Wine sales surge in December as holiday hosts set the party table with distinctive wines, while folks who feel appreciative give someone important in their lives a special bottle.
Thus, my shopping list. These suggestions are based largely on the quality and value of the wines, but they also were chosen on the likelihood that they can be found in the Sacramento market.
If this format looks familiar, I used it a year ago; no one complained, so I’m using it again. You’ll find, however, they are different brands and different vintages this time around.
When the holiday open house is relaxed and casual
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▪ Wente Family Estate 2013 San Francisco Bay Livermore Valley Morning Fog Chardonnay ($15): Chardonnay is the requisite wine to have on hand at any year-end soiree where wine is anticipated. It’s that popular. The Wente won’t disappoint for its freshness and fleshiness. It’s a big and round chardonnay, but not flabby or one-dimensional. It has the snap of green apples, a diverting note of apricot, faint suggestions of sweetness and a brushstroke of creaminess. It has the fruit and accessibility for an aperitif and the structure and acidity to go with all sorts of holiday foods.
▪ Bogle Vineyards 2013 California Essential Red ($9/$11): Ordinarily, hosts of a holiday open house would have a cabernet sauvignon as well as chardonnay on hand, but these aren’t ordinary times, given the rise in popularity of proprietary red blends, many of them soft and sweet. Bogle’s Essential Red falls into that niche, but with more structure and less sugar than other members of the genre. The wine is a ripe, juicy, balanced and eucalyptus-scented mix of zinfandel, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah from several of California’s principal growing areas for the varieties, including Sonoma County and Lodi.
When the dinner party is more serious and formal
▪ Borra Vineyards 2014 Lodi Gill Creek Ranch Vermentino ($22): The first vermentino from Lodi’s first boutique winery (40 years old and counting) is more carefully crafted and more intriguing than the variety and the price suggest. Don’t hesitate to pair it with raw oysters or a white-fleshed seafood dish with butter and citrus in the sauce. It has the fresh limey flavor and acidity to dance harmoniously with each.
▪ Flora Springs 2013 Napa Valley Merlot ($30): Despite all the dissing merlot has taken over the past decade, it is far from dead. Indeed, because vintners have had to up their game with merlot it is better than ever. Nevertheless, because of its reputation they can’t raise prices as much as they might like. Merlot, therefore, often is a bargain, especially with this release. It’s a full-figured merlot, but not soft, given the sturdiness of its tannic spine. From first sniff to final sip, the wine is beckoning in its juicy and sweet fruit, refreshing for its zinging acidity, seductive in its breadth and depth.
For the postal carrier, accountant or stylist
▪ Bodega Trivento 2014 Mendoza Amado Sur Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio/Viognier ($15): This stimulating and rhythmic South American import should please anyone for its spunk and clarity. It has notes of jasmine and gun metal in the aroma, traces of peach and plum in the flavor and a build that while sinewy nonetheless is athletic, ready to go the distance with whatever shellfish it accompanies.
▪ Trinity Hill 2013 New Zealand Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir ($18/$19): New Zealand is generating buzz not only for its bracing sauvignon blanc but for its vivacious syrah and refined pinot noir, as shown by this dry, supple and persistent interpretation. While light in color, the wine is animated with strawberry and cherry fruit, a peppery spice and a revitalizing acidity. As the winery suggests, it has the versatility to go with all sorts of salmon, poultry and game dishes.
For the person just starting to develop an interest in wine
▪ Murrieta’s Well 2013 Livermore Valley The Whip ($21): The Whip should appeal to the wine neophyte for more than its snappy name. It’s a blend, and this has been the year when proprietary blended wines finally got the recognition they deserve. It comes in a screwcap bottle, so it’s quick and easy to open. Mostly, it’s one seamlessly refreshing wine, fruity and spicy, lively but light, all of a piece despite its complex construction, which involved seven grape varieties, mostly semillon and chardonnay but also including orange muscat and gewürztraminer. All that adds up to a dry, mouth-filling tribute to both the traditions and the inventiveness of Livermore Valley.
▪ Vino Noceto 2010 Amador County Sangiovese ($18): Why should someone new to wine be interested in sangiovese? For one, it isn’t cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay or merlot, the usual launch pads. Secondly, sangiovese is the principal grape of one of the world’s more highly regarded wines, Tuscany’s Chianti Classico. Most importantly, Vino Noceto has been working with sangiovese about as long as anyone in California, and over the past two decades pretty much has mastered the grape. Vino Noceto’s sangiovese isn’t Chianti Classico, but in its similar sculpting it is no less lean, sassy, versatile and invigorating. It’s unassuming but captivating, thanks in large part for its suggestions of cherry and berry fruit and its complicating strands of tobacco and walnut.
For the wine geek who thinks he or she already has had it all
▪ Nichelini Family Winery 2014 Napa Valley Old Vine Muscadelle ($25): This is the rarest California white wine I tasted all year, starting with the 2013 in February and then the 2014 in October. But it should delight seasoned wine enthusiasts for more than its novelty. It’s a mellow wine but not without character. Light- to medium-bodied, it is dry but alluring for its suggestions of tropical and citric fruit, haunting for its current of minerality and lip-smacking for its tangy acidity. Fewer than 60 acres of muscadelle – also known as sauvignon vert – are cultivated in California. The tall and thick-trunked stand at Nichelini was planted in 1946.
▪ Trinite Estate 2012 Sonoma County Acaibo ($75): This is the first wine to be released by Trinite Estate, a new Sonoma County winery grounded in generations of winemaking, all of it in France, not California. The bright, richly aromatic and subtly complex Acaibo is the first collaborative wine to be released by the husband-and-wife team of Gonzague and Claire Lurton, who between them own five independently run chateaux in Bordeaux. Here, their joint effort is a refined and balanced blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc that speaks to the focus and energy that the Chalk Hill district of Sonoma County is capable of delivering.
(The Borra, Nichelini and Trinite will be more difficult to find than the others, but they can be ordered online through the wineries’ websites.)
Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.