Well before the presents are wrapped, I’ve already made the most important decisions of the holiday season — which wines to pop open for our Christmas Day meal.
I know not everyone shares my love of all things vinous. And, unlike Thanksgiving where nearly every meal centers around a turkey, Christmas culinary traditions vary widely.
So, to accommodate as many palates and menu options as possible, I’ve “curated” a wine list for your perusal. For easier consumption, I’ve broken things down into categories.
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Every meal, in my opinion, should start with a sparkling wine, especially around the holidays. Nothing is as festive or delicious as bubbles, and these days there are more choices, in more price ranges, than ever.
Bianchi Brut, $21.99. A rather rare sparkling wine from Argentina, the Bianchi Brut is a new discovery for me. Primarily composed of Chardonnay grapes with some Pinot noir and Viognier in the blend, this wine is on the lighter side of the sparkling specter, offering a delicate nose of tropical fruit and white peaches with just a hint of toasty oak.
Carpene Malvolti Rose Spumante, $20. Carpene Malvoti is celebrating 150 years in 2018, and this lovely Rose Spumante is the perfect way to mark the occasion. Fresh, fruity and lively, this sparkler is meant to wake up the palate and get it ready for all that’s yet to come. I’m not generally a big fan of Spumante, but if they made more wines like this one, my opinion would change in a hurry!
For those of you having turkey or perhaps a crown roast of pork, I thought I’d toss in a few white wine selections. Chardonnay is always a go-to pick for the chicken, turkey, or pork, but there are many other options that work just as well, if not better.
Mastro Greco Campania, $16. From an estate owned by Piero Mastroberardino comes this sumptuous white wine from Italy’s Campana region. Made with 100 percent Grecco grapes, the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks to emphasize its tropical fruit and white flower notes. Light to medium-bodied, the Mastro Greco is the perfect “gateway” wine into fuller-bodied whites and reds.
Chateau de Parenchere Bordeaux Blanc, $14. While most of the attention in Bordeaux goes to its world-renowned red wines, there are some positively lovely whites produced in Bordeaux, primarily in the Graves region. This is one such gem, a blend of Sauvignon blanc, Semillion, and Muscadelle. Another wine fermented in stainless steel tanks to emphasize its fruit and acidity, this Bordeaux Blanc is light and lively with a surprisingly long finish. It’s a great way to start any holiday meal!
McMannis Chardonnay, $11. I was pleased to happen upon the wines from McManis Family Vineyards, a family-run operation in Ripon, California, south of Stockton and north of Modesto. The family, now in its fifth generation, sustainably farms 3,600 acres of vineyards. What I enjoy about this Chardonnay, other than its very affordable price, is its restraint. In these days of over-extracted fruit and high alcohol wines, the McMannis is layered and balanced. This is medium-bodied Chardonnay will pair well with any white meat.
Harken Chardonnay, $15. At the other end of the Chardonnay spectrum is Harken’s version. One hundred percent barrel fermented and with the grapes seeing 100 percent malolactic fermentation, Harken’s is a butter bomb, loaded with tropical fruit flavors and aromas, buttressed by tons of toasty oak. For those who love an old-school California Chardonnay, the Harken is just the ticket!
Light and medium-bodied red
When I think Christmas, I think Pinot Noir. There’s something about the juicy fruit, the silky smooth tannins, and the long, lingering finish that makes pinots perfect for the holidays. Here are two of my favorites, both from Monterey County.
Hahn Family Wines SLH Pinot Noir, $30. Crafted from grapes throughout the Santa Lucia Highlands, one of California’s greatest growing regions for Pinot Noir, this wine is the perfect introduction to the fuller-bodied, well-balanced wines from the appellation. While Hahn makes several single vineyard SLH Pinots, this one has the perfect weight and right price tag to earn its way onto your Christmas Day table.
Austerity Monterey Pinot Noir, $17. Both less complex and less expensive, the Austerity Monterey still showcases the qualities of this cooler climate region. With more emphasis on ripe raspberry and cherry fruit and less emphasis on power, the Austerity Pinot hits all the right notes for me. I’m thinking roast duck with this beauty.
Chateau de Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone, $17. I had to sneak a Cotes du Rhone in my holiday roundup as they are among my favorite wines on the planet. This version, made entirely of Syrah grapes, is richer, fuller and more complex than your standard Cotes du Rhone. With notes of spice, dark red fruit and some floral notes, the Chateau de Saint Cosme is perfect for that Christmas Day roast, or, in the Eckert household, the beef tenderloin in a garlic, shallot, cream, red wine reduction sauce.
Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem, $15.99. A mouthful to pronounce, this wine, made by superstar winemaker Michel Chapoutier, is one of the great wine values the world over. The estate is in the heart of Roussillon in the sprawling Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France. The name means “hidden gem” in Latin, and though I don’t think you can truly call a wine I found at Costco hidden, the name and the label do make it harder to wrap your mind around the wine. Occultum Lapidem is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, each vinified in cement vats at low temperatures. This process allows the grapes to macerate longer, leading to a gentler extraction. The resulting wine is both elegant and spicy with layer upon layer of rich, dark red fruit. Occultum Lapidem drinks like a wine costing two or three times more, and it is perfectly at home with any red meat.
Groth Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, $65. Yeah, I know, $65 is a lot. But I just had to give this wine some love. I’ve enjoyed Groth Cabernets since the 1980s, and though this current release, a 2015, is very young, it is the ultimate expression of Oakville Cabernet and a shining example of what Napa Valley does best! With layers of juicy dark fruit, red currant and notes of dried cherries, the wine clearly has the capability of aging for 10-20 years, but as balanced and ripe as it is right now, it will be hard to keep your hands off it. Groth’s Cabernet Sauvignon would be perfect with a rack or leg of lamb.
I could go on, but all this writing has made me thirsty! Happy holidays everyone!