Every month, my husband attends a luncheon (guys-only, but I digress) in various Sonoma County locales, from private homes to event spaces. Everyone brings a bottle of wine, and although the menu is not revealed in advance, it’s always invariably abundant and delicious, and a great time is had by all. This could easily be any holiday gathering: people, food, and wine with the primary focus on the gathering, not food and wine pairing. The holidays are all about celebrating, so here are some wines to add to your party.
Valley of the Moon 2016 Pinot Blanc–Viognier ($22)
After a long cross-country airline trip, my husband asked if I wanted a glass of wine (is there ever a question?), and brought me this. As a vehement Chardonnay fan, I’d previously been on the fence about this blend, but this time I found it delicate, bright, light, and refreshing. While I do like Pinot Blanc with its full-bodied crispness, Viognier’s creamy, floral, honey mouth-feel is usually pretty hit or (mostly) miss for me, but the two together seemed to be the ticket. The dry and crisp Pinot Blanc balanced out the peachy honey-floral big mouth feel of the Viognier. I like it as a stand-alone sipper served cold to keep those big flavors at bay, and it could work to calm some slightly spicy/salty seafood and poultry dishes.
Paradise Ridge 2014 Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Russian River Valley ($44) and 2014 Sparkling Shiraz, Russian River Valley ($52)
This winery’s larger location in Santa Rosa burned to the ground in the 2017 fires, with its surviving LOVE sculpture becoming an iconic symbol of hope amidst the widespread massive destruction that remains to this day. While reconstruction is ongoing, its smaller outpost in Kenwood thrives. Referred to by employees as the “red happy house,” it’s a cozy space with a few tables and a small tasting bar. The atmosphere is warm, friendly, and welcoming to people and dogs alike.
On a recent visit, we enjoyed the Blanc de Blanc so much, we chose it to celebrate our upcoming anniversary. The grapes are from the acclaimed Russian River Valley Bazzano vineyard and are dry-farmed, which stresses the grapes and intensifies their flavor, as does the long hang time (additional time on the vine after reaching the desired brix [sugar] level). I’m not going to tell you I recalled the lemon notes referred to by the winemaker; all I know is it tasted delicious enough to buy, and we enjoyed it once again, sans food, while overlooking the Mendocino coast.
Another fun sparkling these folks produce is a sparkling shiraz, popular in Australia, and showing up more frequently stateside, although probably still trying to gain acceptance. While you may wince at the thought of sparkling red wine, give it a try, it’s the holidays, after all, and this one has a great pedigree from the Rockpile and Russian River AVAs. The winemaker calls it “a party in a bottle,” and while I do prefer white bubbles, I am intrigued by red ones, and wouldn’t hesitate to bring this to a holiday gathering, where it would certainly be a standout (if you are thinking Cold Duck here, banish the thought. It’s nothing like the sweet bubbly popular in the early 1970s, which was based on the German conglomeration of leftover dregs.)
Scharffenberger NV Mendocino County Crémant ($25)
I was charmed finding this gem of a tasting room in the Anderson Valley and appreciated the lone, friendly, low-key server who said, “the wines sell themselves.” Housed in a Craftsman bungalow featuring work from local artists and surrounded by lush gardens, the property with outdoor tables feels like you’re visiting a good friend’s home — a far cry from the production-line feel of its sister cellar down the road. We were equally delighted with the Crémant — an elegant, creamy, not-so-bubbly sparkling, perfect for those who aren’t keen on traditional bubbles.
Landmark 2016 La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($55)
While Chardonnay is my go-to white, Pinot wins for red. A good Pinot that is. After the movie Sideways debuted over 10 years ago, the market was flooded with a lot of pretty awful pinots, but it’s recovered, thanks to wineries like Landmark that are serious about producing the best expression of this delicate varietal. I asked five tasting room folks which Pinot they’d serve at Thanksgiving, and I got a variety of answers (further to my ongoing point that wine is subjective), and Landmark makes a variety of excellent Pinots, so the varied responses aren’t that surprising.
The organic La Encantada vineyard in the Santa Barbara County Santa Rita Hills AVA is a cool-climate vineyard heavily influenced by fog and marine winds, which results in a lovely, heavier style Pinot, rich and elegant with berry flavors and both spicy and savory notes.