Gastronomy & Libations January 2021

Holiday Wines to Spread Joy

Boost spirits during the holiday season with wines from around the world that will match diverse palates.

As this unusual year ends, we may yearn for a boost to our spirits. Whether you seek beverages for gifting or sharing at small gatherings, here is a panel of drinks to match diverse palates.

Surprising Wines

Lost Eden Red Blend, country of Georgia

With the new year bringing hopeful changes, Lost Eden is a wine with history and good taste. The country of Georgia, located between the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains, is considered the birthplace of wine over 8,000 years ago. The wine is a collaboration of the country’s agricultural department to support the rebirth of Georgian winemaking. Under Soviet rule, the wine industry was devastated with most production exported to Russia. Lost Eden is made from saparevi, the traditional red Georgian grape. Interestingly, the Georgians call “blends” those wines made from the same grape harvested over many vineyards. The internationally trained Georgian winemaker blends heritage and modern techniques to make a balanced wine at a low price of $18.99. Saparevi brings a deep purple color and mulberry and cherry aromas. Labeled as semi-dry, there is enough acidity to balance the sweet notes. The black fruit flavors and silky tannins will appeal to many at holiday time.

Croft Pink Port, Portugal

There is a new Port on the block. Port has a reputation as a dark-hued, heavier style, after-dinner drink. But now we have Croft Pink Porto from Taylor Fladgate. Like its cousin White Port, Pink Port may fit best as a pre-meal tipple. While visiting Portugal, I discovered Port Tonics, White Port with tonic, enjoyed as an aperitif. This new category of rosé Port pours well with tonic or with my new go-to, Fentiman’s Sparkling Elderflower.  You can serve it simply chilled over ice with soda water and a slice of lemon. Or in Sangria, a Caipirinha or Paloma Rosa with tequila. A relaxing drink for chilling out during the holiday season. 

Diora 2018 La Grand Majesté Pinot Noir, San Bernabe AVA

There are always something new to learn about wine in the U.S., too. A rare appellation (AVA) with only one vineyard and one owner, San Bernabe is tucked under the Santa Lucia Mountains in Monterey County. Bordering the well-known Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, the AVA was named for Saint Barnabas, a Calif. missionary who first planted grapes in the region in 1771. Delicato Family Wines, the sixth largest wine company in the U.S., owns the vineyard and Diora brand. The vineyard name Diora means “gold” and references the golden hue of the neighboring hills. I enjoyed the mix of aromas from earthy to bright strawberry. On the palate the wine is smooth with enough heft to pair with food from appetizers and salumi to ribs and chicken.

South Coast Winery

Another lesser known AVA has emerged on my radar. Though I would love to visit this destination wine region within an hour or two of Southern California’s large cities, tasting their wines is the next best thing. South Coast Winery, unlike many of the other 40 wineries in the AVA who sell their wine only direct to consumer at the tasting room or online, distributes on a limited basis in Calif. South Coast produces over 50,000 cases with about 8,000 as sparkling wine made at the winery in the charmat method like Prosecco. I tasted the bright flavors of the dry sparkling wine and immediately cut up some brie for pairing. As a believer in pairing sparkling wine throughout the meal, I liked how the light acidity on Thanksgiving played well with roasted turkey and gravy.

Long Meadow Ranch 2016 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

Anderson Valley wine is no stranger to our cellar. But I associated Long Meadow Ranch, located just south of St. Helena on Napa Valley’s famous highway 29 with their estate cabernet sauvignon. I was surprised to find a delicious bottle of their pinot noir from Anderson Valley. Though my tasters weren’t aware of the grapes’ cool growing season, they kept emphasizing the layers of this pinot noir. The long, cool harvest yielded deep color, complexity, and textural elements. The nose was redolent of cherries and berries. The wine expressed excellent structure along with balance and finesse. As for food pairings, salmon was the group consensus for pairing, but I veered toward fried chicken or traditional duck.

A Timely Wine for Celebrations



Domaine Carneros Cuveé de la Pompadour, Napa Valley 

During this holiday season when a woman will soon become vice-president, we celebrate with a wine from Domaine Carneros who recently appointed Remi Cohen as their second female CEO. The winery, owned by Champagne house Taittinger, named a top sparkler after a famous, feisty French lady, Madame de la Pompadour, the paramour of Louis XV. Her vinous claim to fame was introducing Champagne to the royal court. This brut cuvée may be feminine in its elegance but is dry and far from a sweet sparkling. The fruity flavors of ripe peach and strawberry, however, give the “appearance” of sweetness. Adding to the allure of the wine is the deep pink color derived from 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay. The medium body and fine bubbles paired well with appetizers, salmon and chicken. Overall a lovely tipple to toast the holidays.

Winter Reds

VDR 2018 Very Dark Red, Monterey 

We’ll start on winter reds with this big, rich red from Scheid Family Wines. A new brand, VDR lives up to its name in color with its blend of petite sirah and petite verdot. These two grapes are usually added to deepen the color in other blends. Together the grapes bring a rich but not overpowering profile to the wine. The dark fruit aromas are enticing. The cool nights in Monterey enabled the wine to retain natural acidity despite ripeness. Though the flavors veer toward mocha and vanilla, sweetness is not a major element and tannins are in balance. I paired VDR with chicken in a simple wine sauce, but I daydreamed about a thick filet while sipping.

Seghesio 2018 Zinfandel, Sonoma County

Pioneers in Sonoma County winemaking, the Seghesio family knows how to capture the best characteristics of zinfandel. Ned Neumiller, the viticulture director and fifth generation Seghesio family member, selected several blocks of old zinfandel from the vineyards throughout Sonoma County with some vines over 100 years old. The small yield from grapes on old vines provides structure and complexity to the wine. With a nod to tradition, about 10 percent of petite sirah was added to give color and structure. The result is a wine with spice and black fruit nose and flavors of blackberry and baking spice. I appreciated the smooth texture with warmth on the finish—a good wine to pair with pizza or pasta with pesto.

Cameron Hughes Lot 725 2018 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley

Yes, another zinfandel makes the list because the varietal calls out for relaxing on cool evenings. In contrast to long time family vintners, Cameron Hughes launched a négociant business which enables him to buy quality wines from diverse Calif. wineries and blend them into his offerings—with the sources never individually disclosed. I’ve sample several of his wines and found the zinfandel to serve as a well-rounded choice. I rarely agree with the official tasting notes, but this one says “sweet tobacco” which works. Earthy with dark fruit is my way of describing this high alcohol wine (15.5% ABV) which manages to avoid over-ripe, cloyingly warm characteristics. A fine roasted poultry or meat-pairing wine.

Banshee 2018 Pinot Noir, Sonoma County

At first contact with Banshee, you get fruity aromas from plum to berries. But after a few sips you recognize the balance between the fruit and herbal qualities which the varietal is known for. This wine, part of the Foley Family Wines group, is comprised of grapes from over a dozen vineyards including the winery’s single vineyard program. Extra care is given to the grapes with handpicking and destemming. The well-sourced pinot noir has a medium body pairs well with salmon or meat, cheese or spicy Mexican and is reasonably priced at $28.

Avaline red blend, non-vintage, Vin de France



Moving on to France, Avaline is the celebrity wine in the mix. Due to a mutual love of wine, two well-known American friends started the program. Actress Cameron Diaz is more famous, but Katherine Power is an icon in the fashion industry with various brands. Vin de France indicates a wine is from any part of France. Diaz noted she wanted a wine with “spice” while Power wanted a “medium-bodied red that we could enjoy year-round.” The duo specified a “clean” wine they defined as organic grapes, no added sugars and minimal vegan additives. Though some wineries tout the ingredients on the back label, this detail is displayed on the front label. The grenache and syrah blend is what I call a “mild, smooth” wine without deep complexity, but a pleasant, anytime drink with burgers or grilled cheese. For $24 you get bragging rights on serving a celebrity product.

V2G 2019, Vin de France



Vine to Glass or V2G is an sustainable, organic wine project from Biagio Cru, a family-owned importer of global fine wines and spirits most known for Rosé All Day. Labeled as the “natural choice” rather than natural wine which has no legal definition, this is a French certified organic wine. V2G has added no sulfites to prevent spoilage and oxidation. Yet unusual for an organic wine, the company touts a long, organic wine shelf life of three years. Here are the three reasons they give for this claim of shelf stability: The grapes are carefully selected; the wine is finely filtered to eliminate material that could spoil; the amount of oxygen is optimized during winemaking to avoid spoilage. The blend of syrah with 20 percent added cabernet sauvignon combines berry notes with spice and displays soft tannins. Distribution is beginning at a $15.99 price point. I suggest sharing with friends who lean toward the organic spectrum on food and those who would simply enjoy the wine with wings or ribs.

With whatever beverages you select, enjoy a joyous and safe holiday time.

Main image photo credit: krakenimages / unsplash.com. Other photos by respective companies.

Deborah Grossman is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist whose specialty is writing about people and places that craft unique beverage and food. Her gastronomic travel articles depict experiences at the global dining table. She writes for several print and
online publications. She occasionally eats dessert first and applauds the Italian proverb: 
A dinner without wine is like a day without sunshine.

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