Local, artisan produced wines and sparklings for your holiday table.
By Laura Ness
The holidays call for a mix of beverages, to meet the needs of a wide array of palate preferences. Every “Libations List” should begin with two sparklings: a sparkling wine (or two) and a sparkling cider or sparkling water. You always want something non-alcoholic to have on hand.
Ideally, you should also have at least two whites (a chardonnay is always in style plus something sassy or a bit sweeter, depending on your guest list), as well as three to four reds, including a couple of pinots, a syrah and a Bordeaux wine of some sort.
Read on for a list of wines and sparklings to serve your guests, all from smaller, local artisan producers. Anyone can buy a mass marketed wine from the grocery store, but these wines are sure to be conversation starters at your holiday table.
Sparkling: Hand Over the Bubbles
Two fabulous sparklings that are well made and obtainable hail from Laetitia in Arroyo Grande. The Laetitia Brut Cuvee, made of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot blanc from Arroyo Grande, is firmly in the camp of “Champagne,” with tiny bubbles creating a moussant that is really seductive. Hard to even believe this isn’t “real Champagne.” Fabulous mousse-underpinned texture with flavors of Gravenstein apples, Bartlett pears and gooseberries are highlighted with white figs and a lovely touch of lemon sorbet. $25.
The 2009 Laetitia Brut Rosé, dazzles with its lovely aromas of a spring day in the hills of Aromas or Carmel Valley. It’s redolent of a strawberry or two that has amply flavored the whipped cream to top a righteously pure angel food cake covered with local berries, fresh from the fields. This is seriously yummy wine, worth plunking down three Hamiltons to add some class to your holiday table. $30.
Bonus: Laetitia is offering a Holiday Sampler, just $134.30 plus tax. Includes 2009 Laetitia Brut Rosé, 2012 NADIA sauvignon blanc, 2012 Laetitia Estate pinot noir, 2012 Laetitia Estate chardonnay, 2011 NADIA Trio & 2012 Laetitia Clone 459 pinot noir.
All the above Laetitia sparkling wines and the sampler are available online at www.laetitiawine.com, you can use their wine locator to find their wines near you, or visit their tasting room located at 453 Laetitia Vineyard Drive in Arroyo Grande, Calif.
Chardonnay: Hail the Queen
If you must have at least one chardonnay, get your hands on some 2010 Boekenoogen Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands ($40), lush, creamy, linen-textured and filled with summer fruit flavors, like a peach and pear cobbler. Divine! Find their wines near you at boekenoogenwines.com/available_at
Another stunner is the 2011 McIntyre Block K1 chardonnay ($36), from the Santa Lucia Highlands, and you’ll surely please the richer Chard-loving crowd. This is heady, buxom stuff, with a creamy rich texture. Divine with butternut squash, mashed cauliflower and truffled mashed potatoes and fennel.
Another option is the 2011 Pelerin Sierra Mar chardonnay ($42), also from the Santa Lucia Highlands, from a vineyard farmed by Gary Franscioni. This simply sings with a glissande of lemon-lime, crisp pear and oozing minerality. Divine with crab, shrimp or salmon appetizers, or just sip on its own.
Want something at a budget price? Go for the Guglielmo TRE Chardonnay ($11.99), a sure crowd-pleaser, with its baked apple aromas and toasted almond and hazelnut finish. This will be as swell with turkey and dressing as it will be with pumpkin pie.
Intriguing and Sassy Whites
For those in the ABC camp, there’s the 2012 Concannon Assemblage Blanc ($20), from Livermore, a lovely blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon will carry the day beautifully. It dares to pair with everything and is over all a crowd pleaser for its balance, verve and clean finish. to find their wines near you use their wine locator.
Tre Gatti’s 2011 Gatta Bianca, Viognier ($18.99), from the San Antonio Valley of Monterey, is lovely, with lithe lime blossoms and jasmine perfume, just ripe Bartlett pear and a perfect finish.
Lean, crisp and totally food friendly, the Holman Ranch 2011 Pinot Gris ($20), is a svelte, clean, citrus and honey-edged white from Carmel Valley that handles anything savory. Delightful! On sale on their website for $16.
The 2012 Scheid Gewurztraminer ($16), is a masterful white to pair with Thanksgiving cuisine. Vibrant aromas of gingered peaches and orange blossoms lead to spicy flavors of pears lightly poached in lemon rind with cinnamon sticks. The texture is quite lush and the finish long and lingering.
Ever had Vermentino? If you like wines crisp and dry, this white, which hails from Sardinia, is masterfully grown and made by Mark Chesebro in Arroyo Seco. The 2012 Chesebro Vermentino, Cedar Lane Vineyard ($18), will have everyone asking for another glass of this light-bodied wine that delivers tons of flavor.
A highly intriguing “goes well with everything” wine is the 2012 Hahn Chef’s Table Noir Blanc ($30), made from Pinot Noir that has been bled off with no skin contact. It has a barely perceptible hint of blush, but you’d have a hard time guessing it is juice from a red wine grape! The texture is fantastic, like peach skins, the flavors bright and cheery, and it’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Perhaps my new favorite red wine, La Rochelle’s 2012 Pinot Meunier ($38), from the Russian River Valley, just won a Gold medal at the Salinas Valley Wine Competition. It’s exciting, delicious and will dazzle your friends with its sizzling flavors. Aromas of fresh picked raspberries and roses are absolutely alluring, and the flavors are like a spring day, filled with alpine strawberries and hints of cremini mushrooms. The acidity is kite-flying breezy and you will fall in love with its ginger and cinnamon zing. Perfect for Thanksgiving!
Pinot Noir Selections
In the “does everything you need a Pinot to do” category, the juicy, well-structured 2011 Wrath San Saba Pinot Noir ($49), from the Monterey AVA, is fantastic. Enough depth to fool even people who think they don’t like Pinot, and more than enough class to impress tough-to-please Pinot fans.
If your guests include serious Pinotphiles, set them down with a big-bowled glass of the 2010 Big Basin Vineyards Lester Family Pinot ($44), from the Corralitos area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and they’ll be in Pinot heaven. It has great red fruits, rhubarb, forest floor and intriguing spice, and layer upon layer of palate fascination, like rummaging through an old trunk filled with treasures in somebody’s attic.
Do you or one of your guests have a more Burgundian palate and tend to like older Pinots, ones that have a bit of bottle bouquet on them? I’d have to recommend the 2006 McIntyre Estate Pinot Noir now with seven years of bottle age, and drinking perfectly to pair with turkey and the trimmings. It’s the one you want with the chestnut, sage and sausage stuffing! It’s two for $69 right now, or one for $49.
Lip-smacking alternatives to pinot include Counoise, Carignane and Cinsault. Try the 2011 Onesta cinsault from Lodi ($29), the 2009 Guglielmo Estate Carignane ($20), from the Santa Clara Valley, or the 2010 Sarah’s Vineyard Cadenza ($25), a blend of Counoise, Carignane and Syrah, from old Santa Clara Valley vineyards.
Other Reds: Heavy Duty for Those Who Like Grippy
Lovers of well-muscled masculine style Bordeaux wines will gravitate to the 2009 Comanche Cellars Cabernet Franc ($26), an outstandingly built alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. From a warm climate, the San Antonio Valley of Monterey, it’s sunny in disposition, with scents of a warm saddle in the summer sun and wafts of Cuban cigar. Densely satisfying and richly layered, it’s well endowed with flavors of ripe mission fig bars and warm cherry pie, just out of the oven.
Another solid Bordeaux blend is the 2007 Puma Road Pedregal Cache ($35), under the Puma Road/Ray Franscioni label. From the emerging Paicines region of San Benito County, it’s dusty, leathery, cedary and briary, with firm tannins and a grippy finish.
How about a Merlot? There’s nothing quite like a well-made merlot, and the 2009 Burrell School Estate Merlot, Honor Roll ($30) from the Santa Cruz Mountains is mighty fetching, with its peppy wild black cherry and chocolate.
I also love the 2011 Joyce Vineyards Pedregal Merlot ($24), from that same Paicines vineyard where Cache is sourced: stout, well muscled, amply leathery, with incense and cherry jam flavors.
Want a seriously big-boned Syrah? Morgan’s 2011 Double L Vineyard Syrah ($42), from an organically farmed vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands bench, packs blackberry jam, pepper, wholesome fig bars and rich plum-filled coffee cake with a walnut streusel topping into one richly textured beverage.
Prefer your Syrah with a little bottle bouquet? Mark Chesebro’s been saving this one up, just for you. The 2007 Chesebro La Montagne Sauvage ($21), is a powerfully elegant field blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre from the hills of Carmel Valley. At $21, it’s sure to please those who love grip, with grace.
For those who crave red wine with the texture of dark chocolate ganache, there’s the 2010 Twisted Roots Petite Sirah ($25), from a vineyard in Lodi.