This holiday season, why not try something different on the wine front? Offer your friends and guests some truly unique and delicious wine choices — all for under $40.
With so many great wine values on the store shelves these days, it's a perfect time to push the palate in a slightly different direction by experimenting with some unique and absolutely delicious wines. The following "Holiday Wine Buyer's Guide" suggests three excellent wine choices that will surely surprise — and delight — your family and friends this season.
While all of these wines were relatively expensive to make, they are quite affordable to enjoy. They all come in under the magic, sub-$40 price point that so many vintners are targeting in today's wine market. And best of all, each one comes with a colorful story.
"Come quickly! I'm drinking stars!"
Those were the first words that the monk Dom Pérignon is said to have uttered after having discovered Champagne. While the basic process (méthode champenoise) for making Champagne is roughly 300 years old, it still involves a great deal of complex chemistry, physical manipulations and considerable investment. Some would say that it is worth every penny for such an enjoyable beverage, especially around the holidays.
Here's some brief background. The sparking wine we call "Champagne" comes from a region outside of Paris, France. Most champagne-like wines here in California are called sparkling wines out of deference to the French who prefer that other regions refrain from referring to their sparklers as Champagne.
With such high capital costs involved in making sparking wine, it is cause for celebration when California producer Frank Family Vineyards can offer a delicious Non-Vintage Blanc de Blanc Sparking Wine for $35. After the cellar master described the sparking wine as "crisp and bone dry," he then encouraged me to go even further in my holiday wine buying adventure. "Try something different. How about our Frank Family Rouge!" he exclaimed.
The Frank Family Rouge is actually a red sparkling wine, made from 100 percent Pinot Noir. The wine is dark red, full-flavored, with black cherries on the finish. And it has bubbles! Wild and wonderful. "A perfect match for a holiday dinner of chicken or turkey or smoked salmon." While the white sparkling wine may be purchased online (www.frankfamilyvineyards.com), the Frank Family Pinot Noir Rouge may only be purchased at the winery. Like the white sparkler, the Rouge sells for $35.
When life gives you lemons, time to make Blanc de Pinot Noir!
How about a white wine made from a traditionally red wine grape? This is exactly what the Novy Family Vineyards has done with their 2008 Willamette Valley Blanc de Pinot Noir.
As some wine experts will remember, the 2007 Oregon harvest was far from ideal — extraordinary levels of rainfall left the vineyards drenched and almost unsalvageable. But thanks to the vision of a diligent group of growers, they were able to avoid a disastrous (and expensive) season, and decided to pick a specific section of grapes well ahead of schedule because they didn't believe the grapes were going to fully ripen.
Instead of settling for making a mediocre wine (or losing the investment entirely), they decided to try something different. Immediately upon arriving at the winery, they put the whole clusters into the press and pressed the grapes very, very gently. The goal was to extract as much flavor from the grapes without giving the juice any of the Pinot Noir color. The assistant winemaker thought it was the craziest idea the team ever had, but the result was a spectacular success. Indeed, the wine recently enjoyed a 90 point ranking in the Wine Spectator!
The Blanc de Pinot Noir is now a favorite Novy white wine, possessing some of the mid-palate weight of a Chardonnay, but with exceptional acidity. The nose gives way to thoughts of Marsanne or Roussanne (popular varietals in the Rhone region of France), but when combined with the slightly heavier weight and fruit flavors it is its own truly unique wine.At a mere $24 a bottle, it's a clear winner for the holidays (available online at www.novyfamilywines.com).
Please pass the Port, the cozy choice!
The first reaction I had upon holding a bottle of the 2006 Quivira Dusk Dessert Wine from Dry Creek Valley was, "What a charming bottle! How 19th Century!" The round, stout vessel with its wax cap and red ribbon harkens back to the golden age of port drinking in the London clubs along Pall Mall. And festive beyond words!
This rich, yet mellow desert wine is no ordinary Port, though. Made from the Petite Syrah grape the fruit is left to hang on the vine until it's dripping with juice. Then the grapes are hand-harvested, and — get this — crushed by FOOT to the sound of music. (I was reminded of the famous "I Love Lucy" episode.) After several hours of trotting with the soft padding of the human foot, not one seed splits to release its bitter oils. The wine is then aged 30 months in old French oak. The delicious result is a wine that presents powerful blackberry and coffee flavor, which pairs perfectly with dark chocolate or strong Stilton cheese. An ideal match next to the fireplace on a chilly winter evening!
The 2006 Quivira Dusk Dessert Wine can only be purchased at the Quivira Winery for $40.
Taken together, these three gems from California and Oregon are guaranteed to lift the spirits of everyone on your holiday gift list. At the very least, they are sure to help you stay within your budget for the season.
Current Vintage: Frank Family NV Sparkling Wine, Calistoga, California.
Current Vintage: 2008 Willamette Valley Blanc de Noir-Novy Family Vineyards, California.
Current Vintage: 2006 Quivira Dusk Desert Wine, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California.
Editor's Comment: In our Liquid Assets column we usually cover stories that address the business aspect of winemaking. This month, in the spirit of the season, we thought a Holiday Buying Guide would be useful to our readers. Cheers!
Wine Trivia Question: What is the word used to describe the airspace that exists between the wine and the cork?
(Submit your answer to email@example.com by November 30, 2009 and become eligible to win a bottle of 2008 Novy Willamette Valley Blanc de Noir. The winner will be announced in the next edition of Liquid Assets). Official Rules. Congratulations to Scott Fournier who won the August Liquid Assets Wine Trivia Contest and received a 750ml bottle of 2007 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc.
Silicon Valley Bank's Wine Division publishes Liquid Assets as a quarterly column featuring visionary winemakers and wineries. As the leading provider of financial services to wineries and vineyards in the western United States, we are using our unique perspective to help our readers further understand winemaking and the innovative vintners who create some of the world's premium wines.
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