Your Guide to Holiday Wine
by Susan Montgomery
What wines are you going to serve for Thanksgiving and other holiday meals? What wines are you going to give as gifts to your friends, your colleagues or your holiday hosts? And finally, what wine are you going to sip in the backyard with a good cigar after all the holiday guests have departed?
These questions aren’t the easiest to answer when there is such a plethora of choices available and there are so many factors to consider, such as: What kinds of wines do you and your guests prefer? What dishes are you going to serve? How much do you want to spend? And the goal is always to purchase good quality wine at a good price.
Fortunately, I have some outstanding choices for you to consider based on a recent wine tasting visit to the Wine Exchange in Santa Ana, California. This was our second visit to the Wine Exchange, a spacious retail and online outlet with an enormous variety of premium wines offered at very accessible prices.
This isn’t just any old wine store. This is a place where you can find a high quality inventory and intelligent, well-informed advice from wine experts who know what they are recommending. In most cases, the owners of the Wine Exchange have tasted the wines they sell right at their source.
The Wine Exchange is owned by personable partners, Kyle Meyer and Tristen Beamon, who together have spent more than 30 years in the wine merchandising business. They have a well-earned reputation for being entrepreneurs who focus on innovation and creativity in their business endeavors. The Wine Exchange is known for providing its customers with much more than a wine purchasing experience, as evidenced by its state-of-the-art website; beautiful wine showroom; daily educational, entertaining (and sometimes irreverent) missives to an ever-expanding email list; and frequent educational videos on its YouTube channel. The company’s mission is to make wine approachable, understandable and, most importantly, highly enjoyable.
So we knew we were in for a good wine tasting experience and that we would come away with some great ideas for our readers. We tasted seven excellent, reasonably priced wines that would solve all our holiday needs (and perhaps yours too). Kyle and Tristen pointed out that these are multi-tasking wines that can accompany food or be given as gifts. Here are some recommendations for various holiday occasions:
Greet Your Guests:
Start with Rare Wine Company’s Brut Grand Cru Le Mesnil. A sparkling wine is a great way to greet your guests—but not just any bubbly. This very special Grand Cru is 100 percent Chardonnay, which will work well at the beginning of your party and even throughout your meal since it pairs beautifully with so many dishes, including desserts. This Grand Cru is from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, considered by many to be one of the top Grand Cru villages in Champagne. This full-bodied Champagne has a delightful snap and a crisp intensity with lots of fruit on both its distinct nose and its palate. We even tasted hints of white chocolate. Of course Grand Cru can be expensive yet this is only $39.98 because it comes from a cooperative in Le Mesnil where pricing is very reasonable. This wine was selected by the head of Rare Wine Company, Mannie Berk, who goes to Le Mesnil every year where he samples and then chooses wines vin clair (before they become Champagne). Le Mesnil Grand Cru is only available through a few vendors in Southern California and the Wine Exchange may very well have the best price.
Sip with Appetizers:
Luca Winery’s Chardonnay G Lot from Mendoza 2012 is a nice next-step white wine to savor after your Champagne toasts. Many people like to stay with whites throughout their holiday meals and this may be the wine for them. Typical Chardonnays may be too toasty or buttery to match well with turkey, but this Chardonnay is different since it is fresh and crisp. G Lot is one of the hottest growing areas in Mendoza right now. At almost a 5000-foot elevation, the area gets lots of sun with cool evenings—the ideal climate for maintaining good acidity in ripening fruit. This wine, which is only partially aged in barrels, has a nice roundness with subtle tastes of tropical fruit, lemon and baked pear that work nicely with a variety of appetizers such as cheeses, crackers, dips, and vegetables, while still enhancing that turkey later in the day. And the price is reasonable at $28.98.
Drink All Day:
The Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais 2014 may very well be the best recommendation from our tasting because of its quality, versatility and price. Let me say at the start that this Beaujolais is only $12.98, yet it is an absolutely delicious classic Beaujolais. Fortunately, it does not have the “banana yeast” flavor present in so much Beaujolais, but instead exudes the true taste of the Gamay grape grown in granite soil with wonderfully expressive fruit and enticing complexity. A testament to its excellence is that it was selected by premier Beaujolais connoisseur Kermit Lynch. Serve this with a light chill and plan to drink it throughout the day. It will go so well with all the traditional holiday dishes without overpowering them and then last well into the evening with a good cigar in the backyard. Warning to my family: I bought a lot of this and it will be our wine of the day on Thanksgiving. I may have to go back for more before Christmas. And if you want a great price for a holiday gift, this wine hits the spot.
Pair with Turkey:
What if you want that absolutely ideal wine to pair with the holiday bird? Turkey, no matter how well-brined, tends to be a dry meat so you need a mildly rich wine that enriches the turkey without being too overwhelming. The La Rioja Alta Rioja Reserva Vina Ardanza 2005 may be just the wine with its earthiness and seasonal tastes of vanilla, cherry, cinnamon and baking spices. A blend of 80 percent Tempranillo and 20 percent Grenacha, this ten-year-old wine still has a stunning, vibrant color and deep flavors that may just be reaching the epitome of their potential. It was interesting to learn that this wine may have aged well in part because the barrels are "racked" or moved a lot during fermentation. And the price: Only $29.98. I think your turkey deserves this wine.
Serve with Dessert:
Vietti Moscato d’Asti Cascinetta 2014, made from 100 percent Muscat grapes, is the pinnacle of Moscato d’Asti from the Vietti estate. Kyle descried this as a great bridge wine for those moving away from really sweet wines to drier dessert wines. It is beautiful to behold—clear and bright—with well-balanced, delicate flavors of stone fruit. We could imagine savoring this with pumpkin pie and other fruit-based desserts or it would be a heavenly match with a cheese course. And at $12.98 you just can’t go wrong with this wine on your holiday dessert table.
Wine for the Day After:
So the day after Thanksgiving, the family is watching football and anticipating steaks on the grill (since after turkey sandwiches for lunch, everyone is all turkeyed out). The Ruffino Modus Toscana 2012, made mostly from the Sangiovese grape, is the perfect imminently drinkable wine to enhance those steaks with its spicy, bold, berry tastes and long refined finish. It is has gotten points up in the mid 90s from various wine reviewers, including one of the world’s most influential wine critics, James Suckling. Also a perfect gift wine, this Super Tuscan is what we will give to our neighbor, Bernie Bramante, who loves wines from his Italian homeland—and at $23.98 the price is right for a neighborly gift.
Give to a Special Friend:
Laurel Glen is one of the great Cabernet houses of California and the Wine Exchange has the rare opportunity to offer its Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain 2005 to customers. The prices of library wines such as this tend to go through the roof, but because the Wine Exchange was able to obtain this wine directly from the winery, they are able to offer it for only $74.98. Kyle pointed out that they seldom see such a good price for this genre of Cabernet. We tasted it and agreed that it is a fantastic wine—elegant and silky with a long zesty finish. We loved its deep ruby color, its floral, dark berry aromas, and its rich fruit flavors as well as its nicely balanced minerality. There was no doubt in our minds that this is a unique, outstanding wine. This impressive Cab would be such a special gift for someone very important in your life. You might give it to your best client or your best friend or maybe to your new or longtime romantic interest who deserves the very best. (Todd, just wait until Christmas morning, please.) Or perhaps you should just save it for yourself. You deserve it, too.
Other Gift Ideas:
For those winos in your life, wine-related items are also great gifts. Kyle and Tristen suggested a variety of appealing items, including: a wooden gift box to enhance the presentation of a gift of wine for only $7.98; the Whitaker double bottle wine tote that is especially useful and attractive for transporting wine for $24.98; and a handy, nicely packaged Chateau wooden double-hinge corkscrew for $14.98. And for a really impressive gift the Coravin 1000 Wine Access System would really “wow” your recipient. This unique system uses innovative technology that allows you to pour a wine by the glass without pulling the cork. With no oxidation going on, you can preserve your wine for weeks or even months. Kyle says this “really works” and is worth its cost of $299.98.
Wines and other gift items can be found at the Wine Exchange located at 1544 East Warner Ave in Santa Ana, California, right off CA-55. Wines can also be ordered online at www.winex.com or by calling 714-979-1509.
Photos taken by Todd Montgomery.
Disclosure: We were guests of the Wine Exchange; however, our opinions on these wines are totally our own.