A Few Fantastic Wines: Holiday Wine Recommendations from Wine Sellers

Christy Frank of Frankly Wines
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This year for a change, I decided to include not just my own personal wine picks for the holiday season, but to also ask a few local retailers what they think is hot to celebrate the 2013 holiday season, or to buy as a special gift.

Read on for recommendations from three wine sellers in New York City, as well as a few of my own firm favorites.

Hortense Bernard of Millesima
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I spoke to three New York City wine sellers: Christy Frank (Founder/Owner of Frankly Wines in Tribeca), Hortense Bernard (General Manager of Millesima on the Upper East Side) and Melanie Mann (New York Wine Buyer for Whole Foods on the Upper West Side).

When I approached these retailers I asked for four holiday suggestions – a sparkler, a white wine, a red wine and finally, an indulgence or something special to gift. What I love about the recommendations is the diversity, reinforcing that there is no one ‘perfect’ or even ‘right’ wine to pick. Everything boils down to the wine styles that you personally like, and then of course to your budget.

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Sparkling Wines

While I am a strong advocate of enjoying sparkling wine all year long, its consumption is much associated with the holidays and times of celebration. So with the holiday season well upon us, it is always a good idea to have a bottle or two on hand should the unexpected guest drop by for some holiday cheer!

Christy Frank recommends the Ca dei Zago Prosecco, DOC Col Fondo NV ($19.00 or $52.99 for a magnum) from Valdobbiadene, in the heart of Prosecco land in Italy. This is a very interesting Prosecco in that it finishes its second fermentation in bottle (almost all Prosecco is tank method) with no disgorgement (therefore there will be some lees sediment in the bottle – but don’t worry about that) or dosage – so it is bone dry. Christy like the fact that the mousse is more foamy than creamy, and says that it is incredibly refreshing. On Christy’s recommendation I bought a bottle to try and yes, it deserves a place on this list.

Interestingly Hortense, at Millesima, also suggested a Prosecco – the Ca Furlan Cuvée Béatrice Prosecco, Extra Dry NV – a steal at $11.99. Hortense recommends this particular sparkler for the holidays because it will appeal to many palates, is the perfect casual sparkling wine to pour for cocktail hour or as an aperitif and is really great value. Which is important during the holidays when there are plenty of occasions that deserve bubbles.

Moving out of Italy and Prosecco, Whole Foods’ NYC buyer Melanie Mann proposes a Cava from Spain’s Penèdes region. The NV Roger d’Anoia Cava Brut from Freixenet sells for just $9.99. Melanie likes its lively effervescence and bright orchard fruit flavors. For a casual get together she recommends pairing it with Uniekaas Parrano, a semi-firm cow milk cheese from Holland.

And now it is my turn on the sparklers. I have two wines that I am really enjoying this holiday season – one from the old world and one from the new world. From the old world it is the NV Domaine du Montbourgeau, Crémant du Jura, Brut ($22.99). Made entirely from Chardonnay and bottled fermented using the traditional method, this sparkling wine from a tiny producer in southeast France exudes elegance, energy and style. This is a great go-to wine when Champagne is out of the budget. Secondly from California I heartily recommend the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs. At $22 it is also excellent value. It has a lovely festive coppery hue, a creamy texture, vibrant mousse and delicious delicate red berry flavors.

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White Wines

Frankly Wines is noted for its quirky finds as well as your everyday wine essentials. For me, Christy’s white wine suggestion definitely falls into the ‘quirky’ but also interesting and keenly priced category. From Savoie in southeastern France, it is the 2012 Domaine Lupin Frangy Rousette de Savoie ($23.99). It is made from the local ‘Altesse’ grape variety, which as Christy points out has a bracing acidity that pairs well with brisk winter weather (and ski slopes, if you're actually drinking the wine as the French do). Christy especially likes this wine because it is all about texture — a little silky, a little nutty, with a firm spine of underlying acidity that makes it lovely either on its own or paired with pretty much anything you can bring to the holiday table.

While Millesima stocks wines from around the world, its heart is in Bordeaux. Hortense herself is from Bordeaux, where her family have been involved in buying and selling wine for generations. Therefore, it is not surprising that for the holidays Hortense’s leanings are toward suggestions from her home turf. For a white she recommends the 2011 Château Chantegrive, Graves, Bordeaux Blanc Sec. At $19.99 it certainly delivers excellent value. The AOC Graves is the most highly regarded sub-region in Bordeaux for white wines. Bordeaux is not famous in the US for its white wine. This Bordeaux wine is a perfect introduction to white Bordeaux as it offers nice acidity and balance given its equal parts of Sémilion and Sauvignon Blanc.The Semillon adds a lovely waxiness and fleshiness to the texture, rounding out and taming Sauvignon Blancs unbridled zestiness.

Back up on the Upper West Side Melanie Mann suggests trying their 2011 Grace Lane Yakima Valley Riesling, Washington State. At $9.99 it is a real steal. Medium dry, Melanie likes its delicate notes of fresh green apple and crisp white peach. Though delicate the flavors are layered and persistent. A great all-rounder wine, delicious on its own, with spicy foods or as Melanie suggests with Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue – a raw cow milk blue veined cheese from California’s Sonoma Valley.

And so, on to my white wine suggestion, which is the 2010 Domaine de la Pepière ‘Clisson’, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ($23) from France’s Loire Valley. Good Muscadet wine is so underrated and undervalued. I also like my Muscadet with a little age, as the wines show better integration, definition and complexity. This 2010 is still young but not too young, and is already showing a lovely mineral complexity. Refreshing with lovely depth of flavor and a distinct oyster-shell minerality. A perfect partner to your winter shellfish extravaganzas!

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Red Wines

Back first to Christy at Frankly Wines. For a red Christy is suggesting her 2010 Fairbank Sutton Grange Winery Rouge, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia. I am so delighted to see an Australian recommendation, as between one thing and another (including currency exchange rates and Americans falling ‘out of love’ with Australian wines), there has been a bit of a dearth of decent Australian wine options over the past few years. Christy calls this deliciously juicy wine ‘Bendigo Beaujolais’, even though there is no Gamay grape in the wine. Made from mainly Syrah with a bit of Merlot and a splash of Sangiovese, it is made by a Frenchman ‘down-under’, who uses carbonic maceration, which works very nicely on this wine. The result, in Christy’s opinion, is a fresh, chillable and utterly delicious red for $18.99.

Sticking firmly to her Bordeaux roots, Hortense’s red pick is the 2005 Château Pierbone, Bordeaux Rouge, from the Haut Médoc sub-region. From the heralded 2005 vintage, this wine, the second wine from Château Peyrabon, is drinking deliciously well at the moment. At $18.99, this wine is a great intro for wine drinkers interested in getting to know Bordeaux a bit better. It is a blend of the classic Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Melanie at Whole Foods had about five reds in her shortlist, which I tasted and then with difficulty whittled down to one – the limited production Grenache based 2008 H & G Priorat from Spain. Melanie likes this wine because it combines both a silkiness and robust power with lots of rich, ripe red and black fruit flavors, and has a nicely integrated touch of oak and earthy minerality on the finish. Apart from being an obvious partner for hearty winter fare, Melanie also recommends serving this wine with a creamy Fromager d’Affinois — a double-cream soft cow milk cheese from France.

My contribution to the red wine suggestions is the 2010 Avignonesi, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, from Italy’s Tuscany region. Widely available for around $29, it is refreshing and supple with plenty of bright red fruit flavors and just the right amount of signature Italian tannic grip on the finish. We enjoyed this wine recently with a classic ‘Daube de Boeuf’ – but it will work with a wide range of meat dishes or even a simple supper of Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Fancy Wines for Gifting (or Indulging!)

For this category I asked for suggestions that could be up to $60 to $70 dollars – an indulgence, budget permitting. Here are some of the ideas.

For Christy at Frankly Wines, this had to be the R. Navarre Pineau des Charentes Vieux, from France’s Cognac region. Pineau des Charentes is a sweet fortified wine. Essentially it is Cognac married with grape must (unfermented grape juice). In this case the must of the Ugni Blanc grape, noted for its bracing acidity, which lifts the wine. A lot of Pineau des Charentes wines are young, fresh and sweet but this one is an aged example – aged for 30 years in cask to be specific. Christy loves this wine because the of the kick that the aged Cognac gives to a wine – a sort of sweet and strong attitude. She finds that the wine shares some of the nutty, caramel notes of a tawny port, but with a unique freshness and liveliness thanks to the Ugni Blanc grape. A great gift for the wine geek! Priced at $68.99.

Moving from Tribeca back to the Upper East Side to Millesima, Hortense suggests the 2009 L’Esprit de Chevalier, Pessac Leognan ($24.99) as a wonderful wine to gift. Very reasonably priced, L’Esprit de Chevalier is the second wine from the illustrious Domaine de Chevalier, which in fact is owned by Hortense’s family. So you are pretty much buying the wine as directly as you can from the property. 2009 was a fantastic vintage in Bordeaux. Hortense feels that this second wine embodies the characteristics of a “grand vin”, yet in a more approachable and straightforward way. While it can be enjoyed now it will also benefit from cellaring.

For ‘gifting’ Melanie Mann of Whole Foods recommends the 2011 Occhipinti Frappato ($39.99), which she describes as an expressive, aromatic and charming red from Sicily, made from the local pale-skinned Frappato grape. Melanie considers this wine to be a truly authentic wine, where you can taste the unique terroir in every sip. I would add to Melanie’s comments by saying that though pale in color, this wine shows significant complexity, structure, elegance and persistence of flavors across the palate.

As the author of this post I am permitting myself to recommend two wines to gift. First up is a wine I recently tasted and it blew me away – fragrant, elegant, complex – and from California. It is the 2012 Arnot Roberts North Coast Trousseau, California, which sells for around $37-$38 dollars. Trousseau is a very old grape variety more usually associated with the Jura wine region of France. Whole cluster fermented (gives purity and brightness) with native yeasts and bottled unfined and unfiltered. It is beautifully perfumed, excellent purity and depth of fruit flavor and so persistent on the finish.

Champagne has not had much of a look in so far in this post. And where would the holidays be without at least one bottle of Champagne? So for my final gift suggestion I recommend the NV Marie-Noëlle LeDru, Extra Brut. Sure, I have recommended it before but for me it so over-delivers for its price of $60. This is a rich, powerful and complex Champagne. It is a blend of 85% Pinot and 15% Chardonnay from Marie Noëlle's tiny few acres in Ambonnay, one of the top Pinot Noir villages of Champagne. No dosage added, it is very dry with about 3-4g/l residual sugar.

(For The Kitchn readers who are intent on gifting Champagne, my Champagne guide from 2012 still hold true.)

Do you have any wines on your holiday wish list (or gift list) this year?

(Image credits: Mary Gorman-McAdams)

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