Worry-Free Wines for the Holidays

Buying wine as a holiday present for friends and family can be a chore and, if you’re scrambling for ideas as Christmas closes in, you’ve come to the right place for some suggestions.

One of the first things I thought about when I tasted Dolce — the dessert wine from Far Niente — was pumpkin pie, a staple at the Christmas table in my family tradition. For a special friend who loves after-dinner drinks, this $85 half-bottle of world-class sweet wine would be a perfect selection. Read more from my earlier blog Dolce: Different, Delicious, Decadent.

At the other end of the gifting price range would be a great little bottle of $10 pinot noir that I tasted a few weeks ago, but haven’t written about yet. There are too many bottles of mediocre California pinot noir at sometimes ridiculous prices, but Windy Hill breaks the mold with their delicious 2003 Sonoma Coast bottling.

Christo's Running Fence

Christo's Running Fence

Even the most discriminating pinot drinker can admire Windy Hill’s strawberry fruit and smooth texture while appreciating the value.

For a student of California art history, the hill on which this Cotati winery’s vineyards are now planted, is the same hill used as the starting point for the artist Christo’s famous 1972 “Running Fence,” a zig-zag stretch of fabric that ran 24 miles to the Pacific Ocean.

I discovered Windy Hill on sale at several Bay Area stores including the Wine Mine in Oakland — one of my favorites. The Wine Mine features cut-rate prices on wines from around the world. And, there’s  a $1 tasting on Saturday, when owner David Sharp opens 4-5 interesting bottles from his warehouse style storefront in the Temescal District.

I found another great wine shop, called V, during a visit to Yountville.

This comfortable oasis of wine features a very broad collection with a focus on local reds and whites of all kinds. Daily happy hour stretches for three hours and gives tasters an opportunity to sample an interesting mix.

I drooled over bottles of classic Burgundy and some fine Bordeaux, but it was the huge array of Napa cabs (including most of the classic names) that was most impressive.

When I asked the folks at V for a reasonably priced Napa cabernet to pair with steak, I got a bottle of $22 wine that I’d never heard of, made from a small unheralded vineyard nearby. It was a fantastic find but now I can’t remember the name! I promise to search through my notes and include it in a future blog.

Finally, I want to close out this holiday post with a recommendation to visit Gustafson Family Vineyard, high up in the hills overlooking Lake Sonoma.

Gustafson, which is only open to the public on Saturdays, has a knockout location with a birdseye view that stretches across Sonoma County. The wines, while young, have great potential — especially their petite sirah and zinfandel, which I wrote about in an earlier blog Up, Up and Away.

The sense of discovery I get from tasting wines, visiting winemakers and listening to wine sellers is truly amazing. I look forward to sharing more great wines to taste, more great wineries to visit and more great wine people to meet in the New Year.

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