I love wine, but I’m not very knowledgable about wines except to say that you can’t go wrong with a good Italian Barolo. However, I have good friends. Aaron Sherman is one of those good friends, and he knows wine. I mean, he really knows wine — as in he is a Sommelier. So I asked Aaron to put together a list of the best wines to give at the holidays. He has also made a separate list of sparkling wines, Champagne, and prosecco if you are looking for bubbles!
Thank you, Aaron! I know we will be drinking well this season!
Congratulations! You’ve successfully made it through "Decorative Gourd Season" and have arrived at full-on "The Holidays." As much as this is the season of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Clean The House For the Family Thursday, it’s also the season for Holiday Parties! As you prepare for your busy calendar, I’ve compiled some suggestions for the age old question:
“What Wine should I bring to Steve’s Annual Holiday Santa’s Workshop Bash?”
In an effort to reduce some of the wide-eyed fear of approaching those daunting shelves at your local, independent wine shop, here’s my gift-bag full of favorite holiday party options. (They work pretty well for holiday dinners, too)
I want to bring the best wine I can find, but I’ve only got twelve bucks.
One of the greatest aspects of Spanish wine is that so many options provide extraordinary value. The Bodegas Olivares “Altos de la Hoya” is a prime example. Made from old-vine Monastrell (mon-a-STRAY-ah)—a grape known for its intensely deep and rich flavors (and also known as Mourvedre in France)—this packs a hedonistically massive amount of deep berry and chocolate flavors into your glass. And it is such a steal, you may just buy a bunch and keep it around the house for your daily red
I love bubbles, but if someone opens another bottle of Prosecco…
Hungary has been making some of the world’s greatest dessert wines (Tokaji Aszu) for centuries. But did you know it is also the home to some delightful white and sparkling wines, too? Kiralyudvar “Pezgo” is a brilliant bottle of bubbles made primarily from Furmint (what a great name for a grape, no?), and it is a perfect alternative to Cava and Prosecco. The flavor tends towards richer fruits, like apricots and melons, with notes of honey and beeswax candles (the really good, French ones that Grandma only takes out on special occasions), and, while it is texturally rich in the mouth, it’s also dry and vibrant. Plus, bubbles!
Cabernet is the best pairing for sweaters.
Sometimes, you just want to curl up in a warm, fuzzy sweater. And sometimes, your tummy wants that too. One of the best that California has to offer is Fisher Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Fisher Vineyards was started by Whitney Fisher’s father, Fred Fisher, in the 70s. Now she and her two siblings have taken over the company. “Unity” is symbolic of their story: the bringing together of fruit from their vineyards in both Napa and Sonoma, the trio of second-generation Fishers now running the company, and how well this big Cabernet goes with just about everything. They make an amazing Chardonnay and Pinot noir, too.
Nouveau? No Way.
Beaujolais Nouveau Day is a great idea: let’s all pick a day (3rd Thursday of November, at 12:01am) and all pop a bottle of this year’s harvest. We’ll see what the year tastes like, and throw a party with light, fruity red wine. The only problem is that Nouveau is usually fairly bland and boring wine, and it’s no longer nearly as cheap as it used to be (“I remember when.…”). However, for only about $10 more, you can get the absolute best wines made from Beaujolais, this tiny region affixed to the southern end of Burgundy. Check out Domaine Chassellay “Fleurie”. Named for a Cru Village (one of the 10 best) in Beaujolais that provides a dark, floral undertone to the wines, this one tastes like raspberries and violets and soft, rich herbs. It is velvety, but light weight, perfect for quaffing back in a room full of elves.
Every party needs Champagne!
Never has a truer statement been made. As Lily Bollinger (of Bollinger Champagne) is quoted as saying: “I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it -- unless I'm thirsty.” If you are of similar mind, then you should always make sure you’ve got a bottle in the fridge. Jacquart’s “Brut Mosaique” is a classic in every way except cost: a non-vintage blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, with a fine mousse (the delicate bubbles) and delicious flavor. And because it is not one of the big houses with huge marketing budgets, it is a relative steal.
“I really like blends.”
These are quickly becoming the most oft-spoken words amongst wine drinkers. Why? Because blends ease up the polarizing characteristics of individual grapes, making for a more-easygoing, balanced drink. One of my favorites comes from one of Washington’s oldest wineries (It was started in 1983, making it the 3rd oldest winery in Walla Walla). Housed in an old school house in the historic French area (l’ecole means school, and it was district 41), the winery L’Ecole No. 41 makes a fabulously easy drinker called “Frenchtown Red Blend.” Made from a whole stew of grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Malbec, Cabernet Franc), it is a rich, easy-drinking red that’s great for a party: not too polarizing a personality, and everybody likes it.
Hold the oak, please.
Chardonnay is still one of the most popular white wines, but many people have shied away from the buttery, oaky styles in the last few years. Similarly, the “Metallic” or “Naked” or “Silver” versions (the ones made without any oak barrels whatsoever) can sometimes be a bit austere. Enter Hoopes vineyards “Hoopla” Chardonnay. Second-generation and family-owned, the winery is now managed by Lindsay Hoopes who took over the reins from her dad in 2012. The Hoopla brand was started when she was just out of college and couldn’t afford to drink her dad’s wines. He built a brand of delicious and affordable wines that offer a brilliant peek into the winery’s style without the hefty price-tag (side note: while the Hoopes Cabs are more expensive, they’re still a comparative steal to the wineries that are nearby; value comes in every price point). This Chardonnay is made in stainless steel, and only a small portion (about 10%) is fermented in oak barrels. This makes for a Chardonnay with bright citrus and apple notes and just the slightest hint of toast and cream. It’s refreshing and delicious.
A Christmas Classic
Sometimes you go old school, and sometimes you go really old school. Donn and Molly Chappellet moved to Napa Valley in the 1960s and, at the urging of Andre Tchelistcheff (kind of the godfather of California wine), were the first to plant high up on the slopes of Pritchard Hill. That was 1967, and the winery has amassed a huge following of wine lovers (and critical prestige) since then. Plus, because the vineyards were planted and the winery built so long ago, they’re no longer paying off construction loans. So the relatively value of the wine is killer. The “Mountain Cuvee” is a blend of Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot), and comes from vineyards in Napa and Sonoma valleys. If you like Cabernet and want to show the youngsters what some old-school street cred is all about, check out this wine. It’s the best $30 you can spend.
“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.”
It’s ok. Sweet wines are delicious, so you shouldn’t feel any less cool if that’s what you like. Find quality producers, open a bag of your favorite holiday treats, and gorge yourself silly. Besides, Resolutions don’t start til January. Stefano Perrone named his winery after his son (and Father) Elio, and strongly believes that Moscato deserves to be respected alongside the “great” wines of Piedmont. He focuses on making extraordinary wines from prime vineyards in Northern Italy. While he makes some of the greatest Moscato d’Asti you can find, he also makes a delightful wine called “Bigaro,” which is a blend of Moscato and Brachetto. Lightly pink, slightly fizzy, and sweetly delicious, it is a glass full of raspberries, strawberries, white flowers, and honeyed peaches. It’s a perfect treat with chocolate desserts, or candy canes.
And when no one is looking…
Everyone has a guilty pleasure, and the holidays should be no different. I can’t tell you the number of bartenders I know whose secret drink of choice (when no one they know is watching) is an amaretto sour. While it went out of fashion in the 80s, Amaretto is shockingly delicious. Lazzaroni is a prestigious Italian producer of liqueurs that was started in 1851. They still make Amaretto the old fashioned way, starting by baking “Amaretti del Chiostro di Saronno” cookies and infusing them in spirit. the resultant amber concoction is sweet and almondy and tastes like the angels’ best bake sale offering. Bake up a plate of your favorite holiday cookies and serve it on the rocks or in coffee for a perfect way to warm up this winter.
With everything going on during the holidays, hopefully you can reduce a bit of the holiday stress by finding a delicious wine to drink at the season’s holiday parties. If you can’t find a specific wine listed here, the staff at your local wine shop should be able to help you find something similar.
Aaron Sherman, Guest Columnist
Aaron began his professional life as a classical musician, but quickly discovered his passion for all things beverage. Over the course of his career, Aaron has been fortunate to work in the restaurants of some of the midwest’s most accomplished chefs, including Curtis Duffy (Avenues, Grace), Sean Pharr (NoMI, Bristol), Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat), Ken Carter (Gather), Gerard Craft (Niche), and Ben Poremba (Elaia). Having been awarded his Diploma from the International Sommelier Guild (ISG) and the rank of Certified Sommelier for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Aaron was asked to be a faculty member for the ISG, where he conducted wine education classes in Chicago. In June of 2016, Aaron was offered the opportunity to bring his restaurant experience to the sales side working with the exceptional portfolio at Vintegrity in Missouri. His writing has been featured in Today’s Chicago Woman and on National Public Radio’s website, and he has done collaborations with the Midwest Center for the Arts (Midland, MI) and members of the New World and Alabama Symphonies. Aaron lives in St. Louis with his wife, Jelena, a professional musician, and their dog, Bear.