Story by Dave Eckert
Now that I’m older, much older, my Christmas anticipation has shifted. While in the past, I looked forward to all of those presents under the tree, I now dream of the Christmas meal my wife will be providing and the wine matches that fall to me. So many choices with more coming every year. To save you some angst, I’ve whittled my Christmas wine picks down to some of my personal favorites in four categories: sparkling, white, red, and dessert. Most of these wines can be sourced locally and all will provide an excellent accompaniment for your holiday meal.
This is my personal favorite category for Christmas wines for many reasons. Sparkling wine is festive. It is excellent with a wide variety of cuisine. And thanks to an ever-increasing range of offerings, sparklers are available in a myriad of price points.
Castello di Gabbiano Cavaliere d’Oro Prosecco Brut ($13 SRP): Hailing from the Northeast portion of Italy, outside Venice, Proseccos are among the most affordable and accessible sparkling wines on the planet. The Cavaliere d’Oro Prosecco Brut is a new wine for me from a longtime favorite Italian producer, Tuscany’s Castello di Gabbiano. Part of “Cavaliere d’Oro” wine collection, a selection of wine from the best winemaking regions across Italy, this Prosecco is soft and round with ripe tropical fruit flavors and good acidity. It’s perfect for starting or ending the Christmas meal with a glass and a toast.
Bouvet Brut (SRP$15): The Bouvet Brut from France’s Loire Valley has been one of my “go to” sparklers for years. The cuvee consists primarily of Chenin Blanc and presents a deep yellow color, white flowers on the nose (roses?), and lovely lingering fruit and acidity on the palate. At $15 retail, it’s also a killer value.
Domaine Carneros Brut Rose ($42 SRP): My wife’s favorite domestic sparkling wine producer, Domaine Carneros is owed by the famous French Champagne house, Taittinger. Their Brut Rose is made primarily with Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay in the mix for structure. At more than $40 retail, Domaine Carneros’ rose is no bargain, but it delivers plenty of bang for the buck. This is one of the best domestic sparkling roses I have tasted. It would be a wonderful compliment to any holiday meal.
Champagne Henriot Brut Rose ($70 SRP): If you really want to step up your game this year you might consider popping a bottle of the Champagne Henriot Brut Rose. This is a classic rose from a classic Champagne house. Elegant and intense, the Champagne Henriot Brut Rose is delicate enough to accompany smoked salmon and structured enough to stand up to your prime rib. Outstanding!
Imagery Chardonnay ($19.99 SRP): Soft, fruity, and layered with tons of fresh tree fruit aromas, the latest version of the Imagery Chardonnay delivers everything I want in a domestic Chard- tons of rich, ripe fruit, gobs of fruit aromas, and just a kiss of oak. This is a flexible wine that is best paired with roast turkey or chicken.
Jean Dauvissat Père et Fils Chablis ($35 SRP): I happened upon this wine when I discovered the wine shop, Elden Sélections, which specializes in small, family-owned Burgundy estates. Dauvissat is a famous name in Chablis, and Elden Sélections is a must stop for any Burgundy lover. This is a village Chablis that delivers at a premier cru level. Fabien Dauvissat has crafted a deep, fruity, concentrated wine with the classic Chablis minerality. The wine screams scallops to me, but it would not be uncomfortable with a lovely holiday turkey,
Vincent Giradin Bourgogne Blanc Cuvee Saint Vincent ($29.99): I would drink any of Vincent Giradin’s outstanding white or red Burgundies any day of the week. They are among my favorite wines on the planet, period! However, keeping cost in mind, for you and for me, I’ve chosen Giradin’s least expensive and most accessible wine, the Bourgogne Blanc Cuvee Saint Vincent. Like the Dauvissat Chablis before it, this generic Bourgogne produces flavors and aromas more associated with premier cru Burgundies. Richer and riper than the Chablis (by nature), Giradin’s Bourgogne lays out a classic Burgundian palate of right citrus fruit, nuanced notes of toasty oak, and plenty of earth and minerality. Better with seafood and poultry, perhaps have this for the Christmas side dishes or just a white wine to cleanse your palate as you prepare for those heavy reds.
Cedar + Salmon Willamette Valley Pinot Gris ($20 SRP): A new producer for me, Cedar + Salmon make a line of Oregon and Washington State wines that are excellent across the board. This Pinot Gris, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, is my favorite of the bunch. An Alsatian-style Pinot Gris, Cedar + Salmon’s version hits your nose first with perfumed aromas of white peaches and apricots. The palate, loaded with lemon and orange peel, is next before a bright, clean finish wraps thing up in a tidy, delicious bow. A great wine to pair with cheese prior to the full meal.
Mer Soleil Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay ($32): I’ve written before of my fondness for the wines of the Santa Lucia Highlands. They are sophisticated, elegant bottlings that are neither shy nor overbearing. This Mer Soleil bottling, part of the Wagner Family of Wine, is a perfect example of that style. Layered, with notes of brioche and roasted nuts, the wine is creamy and rich, yet extremely well-balanced. SLO’s hallmark acidity helps keeps things in check as does the wine’s touch of minerality. Yes sir, may I have another?
Sea Slopes Pinot Noir-Sonoma Coast ($35 SRP): I had a bottle of the Sea Slopes Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir about a month ago and it blew me away. I’ve long enjoyed Pinots from the Sonoma Coast for their “wildness” and bracing acidity, but this wine goes to 11! Opulent and expressive in its nose and palate with wine comes alive with bright notes of dark fruit (if that makes sense). There’s so much going on it’s hard to single out the components. But, make no doubt about it, the sum of those components is a wine much greater than its individual elements. Bravo.
Marques de Casa Concha Merlot-Maule Valley, Chile ($19.99 SRP): The Marques de Casa Concha line from Concha y Toro is my favorite line of bottlings from Chile’s largest and most important producer. This Merlot, from the Maule Valley, which affords a lengthy growing season and provides large swings in temperature from daytime highs to nighttime lows, is chocked full of deep dark fruit aromas and flavors. For you Cabernet Sauvignon lovers who claim to not like Merlot, this one just might change your mind.
Marques De Murrieta Reserva Rioja ($30 SRP): There aren’t many categories of wine I enjoy more than Reserva Riojas. They offer depth, elegance, and finesse while providing real value. Marques De Murrieta produces an excellent Reserva Rioja year in and year out. This latest release, a 2015, embodies the ripe dusty plum qualities I love in a Rioja along with notes cedar, tobacco, dried cherries, and spice. Put it all together and you’ve got one delicious wine for Christmas or any other day of the year!
J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon ($35 SRP): I first discovered this terrific Paso Robles wine and producer while filming a segment of my PBS Television show, Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert. With holding of more than 2,600 acres spread across five appellations of Paso, J. Lohr, has multiple options when blending its wines. This Cab comes from three different estates, each bringing something special to the wine. The final package is a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon with cocoa and dark fruit on the nose and the palate, a long finish, and silky, well-integrated tannins. A wine of this quality would likely cost you double elsewhere.
Fonseca Bin 27 Port ($16.99 SRP): We have sticky toffee pudding for dessert on Christmas, and for me, there is one wine that shines with my wife’s masterpiece-Port. You could go with a well-aged Vintage Port, but honestly, why spend the money when you’re likely suffering from palate fatigue anyway? Plus, for less than $20, you can get this lovely Fonseca Port. Fonseca’s Bin 27 shares the style and character of all Fonseca Vintage Ports at a fraction of the price. Rich and luscious, this is the perfect way to end your holiday meal!
Miles Madeira 10-Year-Old Rich ($45 SRP): Madeira is a category I’m still learning about and experimenting with, but this 10-year-old rich has piqued my interest. With a dark chestnut color with some tints of gold, the wine coats your palate with layers of dried fruits and spices. This wine, much like a Tawny Port, would be perfect with any dessert containing nuts. I’m wondering how it would fare with the sticky toffee pudding? Maybe this is the year to discover.