Five Wines to Have on Hand for the Holidays

When the holiday season rolls in, time is short and demands are high. Happily, wine is there to support the food, family and friends in a dynamic role that ranges from subtle to celebratory. We’ve rounded up some of the high-demand holiday happenings for bringing a bottle to share and given a handful of our favorite recommendations to get the party started.

Last-minute Hostess Gift 

The specs for this bottle typically lie in the under $20 category and ideally should be super versatile with a variety of appetizers and go-to dinners. If it’s a holiday gathering, chances are good that the bottle will be opened on the spot and ready to roll with whatever festive holiday dishes or seasonal h’ordeuvres are gracing the table. Nothing says, “thanks, happy holidays, glad-to-be-here” quite like a bottle of wine at the door. To turn the gift up a notch, consider leaning towards a lesser known region or grape – which has the added bonus of morphing into an easy (and educational) conversation starter.

Top Pick Wine: To roll crowd-pleasing character, food-friendly nature and somewhat exotic region all into one welcoming price point, reach for Pazo Senoran’s 2016 Albarino. Albarino is Spain’s delicious answer to all sorts of tough to pair foods. Bringing citrus appeal underpinned by earthy, fresh cut grass aromas neatly packaged in the elegance and creative palate profile of salinity meets spice and creamy textures – this grape over delivers time and again.

The Office Party

Colleagues after hours and dressed to impress, the wine should be easy to enjoy and able to stand up to some curious scrutiny. While food pairing compatibility is always a plus, the “office party” bottle may easily fall into the “stand and sip” sans food category. In that case, keep it fresh, flavorful and capable of being its own conversation piece. To that end…

Top Pick Wine: The 2015 Kaiken Ultra Malbec is brimming with black fruit and carries a dash of mocha in the mix.  Easy food-pairing versatility combined with a fantastic price point make this a no-brainer bottle for the holidays. Conversation points? Glad you asked – ranked #45 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2017.

The Gift of Wine

From snazzy stocking stuffers or an age-worthy collector’s bottle to the high-pressure salute of the annual “boss’ gift,” wine is a fun, fancy and functional foodie gift – perfect for that tricky, typically hard-to-buy-for person on your list. For stocking stuffers, look for the personal-sized split bottles that run 187 ml (about 6 ounces) or turn it up a notch and fill that stocking with a bit more vino in the form of a half bottle of bubbly. For the collector and the boss, check out bottles that are capable of being aged a bit – start your search with California Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux blends, concentrated Amarone, or Piedmont’s Nebbiolo-based bottles, Barolo or Barbaresco.

Top Pick(s):

Pol Roger Brut (half bottle) – The ultimate stocking stuffer: Who wouldn’t love to find a half bottle of Pol Roger’s tucked into the depths of their stocking come Christmas morning? Based on a traditional blend of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, the grapes are sourced from well-known vineyards in Montagne de Reims, Vallee de al Marne, Petite Valle d’Epernay and the Cotes des Blancs for the Chardonnay.

Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2012 – A heady blend of the traditional grape trio, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, was dried on bamboo racks for 3-4 months to concentrate flavor components prior to fermentation. The result is a full-throttle Amarone from one of the best terroirs in Valpolicella Classico.

The Holiday Dinner Wine

Whether it’s ham, turkey, goose or prime rib, holiday dinners offer an outstanding opportunity to open new bottles from a variety of grapes and regions. Opting for a honey-baked ham this holiday season? Great, reach for the full, fruity flavors of a California Zinfandel. Turkey making a second debut at Christmas dinner? Give it a go with Beaujolais or Pinot Noir for red wine fans or a tangy, citrus-infused Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis for white wine lovers. Goose and prime rib, both buddy up well to Bordeaux blends. Traditional tried and true holiday favorites tend to be heavy on the Cabs and Cab-based blends.

Top Pick: Classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2014 Kathryn Hall Cab brings an often-overlooked affordability to the region’s top grape. Easy to like, and even easier to share, this food-friendly bottle promises to bring out the best in prime rib, filet mignon, goose and game at this year’s Christmas Dinner.

Celebrate with Bubbles

Yes, bubbles!! Nothing says ready to celebrate quite like a bottle of bubbly. Whether you are ringing in 2018 or just thrilled to be gathering with a favorite group of people this holiday season, sparkling wines are there for you. All the major wine regions produce their own signature sparkling wine based on local grapes, but for Champagne to be true Champagne, the grapes must be grown and bottled in the region of Champagne, France.

Top Pick: Representing one of the more affordable non-vintage Champagnes from one of the region’s top 10 Maisons, Piper-Heidseick Brut Cuvee brings exceptional consistency based largely on the Pinot Noir grape with diversity from over 100 different crus.

Urge to Splurge? Catch a celebratory sip of Nicolas Feuilatte’s 2006 Palmes d’Or Grand Cuvee in a stunning, black dimpled bottle with matching gift box. Marrying the elegance of Chardonnay and the depth of Pinot Noir, this versatile cuvee is aged for a minimum of 9 years before release.

Wine Guide: Best Wines with Seafood

When it comes to pairing wine with seafood, it’s easiest to start with the weight and texture of the fish or shellfish. The lighter and more delicate the fish, the more you’ll ask the same of the wine with crisp acidity, lean lines and well-managed fruit. For fish with heartier textures and thicker filets, the wine should bring its own weight in terms of body, style and flavor profile.

Fish Style: White, lean and flaky

Think striped sea bass, sole and tilapia. For the leaner lines and flaky, melt-in-your-mouth textures of mild, more delicate fish dishes, opt for a wine that shares many of those same parameters. Light, lean and dedicated to fresh acidity, these key wine components promise to bring out the best in the dish and not overpower the subtle flavors and savory seasonings.

Wine Style: Look for a wine with decent acidity to bring zip and lively engagement to the fish. Best bets include: Austria’s Gruner Veltliner, Spain’s Albarino, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Italy’s Pinot Grigio or its French cousin, Pinot Gris.

Quick Pick: The citrus-driven, lively acidity of Astolabe’s New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 

Fish Style: White, Medium-firm texture

These filets tend to be firmer in texture and thicker in cut. Classic (delicious) examples include: cod, halibut and mahi mahi. When a fish filet has a bit more heft in terms of both weight and texture, it demands the same of the wine. It’s no mistake that a classic pairing for halibut would be a Chablis. The mild, slightly sweet and savory profile of halibut’s filets make it a natural for the engaging acidity and natural soil-born salinity of Chablis.

Wine Style:  In terms of wine, there’s a bit of a range that will work well with the firmer flesh of cod, halibut and mahi mahi. From the contrast of high acidity, medium alcohol and stuffed with citrus Sauvignon Blanc style to the earthy minerality, rounder lines and rich viscosity of Semillon or Viognier this category of fish offers up a lot of flexibility in the white wine range. If the fish carries higher concentrations of oil, then a wine with high acidity will cut through the fatty components and bring a fresh flavor factor to the meal. Keep an eye out for: the dry styles of Viognier, Sancerre, Chablis, Semillon or Albarino.

Quick Pick: The rich, round flavors of Burgan’s 2016 Albarino

Fish Style: Meaty steaks

Salmon, tuna and swordfish come to mind. With heartier filets that often carry intense flavors of their own, turn to wines that deliver rich, round textures. Consider Chardonnay with a bit of oak, or a dry style Chenin Blanc. If the Salmon is grilled or carries earthy undertones in the sauce, then opt for Pinot Noir.

Wine Style:  Best bets include California Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Beaujolais.

Quick Pick: Delights with old-vine intensity and firm fruit character all wrapped up in the yummy palate irony of this lighter-bodied 2015 Beaujolais from Stephane Aviron Moulin a Vent

Shellfish Style: Shrimp, Clams, Scallops, Oysters

With the briny, sweet textures of most shellfish, go-to pairings include Spain’s Albarino – the local favorite for all sorts of wild and assorted sea life in northeastern Spain. Or check out the Loire’s Vouvray or Cava, Spain’s well-priced sparkler, both promise to partner up well with a variety of shrimp, clams, scallops and oysters. Got some serious butter drizzling on the lobster? Grab the creamy textures of California’s oaked Chardonnay to complement the scene.

Quick Pick: A Classic California Chardonnay, best with butter and cream sauce – Rombauer Chardonnay 2016

The Sauce: Why it Matters

While the texture and weight of the fish has a significant bearing on the wine pairing, the sauce is a partner that can’t be ignored. In fact, depending on the sauce’s intensity and ingredients it can become a bigger player than the fish itself. If the sauce leans into heavy butter and cream themes, stick with a wine that shares the same – namely a California Chardonnay with some oak influence. If the sauce steers light and herbal, run with Sauvignon blanc and Gruner Veltliner. Got some red onions or dazzling dill on that salmon? Grab something light and red like Beaujolais or Oregon Pinot Noir.

 

 

Home for the holidays: A six-pack of wines for Thanksgiving

Once again,  the holidays are here and what are we going to do for the various celebrations that are coming upon us? The family is primed for the annual requisite visits. How about expanding this base and say that home is where the heart is, and while it naturally includes family, it may also include special friends and cool neighbors as well. For the first of the big occasions, I have put together a six pack of wines that are sure to add to the pleasures of Thanksgiving.

For starters, the Mumm Napa Brut Rosé is a festive and serious sparkler that will turn all tongues into receptors of joy. This wine shows a beautiful pink color, offers plenty of ripe strawberry flavors, and is crisp in the finish. Begin the evening with this bubbly and you may find yourself with empty bottles early in the evening! Adding to the early evening festivities, the 2016 Leo Steen Chenin Blanc would be an enticing pairing with seared scallops or other shellfish. The wine’s purity of fruit and crispness would bring those seafood entrées alive.

With the appetites energized from the early going and waiting for the main event be it a roast turkey or a prime rib roast, a trio of my next choices would be eager to serve the voracious guests. The 2015 Eroica Riesling would be the perfect white to taking on either of the entrées. This beautifully fragrant white wine, with a slight shading of residual sugar, is crisp and lively on the finish. It is equally adept with handing light and dark meat dishes. By now, I can hear the cries, “Aren’t there any red wines?” Well, yes and I have chosen a pair of elegant reds to work their respective magic. The fresh, bright, and crisp 2014 Palmina Dolcetto will allow the juiciness of the turkey to shine through nicely and the rich finely balanced 2013 Wild Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir will be perfect for those desiring density and elegance.

The wine choice for the meal’s conclusion could be difficult, but the Lustau East India Solera Sherry is prepared to close out the evening on a high note. Pumpkin or pecan pie, ice cream, and evening remaining servings of candied yams will find a lovely home here. This is my six-pack choice for Thanksgiving.

Enjoy!

 

 

The new age of Prosecco

written in collaboration with wine author and consultant  Alan Tardi

If you like wine — and since you’re here on wine.com I’m assuming that you do — you’ve probably heard of Prosecco. You might well have tried it and you might even be a fan, like millions of others throughout the world, but there’s much more to this quintessentially Italian bubbly than most people are aware of. There are a few important things you really need to know to help you find the one you’re really looking for, that is, the one you’re going to enjoy the most.

To begin with, you probably know that Prosecco comes from Italy, in the northeastern corner of the country, but did you know that there are actually three Proseccos? And, while all three share some common factors and are produced in the same general area, there are some critical differences between them. In a nutshell, it comes down to two things: terroir and tradition.

Prosecco DOC, created in 2009, is produced in an extensive area encompassing two regions of Italy — Veneto and Friuli — 9 entire provinces, and 556 towns. Because most of the growing area is located in flat plains and valleys, the yield of grapes per hectare is much higher and many of the vineyards can be (and are) harvested mechanically. Despite the fact that this is a new appellation, Prosecco DOC now accounts for about 80% of all Prosecco produced.

Colli Asolani Prosecco Superiore DOCG, also created in 2009, is a small area located in the hills around the town of Asolo in the province of Treviso. Though wine has been produced here for a long time, until bubbly Prosecco started to boom, the real focus of this region was — and in many ways remains — still red and white wines. The Colli Asolani area currently produces about 1% of Prosecco.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG is a small area consisting of 15 municipalities (most are sleepy villages) in an east-west swath of hills located right in the middle of the greater Prosecco area. This is where the Glera grape — which must make up at least 85% of all Prosecco — first found its ideal home and this where the wine we now know as Prosecco was born.

Grape growing and wine making have been taking place in Conegliano Valdobbiadene (ko-neh-yee-ah-no val-do-bia-deh-nay) for hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years and the vines have been painstakingly handcrafted over time to fit the undulating contours of the hills. Even today, most of the work in the vineyards is done by hand by thousands of independent farmers on small family plots who supply grapes to the 178 wineries. The “Italian Method” of making wine sparkle was developed around the turn of the 20th century at the enology school in Conegliano (founded in 1876, it is Italy’s oldest and remains a vital and important institution to this day) and the very first Prosecco appellation was created by a Consortium of Conegliano Valdobbiadene producers in 1969.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene occupies an exceptional geographic position: the Dolomite Mountains just behind the hills blocks the harsh northern temperatures while the Piave River Valley at the foot of the hills forms a plain extending south all the way to the Adriatic, bringing warm sea breezes that ventilate the vines and create a unique combination of Alpine and Mediterranean influences.  Even within the small area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene there is a tremendous diversity of microclimate due to its complex geological history.  The Conegliano (eastern) section was shaped by glacial activity from the Dolomites that shaved off the tops of the hills and carried it downwards along with lots of other glacial material extending the hills to the south (you can see this as a heart-shaped bulge on the map). For this reason, the altitudes here are lower, the slopes gentler, and the soils are denser, with lots of ferrous and morainic deposits. The western Valdobbiadene side was little affected by glaciers, so the altitudes here are higher, the slopes are much steeper, and the soil contains an abundance of marine deposits (the entire area was once under water). In between these two extremes is a myriad of environmental variations.

The long viticultural tradition and great diversity of terroir within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area is reflected in the wines that are made here. In 2009 a sub-category called Rive (ree-vay) was created, which indicates a Prosecco DOCG made entirely from grapes of a single village or hamlet. The grapes must be hand-harvested, the maximum yield of grapes is lower than that of a regular Prosecco DOCG, the wine must be vintage-dated, and the name of the Rive — of which there are currently 43 — must appear on the label. Besides the village/hamlet designations, a Prosecco may also be made from grapes of a single specific vineyard (this is a winery decision and not part of the officially regulations). Then there’s the legendary Cartizze subzone, known as Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze, an entire south-facing hillside in Valdobbiadene of 106 hectares with over 140 proprietors.

While we all think of Prosecco as a sparkling (spumante) wine, it also can be fizzy (frizzante) and there’s even a rare still version known as Tranquillo. While the Glera grape is the principal player in Prosecco, there are also several other native varieties of Conegliano Valdobbiadene that can make a notable impact even in small quantities (especially if they come from old vines, of which there are many in the area). The amount of residual sugar in a Prosecco DOCG also varies considerably and makes a huge difference in the final product. “Dry” (with 17-32 grams of residual per liter) is actually the sweetest type of Prosecco; “Brut” (0-12 grams per liter) is the driest; and “Extra-Dry” is in between.

Finally, while the vast majority of Prosecco Superiore is made using the Italian Method developed at the Conegliano enology school over a century ago, it is also possible to conduct the second fermentation in bottle, either in the traditional process known as Col Fondo in which the sediment (fondo) is left in the bottle, or the Metodo Classico in which it is removed.

There’s something for most every palate and every occasion so dive into Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG and have fun exploring what makes it simply, distinctively Superiore!

Bordeaux: It’s for everyone

Innovative yet traditional, easy-drinking yet complex, delicious and approachable now but also able to sustain the long haul, that’s Bordeaux in a nutshell. It’s a rather large and diverse nutshell, but the point is that while Bordeaux is the quintessential region for wine aficionados and collectors, it is also the region for the everyday wine drinker. Once the basics are introduced, anyone can embrace and understand the wines of Bordeaux.

Located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Southwest area of France, Bordeaux is the largest major appellation of France. It has 65 sub-appellations within its borders, and boasts over 275,000 hectares (nearly 275,00 acres) of land under vine. Red wine dominates Bordeaux today, representing 85% of its total production, though the dry whites, sweet wines, and even harder-to-find sparkling and rosé, are top quality. While Bordeaux has a tough climate—its proximity to the ocean makes it a fairly wet place, prone to disease and pests—its winemakers are striving for sustainability. The push for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has taken hold.

With so many wine regions of the world to choose from, and so many of them newer than Bordeaux, why would you choose it? The answer is its diversity and sustainability.

Diversity
From white, rosé, red, and world-class sweet wines, Bordeaux has many families of wine at all different price points. Over the past century, Bordeaux has continued to focus on its terroir, finding the right grape for the right soil and microclimate, and making sure those grapes are expertly nurtured. For the white wine lover, excellent value wines labeled as from Entre-Deux-Mers or AOB Bordeaux Blanc deliver zesty acidity and ripe citrus fruit flavors in its wines. For more complexity and ageability, try the whites from the Graves district—in particular its sub-region or enclave Pessac Léognan.

Red wines range from delightfully fresh to dense, sappy and ready-to-drink to cellar-worthy. If you are looking for something to drink now that is fruit driven yet dense, and want something fruit-driven yet dense, try values from Fronsac, Castillon—Côtes-de-Bordeaux, or Francs—Côtes-de-Bordeaux. Bright and fresh qualities can be found in recent vintages of wine labeled Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. Most of these wines are based on the Merlot grape and are approachable now. For the cellar, we head to the left bank where the communes of the Haut Médoc offer structured Cabernet-based wines, which, in particularly in good vintages, can be cellared for a many years.

Sustainability
Bordeaux has a maritime climate, which means climatic challenges. Rain at flowering or harvest increases disease pressure (aka likelihood of rot). While Bordeaux might not be top of mind when you think of organic, the push toward sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has definitely taken hold. Sustainability and environmental responsibilities are high priorities across Bordeaux today, and start early in the vineyard. Diverse cover crops are found between the vines, creating biodiversity and encouraging natural predators to help manage pest control. In addition, cover crops create mild competition, managing vine vigor and forcing vine roots to go deeper. Canopy management techniques have become more sophisticated to foster healthier vines and prevent or manage common diseases. These practices lessen the need for any additional chemical spraying.

 

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