Christmas Wines: Walking In A Vintner Wonderland

On a clear day, you can almost see Windsor

Every year for the last decade or so I’ve struggled to come up with a unique and innovative approach to Christmas wines.  I’ve perpended, puzzled and pondered. And after countless sleepless nights, endless brainstorming sessions with Jack (Daniels) and Jim (Beam) and long walks along the incomparably beautiful banks of the Detroit River, I’ve invariably reached a eureka moment:

Fuck it.

This exquisite salt mine carving has nothing to do with Detroit. It's in Poland.

Christmas is about tradition, memories and consistency, right?  So like every other year, I will resist the temptation to do what everybody else does—i.e., The 12 Wines of Christmas, Wines With Reindeer On The Label, Hot Mulled Wine Recipes, Wines of the North Pole, yadda yadda, and simply make a list—which I will check twice—of some savory and serendipitous swig suggestions for this Holiday Weekend—any and all of which you can take with a grain of salt from the incomparably beautiful mines below Delray.

To start with, aren’t there some Christmas colors again?  Oh yeah.


The Ghosn brothers

Massaya Gold Reserve, Bekaa Valley (Lebanon), 2007, around $35: Produced by the Ghosn brothers, Pixie and Dixie—actually, it’s Sami and Ramzi—this bountiful blend of cabernet sauvignon, mourvedre and syrah is massive and chewy with characteristic spice notes, dried thyme and new-oak vanilla behind smoky blackberry, kirsch and a striking, very Baby Jesus-like scent of frankincense.  Besides, you would seriously make it through the season and not drink a wine called ‘Massaya’?

The château's last hurrah

Clos Saint-Jean Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vieilles Vignes, 2009, around $40:  In 1308, Pope Clemens V decided to relocate the papacy to Avignon, and the château he built became known as ‘the Pope’s new mansion’, or, ‘Châteauneuf du Pape’.  Today, about as much remains of the castle as does of Clemens himself, but the legacy that he—and subsequent Avignon Popes—passed to us as Côtes du Rhône is alive and kicking.  The most famous CdR, fittingly, is Châteauneuf-du-Pape; a rich, potent, ineffably complex thing—quite Popish, in fact. Clos Saint-Jean’s 2009 version is young but brimming with potential.  It boasts all the appellation hallmarks, including satiny smoke, pomegranate, cedar, strawberry, licorice and leather—and, of course, like any good CdP, especially one for Christmas, it smells like a manger.

Golan Heights Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee, 2005, about $30:  Credited with kick-starting the recent quality revolution among Israeli wines, Golan Heights Winery is built on the site of an ancient agricultural village that has been producing wine grapes since the 1st Century CE.  Man from Galilee approved, the ’05 cabernet is vibrant violet in color and filled with complex aromas of black currant suffused with truffle, chocolate, pipe tobacco and toasted walnut.

'You know I don't like that dry stuff, honey. Can you make me a little white zinfandel?'

Tamayo Family Vineyards, Cana Proprietary Estate Blend, Contra Costa County, 2007, about $30:  Cana, of course, was the site of the wedding at which Jesus inaugurated His Heavenly hocus-pocus—water into wine.  Vintners, many of whom believe that they are God, have been attempting to duplicate the feat ever since, but most have found that they need to start with grapes.  This particular blend—petite sirah, syrah, mourvedre, malbec, carignane, alicante bouschet, tinta cao and viognier—displays gorgeous girth and richness, with ripe red fruit (notably, raspberry and Bing cherry), white chocolate, cassis, graphite and light tea notes.  The tannins are big, but integrated, and the wine requires only modest cellaring to fully unwind.


Taylors St. Andrews, Riesling, Clare Valley, 2010, around $30:  How green is this Aussie ?  They claim to be the only winery in the world to make a 100% carbon-neutral wine based on lifecycle management beginning in the vineyard before harvesting and ending with consumption, disposal and recycling of the finished packaging.  So, if you care about that sort of thing, here’s your riesling.  It’s a pretty wine, too, filled with pine, apple and citrus notes.  Plenty of slate in the mid-palate with apricot on the finish.

Portal do Fidalgo Alvarinho, Vinho Verde (Portugal), 2009, about $20:  Vinho Verde, meaning ‘green wine’, is an acknowledgment of a wine’s youth, not its color, since these wines can be red, white or pink.  This one is lovely, light and lyrical, with a slight spritz.  Much as I’d like to go on describing this delicious wine, I cannot compete with the Do Not Pass Go, direct-to-English translation on the web site, which I give verbatim:

‘Limpid aspect, citrine-colored, neat aroma, suave taste, full-bodied, persistent at the end, typicity of the Alvarinho cast.’

And how to store?

‘The storing should not be done in places where there is sun exposition, or under a roof of easy warmness.’

Could not agree more.

Threefold vines.

Threefold Vineyards Wassail, Garden Peninsula (Michigan):  It isn’t easy being green, especially when you’re a winemaker relying on the Upper Peninsula’s lone production vineyard for your raw product.  My man Andy Green and his wife Janice eke what they can out of land that, even for the U.P., sucks—shallow (mere inches) of soil over fragmented limestone.  Yet, with the pluck and persistence of pilgrims, they manage.  Their wassail—a Christmas blend of wine, cider, spices and sugar—actually took a silver medal at the 2008 Florida State Fair Wine and Grape Juice Competition; a huge accomplishment.  They don’t make much wassail, and I’m not even sure if there’s any left.  So why bring it up?  Because, damn it, these folks—pioneering wine techniques as diligently as the first California missionaries—deserve to be brought up.

Patricia Green Cellars, Four Winds Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2008, around $36: Oregon has risen to the forefront of American pinot noir territory (specifically in Willamette Valley), and I want no guff from Carneros, Russian River or Santa Cruz Mountains, either.  Patty Green opened shop in 2000 along with Jim Anderson and has gradually but unwaveringly become synonymous with superb pinot noir.  This one is among the top vintages ever, and is juicy with sweet candied cherries, cedar, clove and raspberry all bundled in an elegant and supple and silky-textured package.  All you need is a bow, and under ol’ tennenbaum a bottle could go.


Whether you pull out the stops and roast a boar’s head or rely upon Uncle Weezer’s sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, the multiple flavors that enliven most Christmas feasts make an across-the-board wine choice that covers all bases nearly impossible to find.

Still, the venerable saying ‘Drink what you like’ is advice with which I totally disagree.

Drink what I like.  Otherwise, I’m sort of wasting my time with this column, aren’t I?

Two or three from the above list should walk you through most courses, including Aunt Gwembeshe’s green bean and canned fried onion casserole.

Anyway, they’re just suggestions and if you don’t like them, feel free to throw them into the polluted, if spiritually regenerative waters of the Detroit River.

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