Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wine of the Moment: Holiday Edition

The holidays are one of the best wine-drinking seasons of the year. The festivities and food demand it. Plus, it's a great way to counteract the artery-clogging effects of a Christmas roast. So in lieu of a Wine of the Moment, here are several quality examples, at varying price levels, of excellent holiday wines.

$10 to $20
These are good times to be a wine drinker. There is more value out there for consumers than ever before, particularly in light of the worldwide recession and recent strengthening of the U.S. dollar compared to a few years ago. The Las Rocas Garnacha, from Spain, runs about $10 and is a pleasingly refreshing, overtly fruity red wine that can stand up to the side dishes with a turkey or the richness of a roast beef. From Germany, the Dr. Loosen "L" Riesling is a spectacular deal, also around $10. This would stand up to a turkey dinner, but its slightly sweet, refreshingly acidic palate is a terrific day to kick off the day or wake yourself up after a food coma.

For a real treat, seek out some Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma County. The 2009, available from the winery, is a special wine for about $20. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better in Pinot Noir from anywhere in the world these days. Winemaker Adam Lee, also a native Texan, has crafted appellation wines that are serious but immensely enjoyable in their youth.

$20 to $30
There are exciting things happening in Spain these days. While some of the wines are overly oaked and ripened to excess using an Australian model, there are a lot of good wines that have found harmony between the old and new styles. A top example is Numanthia Termes from Toro. At about $25, it has a plush palate, a healthy amount of oak, but a classically Spanish sensibility to the berry fruit. This is a tremendous choice for an all-day wine -- it would go great with food or by itself.

Back in the Pinot Noir camp, try something different with the Groffier Bourgogne Passetoutgrains. Available at Spec's for roughly $28, this is a bit different for a red Burgundy. Passetoutgrains wines are permitted to be a blind of Pinot Noir and Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais. Think of it as Beaujolais with an extra dose of aromatics and refinement. The Groffier is a particularly nice example, with the elegance and finesse of Burgundy from a top-quality producer and a slightly rustic, fruity edge of Beaujolais. It's like celebrating with high end Beaujolais Nouveau.

For a change of pace from the usual thinking regarding holiday wines, try the Nozzole Chianti Classic Riserva, which runs about $24. It's got the typical, quite refreshing berry fruit and floral flavors of good Chianti but is done in a style that is very approachable right away. The acidity can combat the richness of so many dishes on the holiday table.

$30 and up
If you really want to stay American with your holiday celebrations, the Robert Biale Zinfandel Napa Valley Black Chicken is for you. At about $42, it's not shy on price, but it's also a terrific, consistent example of the briary, jammy style of Zinfandel that has made the grape such a signature of California wine. It retains a solid level of acidity to make it pair well with food.

Two final suggestions are both Pinot Noir, both offering distinct and delightful personalities. The first is Joseph Swan Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Trenton Estate Vineyard. The day Spec's started carrying the Joseph Swan wines was a good one for Houston wine drinkers, and the Trenton Estate Pinot is a benchmark in California. It is a remarkable combination of hedonism and intellectualism: a wine you can drink with pleasure but also ruminate over. It evokes the classic cherry fruit of the Russian River Valley, along with the earthy baking spices that are a hallmark of the region. It'll run you about $50, and it's worth every penny, since it is one of the great California Pinots and a versatile food companion.

Finally, if Swan is a grand master and statesman of the U.S. Pinot scene, Retour Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is a flashy race horse. The winery's first vintage was only in 2006, but the wines have compelling texture and balance. They couple the darker, blackberry fruit expression of Oregon with earthy notes. With a velvety texture that has developed nicely with time in bottle, this would make an outstanding companion to standing rib roast.

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