December 15, 2020 – It’s time to raise a glass to all those who toil endless hours in the vineyards and in cold, dank cellars, making wine while drinking their body weight in beer and tequila. Yes, John Benedetti, we’re talking about you, and we know you have plenty of company! Here a few suggestions for making this holiday as merry as possible. Grab a corkscrew and follow me.
Albatross Ridge invites you to pop the top on their lively pink Pet Nat to get the party started, then sip your way to nirvana with their new 2019 Pinot Rosé. The new 2018 Estate Chardonnay is clean and fresh, and the go-to food Pinot is always the Cuvée Vivienne, with its bright clarity and perfume of rose petals, followed by flavors of strawberry, cranberry and orange compote.
Beauregard offers magnums of 2012 Cabernet from Beauregard Ranch that will age gracefully for decades (if you can wait that long), along with a mightily impressive magnum of 2018 Oeuf en Béton Chardonnay. This wine, done in concrete egg, is pure Bald Mountain. You can’t find a more descriptive expression. The 2019 Oeuf en BétonChardonnay hails from Ascona Vineyard, on Skyline Boulevard, farmed by Ken Swegles and Cole Thomas. It’s pure lime on sandstone. Think oysters or crab.
Big Basin Vineyards is open for curbside pickup and will deliver locally with a 3+ bottle purchase. The top choice for prime rib is the 2017 Altitude 2292, a smooth and savory blend of all five Bordeaux varieties, sourced from the mountain top block at Coastview Vineyard, planted at 2292 feet. Going with duck or game? The 2017 Ferrari Vineyard Pinot Noir, formerly Woodruff, is the right pair. Looking for a gift? Send someone the BBV home tasting kit and light up their day. Or choose one of their handsome gift box sets.
Recently, BOLD Wine Company’s 2018 Albariño was named SF Chronicle’s “Wine of the Week.” This is a pretty cool honor, and we do love Albariño. This one comes from the Mission Ranch, planted by the Mirassou family in 1961, as one of the first vineyards in all of Monterey County. The grapes were foot-stomped prior to pressing and underwent native fermentation in egg.
Burrell School is offering a 3-pack called “Three Kings,” with 2010 Salutatorian, 2010 PTA (extra oak-aged Pinot) and 2012 Magna Cum Laude Merlot. Big boys, for sure. These want meat!
Calera offers value in every sip with their 2018 Central Coast Chardonnay ($25) and Central Coast Pinot ($30), but if you like Viognier, the 2018 Mt. Harlan totally rocks with vivid fruit and complexity. The 2017 Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir is a thing of blackberry-blessed beauty, and was awarded 99 points by Jeb Dunnuck. Shipping is just $5.
Caraccioli Cellars has you covered for bubbles with their brilliant new 2014 sparklings, both available in magnums for maximum merriment. Nothing looks prettier in the glass than the Sparkling Rosé, with its fruit-forward friendliness, a lovely way to enjoy Bûche de Noël. This wine was just named Best US Sparkling Wine at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships (CSWWC), a competition involving 1000 entries from the greatest sparkling wine producers around the globe. This was one of 37 trophies awarded: to be the Best in the US is a high honor, indeed! Congratulations to Scott and his team!
Thinking about Comté gougeres and apple pie, though, makes me want the 2014 Caraccioli Brut Cuvée, owing to its super clean zing of white grapefruit and citrus zest. If you’re digging into sticky toffee pudding, choose the 2009 Brut Cuvée, with its heavier mousse, with notes of yeast and fig. Hearty fare demands the 2016 El Bec Pinot, a deep garnet red color, delivering aromatics of eucalyptus and tilled earth, and ripe blue fruits with a hint of smoked paprika and black pepper.
Comanche Cellars is a candy store for those who live vicariously through the variety of varietals. Want something totally different? The 2019 Dog and Pony (adorable label) Greco Di Tufo has a nose of delicate citrus, yet floods your palate with green apple and tangerine. The 2017 Dog and Pony Barbera from the Siletto Vineyard in San Benito is cranking with acid, cherry and ginger, kinda like pop rocks. Don’t miss the 2017 Cabernet Franc from Heller Vineyard in Carmel Valley, savory and sassy. Winemaker Michael Simons makes amazing blends, too: the 2017 La Vaquera ingeniously combines Tempranillo, Grenache and Graciano. If bubbles erase your troubles, pick up their holiday 2019 Pet Gnat duo of Albarino and sparkling Rosé, in a ribbon-festooned gift box. The label sports a daintily skirted young lady walking her pet gnat, instead of a purse dog.
CRU Wines might not be on your radar, but it should be. Not only does winemaker, Jose Reyes, know his way around the cellar, he knows his way around some of the best vineyards on the Central Coast. Reyes hails from Sinaloa, Mexico and began making wine 30 years ago at Bargetto Winery. His son, Juan, now helps him in the cellar and lab at CRU. Check out their Single Vineyard 3-pack ($96), which includes the magnificently creamy (not buttery) 2018 Paraiso Vineyards Chardonnay, the cool climate cranberry and blueberry laden 2017 Sierra Madre Pinot Noir and the splendid 2018 Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir. The latter is an homage to Burgundy with its earthy, forest floor aromas and fleecy tannins warmed by vanilla and baking spice. Some might remember the brand, Sequana, once part of the Hess Collection, which showcased this often overlooked vineyard. CRU also offers a Chardonnay from Arroyo Seco and Pinot Noir from the SLH, both $25/each. All screwtops: happy dance!!
The folks at De Tierra Vineyards have teamed up with local purveyors, Heart to Heart Gift Co., Lula’s Chocolates and Fleur du Soleil (all based in Monterey) to create an assortment of fabulous holiday boxes, which you can pick up at their Carmel Tasting Room until December 24th. Shop happy!
Folktale Winery offers Pet Nat lovers a fizzy riot made of Grenache Blanc harvested from the Mission Ranch Vineyard. This Pétillant Naturel is more like craft beer: it’s literally alive, so if it sprays all over you, enjoy the company. The carbonic Sangiovese is beyond exuberant, with its crunchy fresh cranberry and raspberry core. If you love Escolle Vineyard as much as I do, give the 2018 Escolle Pinot Noir, made of native ferments on 2A and 777, crafted by David Baird, a whirl (94 pts Vinous).
Hahn can make your holidays truly sing with their 2018 Hahn Orchestral Pinot Noir, an amazing composition by winemaker, Paul Clifton, who planted a mishmash of clones at the Lone Oak Vineyard, then harvested and fermented them together. It’s like the whole host of seraphim and cherubim singing together in celestial harmony. You’ve got cherry, earth, spice and the holy grail: angelic, harplike acid. (96 pts, Tasting Panel.) Put some 2018 Hahn SLH Pinot under your tree, (93 pts, Tasting Panel), or fill your glass with the refreshing 2019 SLH Pinot Gris. Grab your flutes and toast the holidays with the 2016 Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noir, both from Smith Vineyard, SLH.
Integrity once again is offering a 7-bottle pack for the holidays, this time with Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Rosé, Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Syrah, all from local vineyards, and all for $165. Integrity7-Pack
J. Lohr has specially selected three-bottle gift boxes, including “Purely Paso Robles,” featuring three sensational red releases from their pioneering vineyards and “Jerry’s Holiday Classics,” which features the 2018 Arroyo Vista Chardonnay from Arroyo Seco, the 2018 Fog’s Reach Pinot and the 2018 Hilltop Cabernet. If you’re a J Lohr Club Member, this is the time to snag a set of the coveted and collectible, J. Lohr Cuvée Series, an homage to Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, and Pauillac.
Lester Estate Wines has a 3-bottle gift pack of 2018 Chardonnay (made by John Benedetti), 2016 Caruso Pinot Noir (made by Joe and Sam Miller of Rexford Wines) and 2017 Syrah (John B), for $125. Their 2019 Sparkling Rosé is made by Dan Person, formerly of Schramsberg, now of Carboniste.
McIntyre Vineyards has you covered with three gift sets, each in magnetic closure boxes with ribbons. Choose from the SLH Pack, Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; the Estate Pack, Estate Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the Pinot Pack: Estate Pinot and Block 3 Pinot.
Morgan Wines will delight with every course, starting with the spunky Double L Riesling, then the minerally 2018 Tondre Chardonnay, and the consistently amazing Double L Pinot. Fill out a 6-pack for free shipping with a Rosella’s Pinot or perhaps a Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot, and don’t forget a Double L Syrah for those who prefer a meaty wine with hearty fare.
Sante Arcangeli Winery makes some of the most mouthwatering Pinots in the region, when Mother Nature decrees it so. The 2018 Split Rail Pinot Noir is arguably John Benedetti’s finest effort from this aging vineyard yet. Get some while it lasts, because it won’t be long. If you’re planning to toast the lives of all those lost to Covid this year, nothing would be more appropriate than the 2018 Ananda Pinot Noir, John’s tribute to his late wife Melanie, who passed away last year, before 2020 hit the fan. John’s had enough tragedy to last a lifetime, and he knows how hard hospital frontliners work. He’s giving away 2107 Integrato Chardonnay to healthcare workers this weekend for just a buck.
Ser Winery kicks the party off with the 2017 Wirz Riesling, daintily dry yet spicy. Crab and oysters would be good friends with 2019 Vermentino from Cedar Lane, and the 2014 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot from the Lilo and Coastview vineyards, is subtle, elegant and well-mannered enough to work with veal scallopine or oyster mushroom risotto. The 2017 Tondre Grapefields Pinot Noir is what you want when you’re serving ham or duck, or perhaps chicken tamales.
Scheid Wines makes your holidays sparkle with their 2013 Isabelle’s Sparkling, brut style, and the 2019 Chalone Chardonnay is brilliant. Their Reserve line is where to go for Claret in magnums, or their well-crafted SLH Pinot, also in etched magnums. If you know someone who is a Pinot clone connoisseur, they make a variety, including 115, 667 and POM solo.
Talbott Vineyards is a Chardonnay lovers dream. Nothing calls the Burgundian faithful to mass worship more than the 2018 Block 50 South Chardonnay, with its flavors of pear and crème-fraiche-filled Danish and vanilla whipped cream. For the uber-faithful, there’s the new Fidelity line, and both 2018 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir just garnered 95 point scores for their warmth and depth. Feel good about gifting the 2018 Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay, because it’s like a Christmas sugar cookie with a hint of pineapple, and the 2018 Sleepy Hollow Pinot has the blackberry and plum opulence to handle your truffle encrusted rib roast. Winemaker Dave Coventry really delivers with the 2018 Block 22 West Pinot Noir, as big as they come, for the jolly man in the red suit who wants something to drink right now.
Waxwing Wines winemaker, Scott Sisemore, nails Lester Vineyard like nobody. Check out his 2018 Lester Pinot Noir, and while you’re at it, the 2018 Lester Syrah, awarded 94 and 95 points respectively by Wine Enthusiast. Score some 2018 Deerheart Pinot Noir (93 pts WE), some of the most intense, soulful, expressive Pinot ever from a tiny vineyard on Alpine Road. Sadly, this year’s crop was torched, but Scott turned to his buddy and alchemist, Davorin Kuchin of Old World Spirits, who distilled it into astonishingly promising brandy. We can’t wait!
Windy Oaks has two holiday gift packs and two special releases of Pinot worthy of deeper inspection: 2018 Judy’s Block and 2018 Burgundian Clone. The Holiday red pack includes 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Grenache, 2018 Terra Narro, a blend of SLH, Chalone and Estate Pinot Noir, and the 2017 Estate Syrah, all three just $75.99. The Holiday White pack is $78, and includes 2016 Sparkling Albarino from Arroyo Seco, 2017 Old Vine Viognier from Chalone, and 2017 Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Whatever you pour in your glass, be thankful for the bounty we enjoy. How lucky we are to be living here in one of the best places on earth.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.