By Celia Strong
Yes, here we are the last week before Christmas. All of us rushing around like crazy, probably looking for presents for friends and family. And probably not finding what we want or what we can afford. Isn’t that the way it always works? And, the whole awful process just leaves us ready to get home, or to the closest restaurant, so we can sit down and have a glass of wine. We may not be ready for Christmas, but we sure have earned that glass! But, think about this for a moment: A bottle of wine, for as many as we can, may be the perfect gift. They come in different colors, different sizes, different prices. And, if the person you give one to doesn’t like it, they can re-gift it really easily. So, looking back over the last year, here’s my list. All of these bottles I would be happy to receive (hint, hint?) which makes them all good gifts.
These are in no particular order, so let’s start with Santi Rose. First of all, this gift could be used immediately on Christmas day. (Really, all the wines on this list can be opened as soon as you like!) Especially, with this wine, if there is going to be a ham for dinner. (White meat with white wine, red meat with red wine, so, of course, pink meat with dry pink wine!) This rosé comes from the Veneto region in northeastern Italy. It is, actually, a rosé of Bardolino, made from mainly Corvina grapes. This wine is clean and crisp and fruity, and one the prettiest shades of pink. This wine is best served chilled, about an hour or even more in the fridge. And, it may make a rosé convert out of even the strongest hold out against rosés. For $10.99.
Going back a bit, a little bit, in time, I relish the wines from Justin in Paso Robles. Their Sauvignon Blanc has long been a favorite. This wine is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc and shows the potential that this part of California has to offer. The flavors are tropical and citrusy — usually you don’t get both in a wine from this variety — and minerally too. It’s like three good wines all rolled into one. Oysters and fried turkeys are both really happy with it. Oops, I mean you’re really happy eating oysters or fried turkey with this wine. Or opening presents. Or whatever. For $12.99.
Remember The Count from Buena Vista Winery in Carneros? Buena Vista was founded by “Count” Haraszthy, a self-promoter from Hungary who saw the potential for grape growing and wine making in California and worked for years to get it going. According to some, like his sons, he was the first to bring Zinfandel grapes to the state in 1852. This wine is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel. It has some good body and ample tannins, backed by smooth fruit flavors, and, for history’s sake, a picture of the Count on the label. Red meat, cheeses, even turkey and its fixings all go well with this wine. So does Christmas evening when you sit down for a break. For $17.99.
From Argentina, I still really like sipping the Trivento Amador Sur white wine. This is mostly Torrontes, a white variety that is part of the Malvasia grape family and is unique to Argentina, with small amounts of Viognier and Chardonnay. Floral (jasmine and rosebuds) and peach flavors fill your glass with this wine, and a bit of lemon zest, along with a clean, crisp acidity that makes it very pleasant. Still good with your Christmas dinner (hams and turkeys), and nice all morning for the cook too! For $10.99.
Another red wine I’m always happy with is the Steele Cabernet Franc. This red grape, is lighter and smoother than Cabernet Sauvignon, but it seems the former is a parent of the latter. Cabernet Franc is one of the five red varieties allowed in Bordeaux, and it is used there, and in other wine regions around the world, to soften the texture and tannins in Cabernet-based wines. This version from Lake County in California is a great example of what the grape can do — rich and smooth and unctuous. Game birds and lean red meats go well with it. For $15.99.
Going back, a couple of years even, we must not leave off the list the Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier. This grape is a cousin to Pinot Noir. It has the same basic flavors as the Pinot Noir but its wines are fuller bodied. Chandon is the Napa, California winery owned by the Moet and Chandon company from the Champagne region in France. The three varieties that can be used in Champagne — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier — are also all used for their California sparkling wines. In addition, Chandon makes still wines (wines without bubbles) from each variety. The Pinot Meunier is tremendous! Still a great wine with poultry, ham and red meat. Usually, this wine costs a bit more. For years, though, we’ve had a deal on it because all of us liked it so much. Maybe, hopefully, you remember this is the wine that was declared “better than sex” at a tasting years ago? For $19.99.
Well, there’s my list. Mostly. I’m thinking, just in case someone needs to get me a really special present, I should mention a few special wines. We all know that by “special” I mean more expensive. But, someone has to get them, so I might as well hope. So here goes.
From Argentina, almost everyone has tried the Tahuan Malbec. Well, they have a reserve level, Siesta Malbec ($29.99), that is great! It shows the range that Malbec wines can achieve. It is big and full and heavy, but no intense tannins like you get in Cabernets.
From Spain, Finca Monasterio Rioja at $54.99. We’ve talked about several other wines made from Tempranillo, but this is the wine that got me hooked on this Spanish variety. It will always be the yardstick I measure other Riojas with. This wine and a hunk of Machego cheese would make a perfect Christmas day. For me, anyhow.
From New Zealand, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is great. This is the one wine that launched its country into the wine business. It is way more complex, flavors and textures, than most other Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, but that’s why it’s $24.99.
From France, the Burgundy region, one of the best Chardonnays is Latour’s Corton-Charlemagne. This wine is a Grand Cru, meaning the highest legal rating in that region, and usually costs well over $100 wholesale. One of the stories about this wine is that Charlemagne owned grapes in this town, red grapes, but tore them up and replanted with white grapes. Why? Because the red wine stained his glorious beard. (Interesting priorities!) The town also produces Grand Cru reds, from Pinot Noir, but this white gives new meaning to Chardonnay. At $109.99, we do have a deal on this wine, for that special someone.
Finally, I always always always like good bubbles. But we’ve run out of room on this list. So, next week we can talk about those. If you need one, though, for Christmas, just stop by and ask me.
In the meantime, I hope this list helps. And, for sure, I’m going to open at least one of these wines on Christmas day. Even if I have get it from my best friend, which is me anyhow. Happy Holidays.