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updated: 1/26/2012 7:51 AM

Hard-to-find wines real gems

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Holiday wine consumption can be all about immediate gratification, with quick trips to your retailer for a last-minute gift or a quick nod to the wine waiter to get the party started.

January gives us time to relax, to wander retail aisles and peruse wine lists, making contact with retailers and sommeliers as you go. Gems like these below are hard to find, but once tasted, they'll be harder to forget.

"Episode" 2002 (USA): Texturous and plump Napa Valley fruit pulses against a Bordeaux-like structure, with swelling flavors of berry, plum and earth defined by tensile, mouthwatering tannin. The search for this collectible -- which may be enjoyed now or cellared for increased elegance -- led me to the "online store" at ($299) and to Chicago's new Tasting Room Napa Valley (61 E. Oak St.; 312-929-2299;

It's fitting that suburbanites and international visitors alike should be treated to America's finest wines on Chicago's Gold Coast; Chicago-based Tony Terlato helped catapult Napa's stature to where it commands equal regard (and sometimes equal price) as regions that had a 2,000 year head start.

R. Lopez de Heredia "Vina Cubillo" 2005 (Spain): Attenuated grace is a hallmark of Rioja's traditionalist, matured six years at the winery before release. These intriguing flavors of meat, stewed fruit and earth are a classic match to steak and chops yet many wine buyers are shy of the decidedly Old World earthiness and complicated label. This wine's currently listed for $22.99 at Move fast before the excellent 2005 vintage sells out.

Muga Rosado 2010 (Spain): Judging by retail sales, Americans have caught on to the rich refreshment and exciting food pairings of dry rose, even if many restaurateurs haven't. Through the winter, these wild strawberry and cherry flavors make a mid-weight cocktail, to enjoy with rich an/or spicy appetizers such as charcuterie or spicy chicken wings. As the weather warms, the bright acidity will refresh seafood, salads and sushi. Look for it at Meson Sabika, Naperville's tapas institution, fine wine shops and specialty grocers such as select Whole Foods Markets and Chicago's Bockwinkle's (about $14).

Santa Rita "120" Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Chile): Wine pros pride ourselves on finding the best bottle for the buck, especially when the buck is our own. While surveying my local chain grocer, I spied this long-respected value collecting dust on the bottom shelf, hidden from sight behind a display of eggnog. Back at home, the wine that made America love Chilean Sauvignon Blanc lived up to its reputation, with dynamic citrus zest and herbal flavors accented by bright acidity. It can be yours, too, for well-under $10 per bottle, but you may have to move some displays.

• Mary Ross is an advanced sommelier and certified wine educator living in Chicago. Write her at

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