10 Top Holiday Wine Choices

The holidays are upon us all once more, and for many, it's time to bust out the 'good' stuff to celebrate. But what if you're not an avid collector like I and many who read and follow this blog are likely to be. Perhaps, you're just an avid admirer of wine and there's not a cellar brimming with a lifetime of collecting waiting to be uncorked? I think many of you reading this are in that boat, you just need some reliable information.

You don't want to hear bragging, sermons or pontificating from about how you should have been collecting wines over the years, you simply want to know what is drinking well now, doesn't need much if any decanting and will pair with a wide variety of entrees you may run into over the course of the holiday season. Luckily, you stopped by to read this fantastic list I've been compiling all year, all of those listed will be recent releases, with wide distribution.

1. E. Guigal GSM 2011, Gigondas: Although it was a bleak year for many winemakers, 2011 for the southern Rhone was a year for restraint. Seldom is there an opportunity for such things in the southern Rhone as temperatures average quite high during the growing season, but the modest temps of 2011 helped to keep things in check for those in search of ‘balance.' In the glass, the appearance is a medium-plus, the stem, and my finger was still easily observed through the core of the wine. The color was a ruby red, and clarity was clear.

The aromas of meaty plums, spice, cut black tea, dried orange rinds danced above the glass, effortlessly. On the palate, the taste was dry, balanced, medium-plus body, and medium-plus tannins. Flavors, of black cherry, dark plum, subtle allspice, dried orange rinds, and trail dust. I’m a big fan of this producer, but this wine barely registered too much in the way of enthusiasm. But if I had to pair with this wine, I’d choose some grilled meats, and picnic fixings to accompany.

While many folks familiar with the Rhone Zone, adore and admire longingly what some call the prestigious Northern Rhone regions, like Hermitage. The truth is the north only accounts for about 5% of all production of the entire Rhone Zone. The remaining 95% produced in the south under far-less-prestigious and lesser-known names. Like that of Gigondas, a region that provides some mighty excellent juice itself, with somewhat affordable price tags. If all you can find is Guigal's basic Cotes du Rhone at the local grocery store, it's an excellent selection. 

2. Joseph Drouhin, Pouilly-Fuisse: Another entertaining and exciting region to explore, especially for those seeing familiar wine bearing grapes, like this Chardonnay, in a completely different style. The bottle, the flavors mostly appeared to be alien. In the glass, this was medium in appearance, a vivid straw core, and the clarity was quite clear. Aromatics were plentiful, white flower, freshly sliced honey crisp apples, white smoke, and citrus. The taste profile, this was made dry, only 13% abv, it was very fresh and crisp, the body was a light plus, the tannins low. The flavor descriptors sadly did not mirror the nose, tart apples, citrus, wet stone minerality. The finish was a medium-plus. A delightful food pairing choice with whole roasted chicken and linguini smothered in alfredo sauce.

3. Louis Roederer Brut Premier: The Brut Premier is blended from fifty different crus. It is aged for 3 years in LRC cellars and then left for 6 months after the dégorgement or as we were told "the operation." And after an operation, one needs time to convalesce, so does Champagne. This is a delicious Champagne, which is generous in the mouth, but crisper and cleaner than it was previously, seeing it's down to 9.5 grams of RS, previously it was 12 grams of RS. Apples, pears and a snap of citrus, a very pure expression of the Champagne, that's not oxidized, and over-delivers on the SR price point of $40, folk's this is a no-brainer. This bottling is widely available and FAR better than almost any other mass-produced Champagne house I've encountered, including the much over-hyped yellow-jacketed Veuve Clicquot. Much drier, smoother and a lasting Champagne taste. If you show up with this, you're an instant hit at any party. Pairing wise, honestly what doesn't it pair with?


4. 2016 Bodega Colome Estate Malbec, Salta HAV: In the glass, this wine was deep in appearance, and the core was a ruby red, the rim a deep violet. Clarity wise this wine was, slightly cloudy toward opaque. On the nose, this wine was nicely aromatic, blackberry, blueberries, a vegetal note which quickly burned off, just a brief whiff of VA, which also burned off, spice and mint. The taste dry, the acidity was balanced, the body was a medium plus, and the tannin was a chewy medium-plus. On the palate is where this wine shined, blackberry compote, espresso, tar, cigar box, pencil shaving, and gravel. The finish was long and lasting. This wine would benefit significantly from further bottle aging, and if opened early, it should be well decanted to unlock its aromas and flavors fully. By far the best wine of the evening and the best wine uncorked in the wines of the southern hemisphere class. I highly recommend this Malbec, I scored this wine 93 points. Decant for best results, pair with a fatty aged ribeye and enjoy the hell outa wine, that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

5. 2015 De Ponte Cellars Melon de Bourgogne: That said, it's time to quickly jump to the tasting note. This wine is a fantastic homage to the Sévre-et-Maine appellation. A gem of winemaking skill which can be best summed up as a mineral-driven elegance, true varietal character, and nuance. Dry, citrus, floral and mineral-driven with a balanced heft, begging for oysters or other seafood. I paired this wine with two butter pan-seared sea scallops, sitting atop a fresh crabcake, it was heaven. I scored this wine 90 points, it sells for $21 to $25 dollars most places. This is seriously good to great food pairing champ. Chill slightly and enjoy.

6. Morgon Cotes du Crow's: This wine has everything the average vino-sapiens is looking for via earthy, mineral-driven nuances, and you taste the vineyard dust, light, engaging aromatics which draw you in for the first slurp — a food-friendly wine with a gentle verve of dark and red fruits (jam, earth and fig paste) pulsing through its soul.

Even the garden variety wine-twirler will get this wine's easy-going and affable nature, a bottle of wine sporting soul and substance on a budget. A wine that's easy as a Sunday morning. The Cotes du Crow's from Morgan in Monterey County is the style of wine which makes food pairing choices so easy and wonderfully fun. I can't imagine too many things that would not pair well with this remarkably well-made wine from a stellar vintage — featuring a unique blend with Syrah leading the way at 52% and, 44% Grenache and the balance 4% of soul searching Tempranillo. Huh, wait, what? Hmm, filling out what was going to be a Rhone Zone blend with Tempranillo seemed a bit odd; nonetheless, this bizarre choice of blending partners added a delightful flavor profile.

If you've never taken a visit to the Rhone-Zone styles of wines, as I like to call it; well then folks this is your ticket to ride. A wine that will come out shake your hand, and you'll become fast friends. It will leave you wondering why you had not met sooner. My score on this wine is 90 points, the kind of wine to purchase by the caseload. Easy, fun and flavorful, so very worth the tiny price of admission.

7. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: The Cabernet Sauvignon vines are grown across southern and western exposures, 1800 foot elevation, 40 plus-year-old vines. This wine sporting a left-bank a blend, 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and the balance is Merlot. In a few words, this wine is a masterpiece of winemaking and terroir-driven distinction. Solidly built wine you could lay down for the long-term, but immediate enjoyment is within reach, with just a few years in the bottle.

Based on my many tasting experiences since 2008, I don't believe you could really produce much better wine than this, this 2013 is rock solid juice. This may sound cliche, but honestly, this wine is one spectacular ride to tasty town; one where you'll be quite sad once the last drop has fallen from the bottle. Even though I had sampled this wine over a couple of days, then spit, to get the full feel of this wine, it held up beautifully. While this wine was not initially decanted, however, I'd recommend decanting to fully enjoy all this wine's generous charms, which I did on the second day after the first pour and evaluation.

Soul and substance in spades. Nothing but silk, lush but not ripe, structured but not rigid, this wine is like a painting, it takes time for it to evolve in the glass. It could still smoothly go another 10 years if you wanted to lay it down for a few more years. This wine had incredible depth and elegance, like so few wines, do. The finish is long and lasting. So yes, in this case, this wine is well worth the price of admission. This wine is highly recommended, my score is 94 points.

8. Loring Wine Company, Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016: I received this gem, from an online purveyor who was a client at the time, earlier this year. This picture was taken at the Cuvee Corner Media and Communications HQ. This wine also was not decanted, it was drinking beautifully from the first moment it went into the glass. Btw, yes, stemware and wine temperature do matter. Wondering about how it tastes? Again as you can see in the glass, very light-colored, shimmering ruby color, transparent. Fresh pomegranates, baking spice, strawberry, orange tea aromas escaping from the glass, very enticing. It’s well worth the price of admission, a wine I scored 91 points, a bit less generous than my pals over at WE who have ad-space to sell (but I kid).


9. LAN Gran Reserva 2011: This is the kind of wine that makes me wish I could jump inside the empty bottle with a straw to get every last drop. It is wines like this from Rioja, and Bodegas LAN specifically which not only receives the highly coveted "drink now and drink" often recommendation but also is the recipient of the lauded "highly coveted run, don't walk" buy a case recommendation.

In the glass, a brilliant garnet-colored cored, slightly dulled with age like a broken-in baseball glove. This wine sports nuanced meaty-strawberry and ripe plums flavors and aromas and a lively acidity that is really refreshing. For the foodies out there, looking for a perfect food wine that does not get in the way, but enhances the experience this wine delivers that and more.

For anyone keeping score, I'm giving this wine a solid 94 points. This wine demonstrates the premise of this blog; with my now familiar catchphrase "you can pay more, but seldom do you get more!" Probably one of the best things about this wine is that it sells for a near pauper's prices of $28 [SRP] and cash-strapped wanna-be winos everywhere rejoice, applause please, this wine is a QPR champ.

10. 2015 Black Magnolia Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR: It was with great delight, I received a request to review [sample alert] the wine you see above. As you can see from the copyright, this is a borrowed image. My image, vanished from my phone, most likely the victim of an accidental delete, doh. That said Black Magnolia Wines was gracious enough to allow me to use this image, which I did edit a bit, for formatting. The bottle shot was taken by Brian Richardson. Now with those formalities out of the way, it's time to dive into this wine. This wine does not need decanting to show off its round, rich, enticing aromas and flavors, but as I always recommend, when in doubt, decant.

In the glass, a light-colored garnet, mostly transparent. Giving it a good swirl, the aromas rise easily from the glass, sandalwood, sweet baking spices, wet earth funk, and cranberry toast, so very aromatic. On the palate, the tannins are seamlessly integrated, this wine coats the mouth nicely, generously embracing. Taste-wise, generous amounts of cranberry, sweet strawberry, baking spice, orange tea, and damp earth. I would say this wine is more fruit-forward, less about the earth tones. The acid to fruit ratio is excellent, the finish long and sumptuous. Score: 93 points. Highly Recommended.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed wines are from media samples provided (not for sale) for the review process.

All original content: Including text and photographs remain the copyright of the author, (W.R. Eyer) except where otherwise noted.


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