Unique red, white and sparkling holiday wines

December 22, 2012
By Edward Deitch, TODAY contributor

As we head into the holidays, why not consider some wines that are both festive and unusual?  One of the most exciting whites I’ve tasted this year comes from Argentina and demonstrates once again how it is possible to find extraordinary wines at very modest prices, in this case just $15.

The grape is Semillon. Known mainly as a variety that is blended with sauvignon blanc in Bordeaux and elsewhere, it is also bottled on its own. While sauvignon is lighter, more acidic and aromatic, Semillion tends to produces softer and richer wines.

Although Semillion is usually a supporting player among white wines, Ricardo Santos’s 2012 Semillon from Argentina’s large Mendoza region shows the heights the grape can achieve on its own. Only a tiny bit of Semillon is grown in Argentina, so this wine is a real treat.

Santos sources the grapes from the 70-year-old vineyard of his neighbor, Roberto Azaretto, and the quality of the fruit is stunning. The wine is full and generous with white peach, apricot and mandarin orange and herbal and vanilla notes. It’s a great choice for richer fish dishes and a range of chicken recipes. Imported by Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Calif.

One of the year’s outstanding reds is also from a lesser-known variety, petite sirah from California, not to be confused with the much more widely planted syrah. The variety often produces big, rough-hewn wines but Stag Leap’s 2009 Napa Valley Petite Sirah is refined and elegant with delicious, concentrated blackberry fruit, a touch of black licorice as it opens up and smooth tannins. The oak influence is well integrated and subtle.

This is a lovely, seamless wine that will accompany most red meats perfectly. At $39 on Stag’s Leap’s website, it’s not for everyday drinking but will make your holiday gathering all the more memorable and could also be a gift that any wine lover would appreciate.

When it comes to sparkling wine, there is no shortage of good bubbly at a range of prices. While nothing quite matches the richness and elegance of Champagne, many sparkling wines can be outstanding in their own ways, including Spanish Cavas.

One worth trying is Mont-Ferrant’s Brut Rosé Cava, a deep pink wine made primarily from Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and a little Pinot noir. Dry yet fruity with fine bubbles, it’s a bargain at a suggested price of $19 with cherry and cassis flavors and an herbal note on the finish. Light, lively and festive, it will pair well, as many sparkling wines do, with a variety of appetizers and other foods. Imported by Maritime Wine Trading Collective, San Francisco.  

Want more suggestions? On Vint-ed, I review more noteworthy sparkling and other wines for  your holiday enjoyment and beyond.

Edward Deitch is a James Beard Award-winning wine critic. Find many more of his wine reviews and commentary on his blog, Vint-ed.com, and follow him on Twitter