Planning a dinner party? Are you having good friends stop by for a glass of wine before a show? Is it your night to host appetizers and drinks before going to a restaurant with your wine loving gourmet group?  It’s time to discover a few special wines that are more than ho-hum, perhaps those that have a touch of elegance, yet fit your budget, be it meager or generous.

But first, what do we mean by “elegant”?  One dictionary describes the word “elegant” as “pleasingly graceful and stylish in appearance or manner, as in she looks elegant in black; gracefully refined and dignified, as in an elegant young gentleman, or literary style; graceful in form or movement, as in an elegant wave of the hand; appropriate to refined taste, as in a man devoted to elegant pursuits”.

Another definition, finally, refers to wine: ”excellent, fine, superior, as in an absolutely elegant wine”. OK, but those words are ambiguous and were not what I was searching for.

Fortunately, my colleague, Madeline Puckette, from the popular site Wine Folly, has a smart, wine-centric description: “When a wine writer says elegant he means that the wine is NOT big, NOT fruity, NOT opulent and NOT bold. Off-vintages are often referred to as elegant vintages as they have higher acid and tend to have more ‘green’ characteristics. Elegant wines may taste like crap when they first release but they also tend to age better. Elegant is that retired ballerina who puts the fat-n-sassy retired cheerleaders to shame.” Thanks, Madeline! I love it!

You may have your own definition, but here’s mine (and sorry if I’m waxing a bit poetic)…

“An elegant wine has mesmerizing flavor and balance with just the right amount of fruit, acidity, tannic structure (if it’s a red wine), and alcohol to complement any dish – it’s not big and bold or wimpy and weak. An elegant wine prompts me to sit back and say “ahhhh”, then anticipate another sip. An elegant wine is deliciously affordable or is so incredible that I don’t feel the least bit of guilt that it’s over the budget. An elegant wine evokes an emotion, whether I’m sharing it with good friends and family as a celebratory drink or I’m having a weeknight pour while reading a book on the porch. An elegant wine is all of these things in my glass.”

Following are a few elegant wines, five of which were sent as samples, that I’ve tasted and loved. I hope you choose one or two that fit your budget and enjoy a touch of elegance in your glass.

Classic Choices under $20

Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie 2014 (sample)Of course I had to begin with a wine from the Loire Valley! This has been a delightful favorite that I’ve purchased a few times since my first sip. Light aromas of pear, honeydew, and brioche were mesmerizing and I couldn’t help but think of my trip to the Loire Valley when I was in college. Zesty acidity and breezy salinity with flavors of ripe, juicy melon, lime, and stone fruit helped create an incredibly refreshing wine that anyone will enjoy poolside, at the beach or (wait for it…) by a crackling fire with a cheese platter by your side. Cost is $15.

elegant wines
Troon Red Label Zinfandel 2014 (sample) I was completely taken aback with this Zinfandel. Not your parents’ swarthy zin, this fresh, bright wine from the Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon was one that I couldn’t get enough of…really, I had help, but the bottle was empty by the end of the night. Wafting from the glass were aromas of black cherries, orange peel, purple flowers, and sweet spice. That first sip was an unexpected delight with deliriously brilliant flavors of ripe cranberries, milk chocolate, nutmeg, and spice lifted with mouthwatering acidity, firm tannins, and a lively, spice-filled finish. Cost is $20.

elegant wines - troon zinfandel

Chic Favorites under $50

Stoller Family Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2014 (sample) – I’ve written about wines from Stoller Family Estates before and I have no intention of stopping…as long as I discover wines as lovely as this. Clean and refreshing, this Chardonnay was just beautiful on the nose and palate. Just-right acidity and oak paired with notes of apricot, pears, and stone fruit led to a long and satisfying finish. If you’re a member of the “Anything But Chardonnay” club, this keeper may change your mine…and palate. Cost is $35.

elegant wines - stoller chardonnay
Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (sample) – From the Spring Mountain district in Napa Valley, Smith-Madrone has inspired me once again to appreciate and find well priced wines from this iconic region. Estate grown and bottled, I found aromas of dark, rich blackberries, ripe plums, and cherries, all of which were jam-worthy, and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, notes of more dark berries, chocolate, black pepper, and herbs were woven with structured tannins, bright acidity, and a long, rich finish. Decant and fire up the grill…this find will be just what you need with that barbecue. Cost is $48.

elegant wines - smith madrone cabernet

Beautiful Selections under $100

La Victoire Brut Rosé Champagne (NV) – This stunning beauty was my first pour at Buena Vista Winery’s tasting room during a recent trip to Sonoma. Amazing. Predominantly Pinot Noir blended with Chardonnay, both from (mostly) Grand Cru vineyards in Bouzy, Ambonnay, and Louvois, I consider this a classic. Aromas and flavors of ripe and juicy red fruits, brioche, and a long, memorable finish inspired me to ask for another pour. And yes, it’s from Champagne so it’s called…Champagne. Cost is $85.

elegant wines - La Victoire Brut Rose Champagne
Force Majeure Vineyard “Estate” Red Mountain Syrah 2013 (sample) – Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of having lunch with the delightful Todd Alexander, Winemaker at Force Majeure Vineyards, and his lovely wife Carrie. (You’ll love the article – click here). I was thrilled when he gave me a bottle of the 2013 vintage of this Syrah, but more so when I began tasting! Ever so alluring on the nose, exotic spice, hints of granite, and notes of dark red fruit were up front and center. On the palate, white pepper, more lush spice, and layers upon layers of fruit (think rich plums and blackberries) were lifted by bright acidity and structured, velvet-like tannins. The exquisite finish lingered; it was exactly what I was hoping for. This is a wine that could be held for a few more years, yet it’s just exceptional right now. Cost is $70.

elegant wines - force majeure syrah

I’d love to read your description of an elegant wine and taste those you’ve enjoyed. Please leave your comments below. 

Cheers! ~ Cindy

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  1. Reply

    Love your definition of elegance in wine. I could not agree more. Muscadet is the par excellence elegant wine. I love its subtle minerality and how it does waves in your mouth.

    • Cindy Rynning


      Thanks, Marco. I wholeheartedly agree with your description of Muscadet! Cheers!

    • Cindy Rynning


      Thanks, Leeann. We just can’t get enough elegance in our lives, can we?

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