I know when the holidays are nearing because of the massive number of pitches, press releases and (a small amount) of wine start coming in. I’ve been getting these since before Halloween, just like the department stores putting out Christmas decorations super early. Much of the wine is Pinot Noir. I certainly understand that. It’s a safe and expected choice.
Not knocking Pinot here, but I like to introduce my guests to interesting wines, wines that you might not otherwise try with a holiday dinner. One year my pick was a Pinot Meunier, a wine that is mostly blended into Champagne. It was a big hit. So no Pinot Noir or Chardonnay here, just my top 10 recommendations to try along with the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. All the wines, except for a big splurge on a Sauternes from Chateau Coutet (hey, it’s the holidays), sell for $25 and less.
1. Seguras Viudas Brut Rosé NV ($10). Start the holiday on a festive note with a pink sparkler. Seguras Viudas makes some of the best value bubbles around. This brut rosé is made from Trepat and Garnacha grapes (no Pinot Noir here!) in the Cava region of Spain.
2. Bagrationi 2007 Reserve Brut ($25). This sparkling wine hails from Georgia – not the state but the country. Bagrationi says this is the oldest wine producing area in the world, dating back 7000 years. This vintage bubbly is made in the traditional method used in Champagne, and is fruit forward with tiny bubbles. It’s made from a whole lota grapes you’ve never heard of. A fun wine to try.
3. Pine Ridge 2010 Chenin Blanc – Viognier ($14). Chenin Blanc is well-known in France’s Loire Valley as the white grape that makes up Vouvray. Pine Ridge blends Chenin with Viognier and the wine is crisp, with a perfumed nose from the Viognier. The winery is also donating $1 for every bottle of any of their wines sold online, at the winery, retail shops and restaurants to Feed a Family.
4. Lioco 2010 “Indica” Rosé ($16). Lioco makes wonderful Chardonnay, but you should really try their Rosé of Carignan. It’s fruity with strawberry and roses. This can also be an aperitif wine instead of sparkling wine.
5. Chateau Coutet 2006 Sauternes ($75). A dessert wine for turkey and all the fixings? Yes please. Chateau Coutet Sauternes wines are made with botrytised Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that develop the botrytis mold, which makes the juice much more concentrated and sweet. The grapes look ugly but they produce a floral and honeyed liquid gold. You’ll be surprised and pleased how well this wine goes with candied yams, cranberry sauce and roast turkey. Keep on hand for dessert too. Note this is 750 ml so it will go a long way.
6. Dashe 2010 “Les Infants Terribles” ($24). While Oakland, CA based Dashe is known for Zinfandel, in their hands, Grenache turns out lively and fruity, despite being named “a rebel child.” Native yeast kick-started this wine from grapes grown in Dry Creek Valley. (Received as a sample)
7. Recuerdo 2010 Malbec ($22). I recently tasted this wine at a fashion show held at Ma(i)sonry in Napa Valley . Recuerdo is the new label from the owners of Blackbird Vineyards and it’s made in Argentina by a team lead by Santiago Achaval, a highly regarded winemaker. One of the little bites served with the wine was a turkey and cranberry slider; I had an aha! moment – it was a great pairing. Recuerdo’s aromatic Torrentes ($15) is also worth serving over the holidays.
8. Earthstone 2009 Merlot, Sonoma County ($8.99). Behind the label of Earthstone, a small, family owned winery you find a soft and plush red wine, made with sustainably farmed grapes. Super easy drinking and sure to be a crowd pleaser. This is one of Whole Foods Market’s Top 10 wines for the holidays and is a good value.
9. 2009 Decoy Merlot, Napa Valley ($25). This Merlot, from Duckhorn Wine Company, is a bit of a splurge, but is even more hedonistic and plush but most appropriate for sharing with friends and family. It’s time Merlot gets the recognition it deserves as a holiday wine. (Received as a sample.)
10. 2010 Pacific Rim Vin de Glaciere ($14 for 375 ml). This is a sweet end to a fabulous meal. For Pacific Rim’s dessert wine, Riesling grapes were frozen after picking, then pressed while still frozen. Like a Sauternes, the frozen Riesling delivers a slightly sweet floral and honeyed wine. It’s dessert in a glass. A little of this concentrated nectar goes a long way.