styles and choices. Over the last few years, because of some shifting in the climate, my buying strategies have been focused on St.-Estèphe. Because of its clay soils, water retention is increased, and in hot years, St.-Estèphe can produce great wines. Open these with hearty winter cuisine—game birds with squash, huckleberries and the like. These are definitely wines worth paying the corkage fee for so you can enjoy them with an elegant meal prepared by a fantastic chef.


Elysian Sommelier and Fine Dining Manager Dan Pilkey has over 15 years of high-profile wine hospitality experience in California and beyond, and most recently was lead sommelier for Addison Restaurant at The Grand Del Mar Resort in San Diego.

For Pilkey’s tips for a San Diego stay, click here.

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