Picking out the right wines for the holidays can be stressful. Your brother who vacations in Provence will be there and he really knows (or thinks he knows) his wine, you will be serving a half dozen different kinds of food and what in the world pairs with honey ham and devilled eggs anyway? Well, we get to taste a lot of wine here at the School and we have narrowed them all down to three good, affordable wines that will leave your family asking you how in the world you got to be so classy!
First Course: The Sparkling Wine
The holidays are a time of celebration, and nothing says celebration like some good Champage. But for those of us who don't want to dish out $75 for their cousins to slurp down in one gulp, only to reach their grubby mitts over to refill their glass while we stare on in horror, we have your bubbly!
About 400 miles south of Champagne we come to Burgundy, where they happen to make some pretty fantastic sparkling wine as well! Don't let the scary sounding "Cremant de Bourgogne" frighten you off, it just means "Sparkling wine from Burgundy". These are fantastic alternatives to the spendy wines of Champagne for the price-savvy consumer.
Domaine Jean-Luc Joillot is one sparkling wine producer in Burgundy who just made headlines at a major wine tasting in France. His wine, the "Cuvee Agnes" was voted the fourth best sparkling wine in France by a team of professional tasters who were tasting blind. "Agnes" beat out some of the biggest Champagne producers, including Veuve Cliquot's high end wine, the "Grand Dame" vintage 1998, which retails for around $130! This is like a minor league baseball team beating the Yankees!
"Agnes", which retails at $41, is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and is rich, creamy and sure to impress even your snobbiest family members! If $41 sounds a bit too rich, you can get Agnes' little sister, the Jean-Luc Joillot Crement, which retails at $29.
Second Course: The White
The holiday season is where I usually find myself dropping my favorite Gruner Veltliner in favor of something richer and fuller. Something that sticks to your ribs and makes you feel warm as you sit by the fire eating christmas cookies! While a Chardonnay certainly fits that bill, they have gotten a bit pricy as well. And also, can we all agree that we are a little bored by Chardonnay by now?
A great way to spice up your winter evenings is with the Truchard Roussanne! Roussanne is one of the major white grapes of the southern Rhone Valley in France, but this one is made in the style of a California Chardonnay. Instead of Chardonnay's apple and pear flavor topped with spice and cream, start off with more of a spicy apricot flavor, and then add on the California treatment. Rich and complex, with exotic spices and a heavier texture. At $24, this wine is a steal! I enjoyed it more than many Chardonnays in the $30-$40 range.
Third Course: The Red
For a great red that will pair well with a Christmas roast but isn't tannic enough to overpower a turkey or ham, try out the "Caliza" from Marques de Grignon. It is a blend of the French grapes, Syrah and Petite Verdot, grown in Spain.
Caliza means "Limestone", paying homage to the type of soil the grapes are grown on, very unique for Spain! The soil in this vineyard is so unique that the Spanish government awarded the Marques de Grignon winery its own DO, the same category as Rioja or Priorat or Ribero del Duero. That's kind of like, say, Cakebread cellars being granted an AVA in California, and then being listed along with Napa Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles, and the other AVA's. That's a pretty big deal!
Caliza is big and rich, full of spice and dried figs, black cherry with a hint of coffee and enough acidity to keep things interesting, but not enough to make it too tart. At $20.75, Caliza is a real crowd pleaser and it won't hurt your wallet either! This wine makes me want to pour a big glass of it and then sit by a fireplace. I might even share some of it with my family!