Story by Dave Eckert: @eatsanddrinkswithdave
To be sure, this has been a very strange holiday season. There are few gatherings with family and friends, no office parties, and, for me anyway, little of that “festive” holiday feeling. Still around my house, there is food, good food, and plenty of good wine to wash it down. As a wine lover, one of the things I appreciate most about the season is the variety of culinary delights that accompany the various occasions. Nearly everyone feasts on turkey for Thanksgiving. But Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and anything else you may celebrate, come with a myriad of dining delights. It’s a veritable cornucopia of culinary creations that afford a plethora of wine pairing options. So many opportunities. So many choices. So, what are we waiting for? Here are some holiday wine selections I highly recommend broken down into categories to make the selection process, should you choose to follow my advice, even easier. Enjoy!
From the famous Taittinger Champagne house comes this absolute beauty of a domestic sparkling wine. Nuance, elegance, and complexity are packed into each glass of this stunningly beautiful and delicious sparkler. You could easily sip this as an aperitif, but it really shines with cuisine. Try it with poached salmon and you’ll see what I mean.
Los Dos Cava Brut NV ($12 SRP)
As a category, Spanish Cava provide some of the best value among sparkling wines the world over. This is a terrific example. For $12, you can get all the pleasure of a terrific sparkler: a fine mousse, intricate flavors and aromas, and brilliant acidity, without suffering the sticker shock many other sparkling wines leave you with.
Marqués de Caceres Cava NV ($15 SRP)
From one of my favorite wineries on the planet comes this charming Spanish Cava. Pale straw in color and brimming with a bouquet of citrus fruit and fresh-baked bread, this is a lovely way to get the party started even if there is no party this year.
Mongeard-Mugneret Bourgogne Chardonnay ($30.99)
Almost as much fun to say (or try to say) as it is to drink, this is a classic example of a French White Burgundy from an outstanding producer. Sure, I could have walked you up the ladder with one of their Premier or Grand Cru bottlings, but why not just enjoy the purity and pleasure of this 100-percent Chardonnay without the pain of the price tags of the higher end offerings? From vines averaging 25-years of age and stony limestone soils comes a wine fit for a King or Queen. Firm, full, elegant, and amazingly deft on the palate, the Mongeard-Mugneret Bourgogne Chardonnay would be the perfect accompaniment for roast chicken or turkey, or soft cheeses such as brie or camembert. Bravo!
Paco & Lola Celebration Albarino 2019 ($25 SRP)
So, you’re going to attempt the Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve dinner this year, or maybe you’re just getting it to go from Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar (yes, Jax is offering the feast for carry-out)? Well, have I got the wine for you! I believe that Albarino, a lovely, crisp, acidic white wine from the north of Spain, is among the best pairings for seafood you will find. This example, with hints of herbs and flowers accompanied by the typical bracing acidity of all Albarinos, is a great place to start!
Louis Jadot Chablis ($27 SRP)
From the excellent house of Louis Jadot comes an equally excellent expression of the limestone and flint influenced vineyards of Chablis. The northernmost of Burgundy’s appellations, Chablis produces bright and fresh wines with terrific acidity and mineral and citrus aromas and flavors. This wine, which doesn’t break the bank, is a terrific example of all that I love about Chablis. Try it with chicken or lobster, and you’ll fall in love with Chablis too.
From the collection of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) wines, this 100-percent Chardonnay from the Languedoc region in the south of France was a tasty surprise to me. Approachable yet complex, this Chardonnay comes from the coolest plots of the Aussieres’ vineyards. It is a great example of an Old-World Chardonnay with notes of apples and stone fruits, subtle hints of oak, and outstanding balance. Buy this beauty by the case!
Chalone Vineyard Estate Chardonnay ($30 SRP)
Nestled in the Pinnacles appellation of Monterey County, Chalone knows a thing or two about producing outstanding Chardonnay. Unlike any other California Chardonnay I’ve tasted, the Chalone Estate bottling reflects the minerality and high tone fruit flavors unique to the appellation and its mature vineyards. Burgundian in style, yet unique in its expression, the Chalone Vineyard Estate Chardonnay has earned a placed on my table, holiday or not!
A no-guilt selection for the holidays and beyond, this refreshingly crisp Oregon Pinot Gris is laced with fresh pear and apple flavors and buttressed by lovely palate-cleansing acidity. And at $15, you can afford a second bottle, which you will need because bottle number one will go quickly.
Irmana Grillo ($12.99 SRP)
Closing out my white wine selections comes this affordable and versatile Italian bottling. Never hear of Grillo? Well, imagine if Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay had a baby and the child had mom’s bright, crisp flavors and dad’s tropical and stone fruit notes. A bit of a stretch? Sorry. Just take my word for it, this is a delicious bottle of wine.
Georges Duboeuf “Flower Label” Beaujolais Villages ($12.99 SRP)
A great way to start with Beaujolais, one of my favorite wine producing regions, the Georges Duboeuf “Flower Label” Beaujolais Villages is soft, fruity, and balanced. A crowd-pleaser with a crowd-pleasing price, this is a red wine for those who say they don’t like red wine. And this is a wine the rest of us can, and will, appreciate. A “go to” wine in the Eckert household for years.
Chateau Des Jacques Moulin-a-Vent Beaujolais Cru ($25)
At the top of the Beaujolais wine chain are the crus, specific areas within the Beaujolais region that produce distinctive, high quality, terroir-driven wines. At the top of the crus are Morgon and Moulin-au-Vent. Chateau des Jacques Moulin-au-Vent, a wine I just purchased a case of, is one of the darkest, most complex, and age-worthy Beaujolais wines I’ve encountered. If you’ve always thought Beaujolais was defined by the light, quaffing wines of Beaujolais Nouveau, buy a bottle of this and watch your head explode.
I’ve been a fan of La Crema for years, and their Los Carneros Pinot Noir bottling has been a consistent favorite. If you enjoy your Pinots in a New World-style, you will love this wine. Aromas of jam, coffee, and tobacco are followed by a cornucopia of dark fruit flavors and a long, decadent finish. This is a serious wine meant for serious cuisine right up to, and beyond, my wife’s famous beef tenderloin served in a red wine and shallot sauce!
Mohua Pinot Noir ($23.99 SRP)
From the southern-most wine producing region in the world, New Zealand’s Central Otego, the Mohua Pinot Noir was a stunning revelation for me. While most New World Pinot Noirs strive to be either Burgundian or aggressively fruity and dark in their style, Mohua charts its own path. Made from a blend of grapes from Central Otego’s three distinct growing regions, this wine is complex and concentrated, yet fruity and approachable. The fact that’s it’s a great value is a nice bonus!
Umberto Cesari Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva ($22 SRP)
Made with the great grape of Tuscany, this Sangiovese from a producer in what’s generally accepted to be the heart of Italian gastronomy provides surprising depth and power. Made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, and aged 18-months in Slavonian oak barrels and six months in steel tanks, the wine is intense yet elegant with floral and coffee notes on the nose and dark fruit and earth on the finish. A delicious discovery for me.
Sticking with Sangiovese, this time from its most notable region, Tuscany, comes this gem from Montecucco. The tiny region of Montecco can be found in Tuscany’s Maremma region, adjacent to its more famous neighbor, Montalcino. ColleMassari is one of the most important producers in Montecucco, and this wine is a product of their dedication to producing wines of quality and substance. If you love Brunello di Montalcino, but can’t afford the escalating prices, round up a bottle of this. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Vital Wines, The Given ($28 SRP)
The Given is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah-the most recent vintage being 67% Cab and 33% Syrah. Like most of the red wines from Walla Walla, Washington, The Given isn’t for the faint of heart. Terrific Northern Rhone hints of smoked meat and white pepper are met by cocoa and tobacco before departing with a long and intense finish. I love Vital for its commitment to charity and community, and I love Vital’s Wines ‘cause they’re just so damned tasty!
Ironstone Reserve Old Vines Zinfandel ($16.99 SRP)
I filmed at Ironstone back in the days when I was producing and hosting my television show, Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert. I even took in a show in its amphitheater. But it’s the wines that make the strongest impression. Consider this wine, made from 60-80-year-old Zinfandel vines. This is a big, bruiser of a wine, augmented (as if it needed that) with 10% Petite Sirah. Got a big holiday roast and love big American red wine? This is the ticket!
Fonseca Bin 27 Port ($16.99)
For me, there’s nothing like finishing off a meal with some chocolate and a glass of port, unless, of course, you’re going to offer me cheese and another glass of red wine. But I digress. Fonseca is one of the truly great port houses, and its Bin 27 is a truly great value. A ruby-style port blended from reserve wines; Bin 27 has everything you want in a port at a very non-port-like price. It is intensely dark, rich, and sweet, but never cloying. Blackberry and cassis dominate, but harmoniously so. What can I say, it’s just a beautiful bottle of port!
I recently had this wine with a butter pecan cake my wife baked me for my birthday, and it was among the more memorable food and wine pairing experiences I’ve had! The 10-Year-Old Tawney is a blend created by using tawnies with an average of 10 years of aging. The traditional tawny color belies the freshness and intensity of the wine with sweet notes of dried apricots and aromas of other mature, even overripe fruit. Just writing this has me thinking of that cake and a glass of this Tawny!
Croft Vintage Port ($90 SRP)
I know this is an expensive wine to close my article with, but there’s just nothing in the world like a fine vintage port, and Croft is among the finest. Dense and concentrated, Croft’s Vintage Ports can be cellared for decades. When you do open the bottle, you will find a dark, intense, and sweet wine with a firm tannic structure and beautiful balance. Food wise, I’d keep things simple as to let the wine take the spotlight. Perhaps a chocolate silk pie or some well-aged cheese. And don’t forget to invite your old pal, Dave.
Happy Holidays and Goodbye 2020!