Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wine for Holiday Gatherings and Gifts

Planning on celebrating the holidays with a festive glass of wine? Already know what to buy? With so many wine selections in California alone, it can be a real challenge. What are your preferences in wine? What food will you be pairing it with? Will you be serving it at your party or giving it to a friend as a gift? And what is your budget? This last consideration may cause you to revisit some of the other criteria!

Tastes vary and there is no single right answer for everyone. If there were a single answer though, I’d go with Pinot Noir! That’s because Pinot Noir, with its higher level of acidity, is very food friendly, and it’s even good without food too! It pairs well with appetizers and a wide variety of main dishes. Pinot Noir is even in sparkling wines! The sparkling wines on this list are made with Pinot Noir and will go well with a variety of food, should you want to drink them along with the main course.

General wine suggestions for pairing with holiday foods:

Why Pinot Noir?
Notice that you can enjoy appetizers, ham, turkey, chicken, duck, goose, lamb, or vegetarian dishes with Pinot Noir.  If you’re undecided about what to buy, I recommend this style of wine because of its flexibility with food.  Pinot Noir pairs very well with almost the entire spectrum of foods, though at the extreme ends (white fish and steaks) the way you prepare the dish may drastically affect the pairing.

There are many fine Pinot Noir wines available in stores, but the specific one that I’m recommending is the 2009 Inception ‘Origin’ series Pinot Noir. I discovered it at a wine festival in Santa Barbara this year. At $55 a bottle, this Pinot Noir is well worth the price to add a versatile wine to your holiday festivities. The Pinot Noir grapes are grown at the highly regarded La Encantada Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills AVA. The Santa Rita Hills AVA is a small appellation in the Santa Ynez Valley. The terrain, soil and climate have earned it an international reputation for its Pinot Noir. According to Jonathan Hirsh, “The cool climate in the Santa Rita Hills gives this wine just the right amount of acidity that result in a bright, ripe red fruit flavor, with fuzzy tannins, and a nicely oaked, smoky, buttery sweetness.” You can buy it at the Whole Foods Market in Thousand Oaks, or online at Inception Wine (

Kosher Wine
If you are interested in an excellent Kosher wine for celebrating Hanukkah, then I recommend trying the wines from Herzog Wine Cellars. (And I recommend them even if you’re not looking for Kosher wine.) In particular, I like the 2009 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, which has a retail price of $38. A 2009 Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is also available at the same price. Both wines are excellent with lamb, steak, beef brisket, or potato latkes.

Joe Hurliman, the winemaker at Herzog Wine Cellars, explained to me that the Alexander Valley cab is aged in French and American oak and it has a taste of red cherry with herbal notes, while the Napa Valley cab has plum and fruit flavors and is aged in small French oak barrels, which adds a vanilla- toasty finish. Except for some of Herzog’s Pinot Noir and high-end red wine selections, these Kosher wines are ‘mevushal’ – a requirement for Orthodox Jews. 

Want to go techno? Try using the "hello vino app" on your iPhone. You can either choose a wine based on your criteria or you can find out what food to pair with a wine you already have.

An example for Thanksgiving leads you through these choices:
Wine for an Occasion > A seasonal event or holiday? > Thanksgiving > Turkey Preparations > Smoked Turkey: Syrah, or Other options: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir

This app recommends specific brands, but you can substitute those with the wines recommended in this article, or other brands you may already have on hand.

These are my recommendations for wines to serve with holiday meals.

Sparkling Wines

2009 Schug, Rouge de Noirs / Pinot Noir, Carneros - Pairs with Brie & Gouda, shrimp and shellfish, salami, veggies, smoked salmon, stuffed mushrooms, sweet bread and mascarpone cheese, fruit-based desserts, shortbread cookies, chocolate, raspberries, chocolate covered berries. 

NV Roederer Estate, Sparkling Brut, Anderson Valley - Pairs with Appetizers, ham, and any roast fish. Pairs with just about anything but red meats. It is especially suited to seafood such as raw oysters and clams, sole and sand dabs.


2011 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Rosé, Tablas Creek Estate Vineyard - Pairs with Salmon, sushi, sausages, tapas, Mediterranean cuisine, preparations with garlic and olive oil. (A Rosé can fill in for a red or a white as needed.)

Chardonnay (Oaked)

2009 Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast - Pairs with Caesar salad, Chicken, Eggs Benedict, Fish, Grilled veal chops, Ham, Pork, Salmon, Steak béarnaise, Vegetables - red peppers, corn, butternut squash and pumpkin.


2011 Four Brix, Smitten, Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley
- Pairs with Blue cheese and candied walnut on endive leaf, Clam or oyster chowder, Chilled Thai noodle salad, Chicken and couscous salad, light appetizers.

Sauvignon Blanc

2011 Merry Edwards, Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley
- Pairs with Asian-style Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Sauvignon Blanc-simmered leeks and Shiitake mushroom.

Pinot Noir

2009 Inception, Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills - Pairs with Ahi Tuna, Salmon, Braised (short ribs), Cheese – Creamy Bleu, Parmesan, Gouda, and Brie, Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Goose, Squab, Pheasant, Filet Mignon, Lamb, Pasta & Risotto, Pork, ham, prosciutto, sausage, bacon, and other charcuterie, Rabbit, Roast beef (brisket, prime rib), Shellfish, Veal, Venison, Elk, Antelope, Ostrich, Buffalo, Mushrooms, beans, lentils, wild rice, quinoa, cooked spinach & kale.


2009 San Vicente Cellars, San Stefano’s Blend, Santa Barbara County - Pairs with Beef, ham, lamb, pork loin, smoked turkey, steak, and wild game.

Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Herzog Wine Cellars, Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley - Pairs with Red meats, flavorful and heartier (red) pastas, lamb, strong-flavored cheese, and dark chocolates.

Red Blend

2009 Justin Vineyards & Winery, Isosceles, Paso Robles
- Pairs with Asian Chicken Salad on Endive Spears, Avocado and Papaya Salad, Balsamic Grilled Radicchio with Shaved Pecorino, Basic Basil Pesto, Chicken, Game birds, Lamb, Lasagna, Pork, Salmon, Indian curry, Tandoori flavored dishes, Roast Turkey with gravy, Venison.

I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy - or give - these wines during the holidays. And send me any thoughts or your experiences with your holiday wine selection on facebook at More information about these wines and where to buy them is available on Google Docs, just click on this link - Where to buy wine.

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