Chow Town

Celebrate Christmas with wines from America

I’ve probably tortured you enough with regards to wine parings for the holidays, but I couldn’t resist one last go around.

After a column featuring all international selections, consider this my patriotic wine column, as I give you an All American holiday wine lineup, one that I would be happy to trot out at the Eckert household any Christmas season.

As previously written, our own personal Christmas feasting begins with a Christmas Eve meal consisting of an upscale Irish stew where we use chops in place of the traditional stew meat.

We usually start off with some cheese to whet our appetites, perhaps a triple cream Mount Tam or Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery in Marin County, Calif., or maybe a slightly sharper sheep’s milk cheese from Weston’s Green Dirt Farm.

Either way, or both ways, it’s a terrific start to two days of gorging. People talk about eating and drinking too much on Thanksgiving, but for me, it’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that put me over the edge.

Cheese is a nice way to ease me into my approaching food coma. All three of the aforementioned cheeses pair best with white wine. It would be easy enough to recommend a Chardonnay and move on to the next selection, but I thought I’d give you that, and a little more.

Most California Chardonnays just aren’t my cup of tea, though I will say Michaud, from the Chalone appellation in Monterey County, was a revelation.

I visited with Michael Michaud some years ago while filming an episode of my television show, Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert. I won’t say how much of his wine we drank — a lot — while grilling out and listening to coyotes in the distance, but every wine he opened, every grape variety he produced, was terrific — none more so than his Chardonnay.

We had three vintages of Michaud Chardonnay that night, the youngest of which was at least five years old, well past the bedtime of the vast majority of California Chards. But, these wines were just hitting their stride with beautifully balanced fruit, bright, crisp acidity, and long, long finishes. They are the match for any creamy cheese you can throw at them, including Cowgirl’s Mount Tan and Red Hawk.

The Green Dirt offerings, meantime, have a bit more earth and bite to them, maybe not enough to warrant a Sauvignon Blanc as a goat’s milk cheese would, but it requires something a little different than Chardonnay.

May I suggest the Treana White from Paso Robles? Treana is a Rhone-style blend, featuring Marsanne and Viognier, the Viognier providing the lift and the Marsanne the backbone.

The resulting wine is a beauty, perfectly balanced between fruit and acid, earth and ripeness. It goes flawlessly with the Green Dirt cheeses. As for Christmas Day, and kicking off the dining, as it says on bottles of shampoo, “rinse and repeat.”

So, that brings me to the main course, the aforementioned Irish Stew on Christmas Eve and the beef tenderloin in a shallot, garlic, cream, red wine sauce for Christmas.

It’s really like shooting fish in a barrel here. You can pick almost any full-bodied red wine and do just fine with either dish, but I love a challenge, so I’ve been searching for that always elusive wine and food epiphany. I may not get you there with my recommendations, but I think I can get you in the neighborhood.

For the Irish Stew, a Cabernet Sauvignon, or at least a Cab-based wine, will fit the bill nicely. Of course, California, especially Napa Valley, is the King of Cabernet, though I find many California Cabs to be over-oaked, over-extracted, and overly alcoholic. They have a tendency to overwhelm, rather than enhance, the cuisine.

I’m going to recommend two Cabs here, one from Napa and one from neighboring Sonoma — a highly underrated source of excellent Cabernet.

From Napa, check out the Cornerstone Cellars 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I discovered the wines of Cornerstone several years ago while filming for Culinary Travels in Napa.

I’ve known Craig Camp, one of the founders, for more than 20 years. To say I’m jealous of his life choice and direction is a huge understatement, but rising above that, Craig has helped create a real winner.

There’s not a dud in the entire Cornerstone portfolio, which includes wines from both Napa and Oregon. They are all balanced with great varietal character and a real sense of terroir, or place.

The Napa Cab, which is a blend of grapes from different vineyards throughout Napa, brings the qualities of the grapes from the varied appellations to the bottle, and it’s a wonderful marriage. It’s not inexpensive, but it’s definitely worth seeking out.

Hopping over to Sonoma County, and into the Dry Creek Valley in the north of the country, I turn to a longtime favorite of mine — Dry Creek Vineyard. Now celebrating 40-years of winemaking, Dry Creek is known for its excellent Zinfandels, both old vine and single vineyard, but I’ve always appreciated their deft touch with Cabernet.

At $25, Dry Creek’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is everything you want in a Cab-solid, ripe dark fruit, plenty of structure, and a nice dose of oak to hold it all together. Perhaps not as complex as the Cornerstone, The Dry Creek Cab is nonetheless a well-made wine that provides a great food and wine experience at a price that’s more than fair.

Finally, a little Christmas cheer and a recommendation or two for my wife’s unbelievable beef tenderloin in that amazing sauce. The secret here is definitely in the sauce, which not only makes the dish, but also makes it more complicated to pair with wine.

However, your intrepid food and wine reporter is always up for the challenge, especially when it means opening multiple bottles of wine. So, I come to you today with two options, one a little lighter, one a little fuller-bodied, but both excellent wines and more than compatible companions for the tenderloin.

On the lighter side, how about a Pinot Noir? Not big enough for beef, you say. The wine will be overwhelmed by the dish, you scoff. I say, give it a shot before you condemn my Pinot to an early death.

I was going to recommend the Michaud Pinot Noir, but I figure I’ve already given them enough love (though his Pinots are incredible).

Instead, let’s head up to Oregon and King Estate, a winery I love and whose wines are always floating around the Eckert household. Their Pinots are particular favorites of ours, especially the Signature Pinot Noir, which has plenty of stuffing for the beef and sauce, along with gobs of fruit with nice hints of spice and earth.

If you like Pinots, you will love this wine, and if you don’t, then try my next, and final recommendation.

For this, I’m going to head to Paso Robles in California’s Central Coast, and a wine from the Perrin Family collaboration with its American importer, Robert Haas.

The winery is called Tablas Creek Vineyard, and the emphasis is Rhone varieties, right in the wheelhouse of the Perrins, who produce one of the great wines in the world, the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chateau Beaucastel.

I like all the wines from Tablas, but I absolutely


their Esprit de Beaucastel. The Esprit, a New World version of the Chateau Beaucastel, is a blend of the four estate-grown grape varieties, propagated from budwood cuttings from the Beaucastel estate in the Southern Rhone Valley.

From their website, there is this description: “Dark red fruit, earth, and richness from the Mourvèdre, with additions of Grenache for forward fruit, approachability and lushness, Syrah for mineral, aromatics, and back-palate tannins, and Counoise for brambly spice and acidity.”

Too esoteric for you? Try this description — it’s yummy. What’s more, it’s perfect with the beef tenderloin, and if there’s any left after the meal, which there won’t be, it’s not bad on its own either.

Merry Christmas!

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.