Story by Dave Eckert
The holidays are here, and for many of us that means more drinking, more entertaining, and more stress! I’m here this month to try and remove some of that stress, at least when it comes to picking the perfect wine for that dinner, brunch, holiday party, or host and hostess gift. To make matters even simpler, I’ve broken my wine picks down into categories: Sparking, White, Rose, and Red.
Nothing sets the tone of a meal or an event better than a glass of bubbles. Sparkling wines are festive, great with all kinds of food, welcome at all hours of the day and night, and surprisingly affordable.
Prosecco is a great place to start as these Italian sparklers are consistently good, widely available, and easy on the pocketbook. Lamarca, Da Luca, and Solingo are three of my “go to” Prosecco choices.
There are plenty of delicious, well-priced sparklers to be found domestically as well. Two of my personal favorites are the Balletto Brut Rose and J Cuvee 20 Brut, both from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.
I’m not generally a fan of California Chardonnay, but there are few wines that round out the holiday table or party better than Cali Chards.
For a crowd-pleasing quaffer, try the Popcorn Chardonnay, a creamy, buttery wine that’s sure to please the Chardonnay lover in any room.
Bonterra’s Organic Vineyards Chardonnay from Mendocino County is more understated. Sure, there are flavors of butter and cream, but also green apples, pears, and citrus. Celebrating 30 years of organic farming, Bonterra is one of my favorite estates in California and winemaker Bob Blue is one of the true “good guys” in the business.
Lastly, a new Chardonnay discovery for me, the Scott Family Estate Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco, Dijon Clone. It’s a mouthful to say and a mouthful to drink. I paired it with a bowl of lobster bisque recently and it was perfect.
I’ve spent a lot of time extolling the virtues of dry Rose, which might just be the most flexible of your holiday wine choices. Versions from France’s Rhone Valley and Provence are generally lighter and drier, while domestic bottlings often carry more weight and alcohol. I like them all, but for the best of both worlds try the Julia’s Dazzle Rosé, a Grenache-based wine from Washington State. Great to drink on its own, this $20 wine will pair with just about anything from cheese, to cured meats, to the classic holiday sugar cookie!
For a lighter red wine, go with a Pinot Noir. And, for one you can actually afford turn to New World offerings such as the Trinity Hill Pinot Noir from New Zealand and the Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir from California.
For medium-bodied reds, I generally look to The Rhone Valley in France, Rhone-style blends from California, and Merlots, both domestic and foreign.
From the Rhone, I simply love the flexibility and flavors of the Les Dauphins Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Organic Rouge. At $18, this wine is built for everything from ribs off the smoker to a prime rib out of the oven.
Among my favorite domestic Rhone-style bottlings are the Dutcher Crossing Winemakers’ Cellar Kupferschmid, a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah, and Kale’s Broken Axle Stagecoach Vineyard, which is comprised of Syrah and Grenache. Neither of these wines are easy to say or to find, but they are both worth the effort!
Onto Merlot, where I’ve found a plethora of terrific holiday choices. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites: Provenance Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot, Rutherford Ranch Napa Valley Merlot, Benziger’s Sonoma County Merlot, Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Merlot, Robert Hall Paso Robles Merlot, and the Masciarelli’s Marina Cvetic Merlot from Italy’s Abruzzo region!
Finally, I leave you with a Cabernet Sauvignon, or at least a Cab Blend. Chateau Noaillac is a Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, this is a lovely wine that pairs well with meat, mushroom, and all types of strong cheese. Plus, at $20, it gives you a little wiggle room, perhaps the chance to pop one of those Merlots or Rhone blends and compare the two wines side by side. Now that’s a holiday tradition I can get behind!