The 12 days of Christmas are rarely celebrated as such, but 12 is indeed, it just so happens, the usual number of bottles in a case of wine. With enough people on our holiday lists, and plenty of parties and family get-togethers to attend, why not put together that unusual case of wine…to have on hand, just in case? And the timing is perfect, as new labels, releases and categories of wines continue to make their way into New Mexico shops and cellars. This holiday dozen selection includes wines you’re not likely to find on the grocery store shelf, but you should be able to get them from your favorite local, independent retailer, and if they don’t carry it, they can get it by special order. So here we go. Whether you’re thinking Christmas or Hanukkah; New Years or mere Monday; “what’s new?” or what’s classic; house-gift or holiday; we’ve got just the Twelve Wines of Christmas for you.
Pinot Noir is gaining steadily in popularity as a special event and dinner wine. It can show joyous fruit or sophisticated restraint. The grape must grow in a cool climate to maintain its acidity and bright, cherry-like fruit and Green Valley is the coolest sub-region of the famed Russian River. Brand new to New Mexico is Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir 2014. It’s estate bottled; the grapes are grown in a dry farmed vineyard on the famous Gold Ridge soil in Green Valley. Because the grapes are dry farmed, the berries mature earlier and the resulting alcohol content of the wine is lower. This wine has a crisp California appeal without being “over the top” and is a good choice for that friend looking for “what’s new?”
Since it is one of my two favorite varietals, Pinot Noir deserves two spots in our case. It can be very successfully grown in the Carneros AVA, or American Viticultural Area, and one of the most famous vineyard owners of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Carneros is Larry Hyde. He sells his grapes to almost 30 wineries producing highly respected premium priced wines. In 2009, he and his family founded their own Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard, so these wines are relatively new to New Mexico. As a classic example of Carneros, and as the special collector’s selection in the case, the Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir 2013, around $65 a bottle, shows that cool climate, maritime influence of San Pablo Bay with a bright, clean, elegant finish.
But your wine-expert buddy wants something different in a red wine. Garryana Gamay Noir, Willamette Valley 2015, around $29 a bottle, is an example of an “up-and-coming” wine on the hipster scene. The winery is undergoing a name change but this wine is in good supply and answers the question, “What red wine do I have with turkey or ham?”, as it has good structure without the tannin of some other red wines. That expert would also love Ridge Lytton Springs 2015, around $45 a bottle. This vintage is a fall release and the wine has become so well-known that it’s named after a winery estate, rather than a varietal, even though it is made mostly from Zinfandel.
We cannot forget Cabernet Sauvignon and it also deserves two spots in the case. Napa is justifiably famous for Cabernet, but Paso Robles is catching up as a new region for the varietal. Fall is the time of year for new releases, and Daou Vineyards Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, around $29 a bottle, is very new. The winery is getting great press, and although this vintage has not been reviewed, this wine is always a “crowd-pleaser” because of its big fruit-forward character. This vintage displays intriguing layers of flavor and would be perfect for the person that is just starting to appreciate Cabernet. If your recipient is more experienced, then get them the Atlas Peak Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, around $30 a bottle. The wine is also a relatively new brand to our state and an intriguing foil to the Paso Robles style, showing minty and savory elements typical of Napa.
And what about a gift for the white-wine lover? My second favorite varietal is Riesling and this is a delicious new arrival: Hewitson Gun Metal Riesling 2017, around $ 20 a bottle, from Eden Valley, Australia is a fresh, dry wine with crystal-clear Riesling character. It combines stone fruit and citrus and is a wonderful crossover gift idea for the geek or the newbie because of its off-dry profile. The geek would also love a Sauvignon Blanc from France, the Domaine Laporte Sancerre, Le Rochoy 2016, around $35 a bottle: a single-vineyard wine, quintessentially flinty and dry with layers of subtle fruit behind that flint. Another unusual white wine varietal is Chenin Blanc. Decades ago, it was widely available as a California varietal, but South Africa has now become the country for excellent versions of this wine. The Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2016, around $18 a bottle, is typically rich in flavor, but not heavy, and needs to be included because of its character and price.
The USA’s most appreciated wine, Chardonnay, also needs two contrasting examples in our holiday box. For the European Chardonnay fan, the Antinori Bramito Chardonnay 2016, around $23 a bottle, from Umbria pairs well with lighter dishes and works as an alternative to the full-bodied, oaky style many California wineries embrace. This is the perfect gift for those friends who say, “I don’t like Chardonnay.” But of course, your classic Chardonnay drinker will grin with thanks if you give them a bottle of the rich, full, buttery Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, around $40 a bottle.
Finally, the month of December brings us to the end of year, the time when many shoppers buy their only bottle of sparkling wine or Champagne, though they should be buying it year-round. An example of a “Pét-Nat” or petillant naturel (naturally sparkling) wine is Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon Rosé (non-vintage), around $20 a bottle, produced by a method many consider older than that of Champagne. This bubbly has crossover appeal to the drinker who needs a wine with a touch of sweetness, but its natural effervescence makes it intriguing to the expert as well.
To finish our 12 days and nights, Champagne must be included as the traditional and festive welcome to the New Year. Besides being de rigueur for toasting at weddings and New Year’s Eve celebrations, Champagne cannot be beat as an aperitif and house gift. The insider category is grower Champagne, and Chateau de Bligny Grande Réserve Brut is a delicious and surprisingly affordable example, around $42 a bottle.
This time of year brings so many opportunities to share and appreciate wine. We could have included other special wines like Barolo, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Red Burgundy and Bordeaux, but this gift case will prepare you for the unexpected party and covers your gift list for December, especially for those “in-the-know.” Get some, or all, of these, and have a bottle handy for your best friends, your family or yourself—and enjoy the season. Cheers and happy holidays!
Story by Philip de Give