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In Good Taste

As Christmas shopping wraps up without a gift in sight for that "has-everything" recipient, wine can restore holiday cheer.

Defying trendiness but riding a wave of popularity, with price points for nearly every budget, wine is nearly always in good taste. And it's one-size-fits-all.

But navigating all the styles, varietals and labels associated with wine can challenge the novice oenophile. Rogue Valley bottle shops offered their suggestions for the season's most gift-worthy, locally produced wines.

If the giver likes a wine, the recipient almost certainly will, says winemaker Linda Donovan, also partner in Pallet Wine Co. of Medford.

"Don't choose something that you haven't tried," she says.

Timid tasters, however, may gravitate toward wines judged by professional palates, and several wine shops put award-winning bottles at the top of their lists.

Deemed "best of show red" at this year's Southern Oregon World of Wine Competition, RoxyAnn Winery 2008 Tempranillo is practically sold out around the valley, says Jack Kendrick, wine director for The Jacksonville Inn. This Spanish varietal has aromas of black cherry, smoke and earth and flavors of black tea, tobacco and blackberry in the Medford winery's vintage. The inn's wine shop has a few bottles left for $29.95 apiece.

Awarded a gold medal at WOW, Schultz Wines 2010 "Homeward" Chardonnay, is a Pacific Wine Club customer favorite, says club owner Victoria Guantonio. The white wine, described as crisp with ripe pear and grapefruit on the nose and an elegant finish, sells for $19.99 at Pacific Wine Club on Medford's Heathrow Way.

Medals and awards for wines can distinguish one bottle for another but, because they've become somewhat commonplace in the industry, shouldn't be taken for gospel. Similarly, words like "reserve" and "vintner's select" can denote higher quality, but that's not a given, especially on New World wines.

More useful, perhaps, is language on the label about wine style and its alcohol content. Lower-alcohol wines, in general, are lighter.

Fruit-forward but lighter than many reds is EdenVale 2005 Dolcetto, recommended by Jessica Clements, bartender at Liquid Assets Wine Bar in Ashland. The versatile Italian varietal sells for $25 at EdenVale Enoteca on Ashland Plaza.

Also considered a lighter red, pinot noir is a "switch-hitter wine that has lots of flavor but isn't heavy on oak, alcohol and tannins," according to Natalie MacLean, author of the new book "Unquenchable: A Tipsy Search for the World's Best Bargain Wines."

"That's what I usually recommend as a go-to wine if you're not really sure and you don't want to choose something that's off the scale one way or the other."

While Oregon is regarded for pinots, the Rogue Valley is popularizing Bordeaux-style blends. Guantonio cites 2008 Eliana Reserve, 56 percent merlot, 28 percent cabernet franc and 16 percent cabernet sauvignon ($29.99 at Pacific Wine Club).

Del Rio and RoxyAnn clarets are perennial favorites with customers of Harry & David Country Village, says wine steward Scott Zager. Both wineries have won awards for that style. RoxyAnn's 2008 vintage is $26; Del Rio's 2009 is $35.

While Kendrick counsels wine shoppers to start off with price point, MacLean attests that more bucks don't necessarily translate to better bottles. High-quality, local wines, such as Valley View, can even be found at Costco, says Kendrick, adding that the inn's wine-shop prices are the same as local grocers'.

If all else fails, fall back on tradition. Sparkling wines — Champagne, prosecco, cava — have long been poured for celebrations. These bubblies may be the purview of Europe, but there are local sparklers, too.

Deliver that special holiday "pop" with LongSword Vineyard 2010 Accolade Semisparkling Chardonnay, says Guantonio. The bubbly, priced at Pacific Wine for $19.99, originally was created for the Applegate vineyard owners' son but goes with any festive occasion, as well as spicy food.

A bit costlier at $50 is a bottle of blanc de blanc from Applegate's John Michael Champagne Cellars, ventured by Lorn Razzano, co-owner of Ashland Wine Cellar.

"His sparkling wines are the best-kept secret I think in the Northwest," says Razzano.

The bottle-fermented blend of pinot blanc, chardonnay and pinot gris made in the widespread brut style won gold and best of class at the 2005 Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition. At $25, John Michael's blanc de noir claimed in 2003 the only gold medal awarded to a sparkling wine in the history of the Oregon State Fair Wine Competition, according to the winery's website.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

The wine shop at The Jacksonville Inn carries many local wines that make tasteful holiday gifts.. - Bob Pennell