With the holidays in the offing, it's crucial to be a strategic sipper. Holiday cheer is relentless, with a month-long string of celebrations — office parties, neighborhood gatherings, Christmas dinners and New Year's Eve festivities. A smart list of holiday reds will keep your palate in good spirits.
What follows are tasty wines to explore during this festive season. Give yourself the first gift of the holidays - knock-out reds to uncork. If some of these bottlings have rolled over into a new vintage, trust the current vintage. All of these producers are strong and have a good track record.
- Four Vines, 2010 The Sophisticate Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.8 percent alcohol, $20. A bossy zin with concentrated blackberry bramble fruit. Briary, with notes of black cherry, licorice and cracked black pepper. Tangy finish.
- C.G. Di Arie, 2008 Sierra Legend Syrah blend, 14.1 percent, $35. A syrah blend with great bones. Complex, with notes of blackberry, cherry, chocolate, vanilla and coffee. Edgy.
- Rodney Strong, 2010 Alexander Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5 percent, $28. A cab with ripe tannins and a seamless texture. Notes of red fruit, toast and spice. Lingering finish.
- Quivira, 2010 Quest, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 15 percent, $38. A big-boy zin with ripe fruit and yet it manages to be balanced. Has depth. Zesty finish.
- Enkidu, 2010 Tina Marie, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 14.4 percent, $45. An elegant pinot with refreshing acidity. Notes of cherry, herbs and spice. Great minerality. Nice length.
- Arista, 2010 Mononi Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 14.4 percent, $45. A striking pinot noir that is complex and silky. Aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, violet and chocolate. Lingering finish. Impressive.
- Buehler Vineyards, 2009 Papa's Knoll, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.1 percent, $25. An impressive cabernet with complexity. Aromas and flavors of blackberry, plum, currant and black pepper. Great concentration of fruit. Lingering finish. A steal for the price.
- Renwood, 2010 Premier Old Vine Zinfandel, Amador County, 15.5 percent alcohol, $20. A full-throttle zin with layered flavors. Notes of black fruit, roasted coffee and cracked black pepper. Full-bodied. Ripe.
- Charles Krug, 2009 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.8 percent, $24. A seamless merlot with complexity. Layered flavors of blackberry, cherry, mocha and mineral. Ripe tannins. Lingering finish.
- Waterstone, 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5 percent, $24. A tasty cab with a lot going on. Aromas and flavors of currant, blackberry, mocha and toasty oak. Firm tannins. Ripe.
- Frank Family Vineyards, 2010 Napa Valley Zinfandel, 15 percent, $39. A rustic zin with bold flavors. Has a great concentration of fruit. Notes of blackberry, plum, anise and cracked black pepper. Zesty finish. Ripe, but not over the top.
- Graziano, 2009 Mendocino Syrah, $18. A syrah with layered flavors. Notes of plum, boysenberry, white pepper and toast. Balanced, with firm tannins. Nice length.
- Trione, 2009 River Road Ranch, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 14.2 percent, $35. An elegant, seamless pinot noir with notes of cherry, herbs and spice. Has depth. Impressive.
- Paraduxx, 2009 C Blend, Napa Valley Red Wine, 14.5 percent, $48. A tasty blend with concentrated flavors. Notes of blackberry, cassis, a hint of plum, herbs and black pepper. Seamless texture. Lovely.