12 wines of Christmas

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Think dark: The 2010 Frank Family Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon offers a mix of mocha, espresso and dark chewy cassis fruit. | Photo by W. Peter Hoyne

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Tis the season to make a lasting impression with a memorable bottle of wine for that special friend, loved one or family member. With a daunting number of choices on store shelves from countless wineries and wine producers, it is helpful to narrow down the field during this holiday season with a little guidance and wisdom. Included in this selection of the “12 Wines of Christmas” which of course are red dominant, are some recent favorites and past achievements that are sure to please and impress even your most discerning acquaintance.

2010 Frank Family Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Frank Family Winery is known for their stellar Chards and Zins but this reserve offering is far and away one of the best in their portfolio. This wine is sourced from the prized Winston Hill Vineyard in Rutherford and is 92 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Petite Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It is nearly opaque offering an abundance of creamy dark mocha and espresso notes, dark chewy cassis fruit and well-tapered tannins from front to back.

2010 HdV “Hyde Vineyard” Carneros Chardonnay: I was recently introduced to this current release from HdV and was blown away with how similar it was to a top rated Premier Cru White Burgundy from France. If Chassange Montrachet is in your vocabulary, then this is the ticket and more. HdV is among the elite producers of Chardonnay and this wine raises the bar for other producers. This wine is fleshy and complex with layers upon layers of lemon meringue and orange citrus intertwined with candied limes, stone fruits and a layering of delicate toast. Wow, time for a second sip.

2010 Switchback Ridge “Peterson Family Vineyard” Napa Valley Merlot: This bottling is produced by Robert Foley, one of the foremost craftsmen of Merlot in Napa. Bob honed his skills and passion for this grape varietal early on while at Markham Vineyards and then later at Pride Mountain Vineyards. This is a Cab lover’s Merlot that will reacquaint you with a grape you once admired. There is nothing timid about this Merlot, which is a blend of 85 percent Merlot and 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Dense and extracted with massive amounts of juicy, mouth-filling fruits packed firmly into the bottle. This wine may require a little patience and has plenty of ageability. If you’re inclined, decant it and drink it tonight. This is the way Merlot should express itself.

2010 Round Pond Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: The MacDonnell family are grape growers and farmers who have been sourcing their fruit to other wineries for decades. In 2002 they started producing wine under their own label using the best fruit from their estate. This winery is just hitting stride and is destined for a great future. This Cabernet has a classy Rutherford personality; approachable and finely tuned with dusty Rutherford characteristics and well-integrated tannins.

2009 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages: This Bordeaux-style red blend from Sonoma is evidence of Chateau St Jean’s ability to establish their reputation with reds, as well as whites. As far back as the award-winning 1996 Cinq Cepages, which was voted Wine of the Year by the Wine Spectator, winemaker Margo Van Staveren has crafted many noteworthy wines and has been involved in vineyard and winemaking for 30 years at this estate. The 2009 release of Cinq Cepages may eclipse the 1996 with its supple and forward flavor profile, but also has enough stuffing to stand the test of time. Everything inside this bottle is well balanced and silky smooth with gobs of crushed black fruit. Powerful in a subtle way with complexity and length.

2009 Sequoia Grove “Cambium” Napa Valley Red Blend: This is the third release under this label from Sequoia Grove Winery and their highest tier of Cabernet. Director of winemaking, Mike Trujillo, knows this property and understands Cabernet. To his credit, Mike has 31 years of experience at Sequoia Grove with a stylistic approach to Cabernet that is unmatched. This wine has a supple entry of sweet cassis and cherry pie with textural purity and plenty of finesse that will keep your undivided attention. This well-polished beauty is ready to enjoy, but may also benefit from additional cellaring.

2011 Fulcrum Sonoma Coast “Gap’s Crown Vineyard” Pinot Noir: I must admit that I have a fondness for the prettiness of North Coast Pinot Noirs, so it will not come as a surprise that this Pinot Noir is on my list. It is a bit obscure, but worth the effort to find. There are medium dark ruby tones with a fresh alluring cedar spice and strawberry compote in the nose. Delicate and restrained as it enters your mouth, which you should expect from a Pinot Noir, it then layers across the palate and expands with a full spectrum of fresh red fruit.

2010 Carol Shelton “Monga” Old Vine Zinfandel: I would be remiss if I didn’t include a Zin in this line-up, This is a creation from the Queen of Zinfandel, Carol Shelton. Carol is passionate about Zinfandel, its unpretentious style and range of flavors. She has mastered the “Zen of Zinfandel” with a portfolio of distinctive single-vineyard Zinfandel. This wine heralds from a wine-growing region in southern California and is seasoned in American Oak Barrels. A viscous wine with floral aromas of violets and wild strawberry that capture your attention. Almost exotic with dried red and black fruits, silky tannins and a long mid-palate.

2011 Dow’s Vintage Port: Much has already been written about the greatness of the 2011 vintage ports. I have engaged in a long romance with these viscous beauties, and this port is a testament to the magnificence of the vintage. This port was given 96-98 points by the Wine Advocate and I concur that it is a very “sumptuous” and also a sexy wine. Filled with extraordinary amounts of silky sweet blueberry cream, it is endowed with an overflowing amount of jammy richness. The smooth edges reveal the craftsmanship that was used to create this wine. Dow’s is on its game once again and the personality of this port is sure to lure many admirers back to this arena. Enjoyable in 375 ml or 750 ml bottles.

2009 Chateau Cantermerle, Haut-Medoc: This wine leads the French section as consistent and recognizable quality from Bordeaux. The history of this chateau dates back to the Middle Ages and under the guidance of Philippe Dambrine, who heads up the team at the chateau, there is meticulous attention to detail and a quality-focused approach. The 2009 vintage was a dream vintage from Bordeaux, so it’s no wonder Philippe was so successful with this wine. Classic cedary notes, restrained earthy elements, licorice and finely polished red fruit that come together and hit all points on your palate. There is no mistaking that the 2009 vintage has to be reconciled with as one of the best in the last several decades and Chateau Cantermerle is making its mark in history.

2010 Bodegas Breca “Breca”: There is no mistaking that this wine is the ultimate value among the group. Given the sizeable production, it still is possible to find this wine at your local wine retailer. This 100 percent old vine Garnacha has a brilliant opaque purple color and opens to a delicate fragrance of freshly crushed berries. This wine has a silky fabric with a generous serving of black raspberry marmalade and candied mulberries that are dusted with cocoa. The tannins are sweet and integrated. Although attractive now, its true potential may be realized in a few years.

2009 Castello Di Volpia, Chianti Classico Riserva: If you ever have an opportunity to visit this winery tucked away in the lofty hills of Tuscany, you will realize the amount of effort that is used to create the quality behind this label. Within this 12th century estate, the best grapes are used to produce this Riserva which is 100 percent Sangiovese aged for 24 months. There is scorched earth and leather aromas within the ruby frame which is held together by a rich mid-palate of fresh provincial herbs and acidity. Very classic and long in its expression.

W. Peter Hoyne has been a wine journalist for over 20 years, covering stories of national and international significance. While his professional relationships in the wine industry have allowed him to share a unique perspective of wine, he is also intrigued by the culinary aspect and harmony that exist between wine and food. As a wine advocate, he is committed to consumer education and is focused on upcoming trends and American wine-buying habits. Email him at wphoyne@att.net.