California wines for the holiday season.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers December 20, 2006
With the holidays around the corner, it is time to choose the wines that will be served with the festive meals. Since the menu and head count often vary, it is best to generalize the wine choices rather than try to match them perfectly to the food and guests. Ideally, the wines should have solid fruit flavors that are true to the grape varietal. Balanced acidity is important to allow the wine to hold up to rich fare, and so is a good finish that will keep things interesting. For this year’s celebrations, I recommend wines from the Napa and Sonoma valleys.
In the northern Sonoma valley sits the Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery. Started by Don and Rhonda Carano in 1981 with 30 acres of grapes and two fermentation tanks, the enterprise has grown to more than 1,200 acres and has become one of California’s major wine producers. A true ‘‘destination” winery, the high-tech equipment is housed in a 25,000 square foot Italian Renaissance villa surrounded by five acres of exquisite gardens with a marvelous view of the surrounding mountains and vineyards.
The Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc 2005 ($16) is delightful, with crisp grapefruit and pear flavors and citrus finish, while the Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Alexander Valley 2004 ($18) has gorgeously rich apple and pear notes. Two other excellent offerings are the Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Russian River Fiorella 2004 ($34), with creamy melon and vanilla flavors along with a touch of hazelnuts, and the Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Russian River Tre Terre 2004 ($30) that has apple, nutmeg and lemon?lime notes. A blend of Sangiovese, Malbec, Carignane, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Ferrari-Carano Siena 2003 ($17) has spicy anise, black cherry and plum flavors that would work well with roasts and tomato- based dishes. Also recommended is the Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2003 ($19), a full-bodied wine with toasty cherry, black currant and coffee flavors.
Napa Valley’s Mike Grgich has embraced sustainable farming and his vineyards have been entirely organic since 2000. The result is a new vigor in the vines and wines with deeper flavors. The Grgich Hills Fume Blanc 2005 ($20), with crisp grassy, green apple flavors and a slight minerality, is superb. Other very good offerings are the Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2003 ($30), with pineapple, hazelnut and peach notes and a lush finish, and the well balanced Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 ($42) that has deep red and black cherry flavors. Produced from vines planted more than 100 years ago, the Grgich Hills Zinfandel Miljenko’s Old Vines 2003 ($65), with raspberry aromas, spicy black cherry and chocolate flavors and a long satisfying finish, is first rate.
In 1983 Marimar Torres, the daughter of the famous Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres, established her eponymous winery in Sonoma’s Green Valley. Only 10 miles from the Pacific, the Catalan-styled property and vineyards are subjected to cooling ocean breezes and fog that greatly affect the local growing conditions. In contrast to other California vineyards, these vines are densely planted, which reduces the yields and concentrates the flavors. The resulting wines are elegant and European in style.
The Marimar Estate Chardonnay Don Miguel Dobles Lias 2003 ($40) is left on the lees for an extended time to enhance the texture and richness. It has lovely tropical fruit aromas with spicy pear and peach flavors. Pinot lovers should try the Marimar Estate Pinot Noir Don Miquel Cristina Vineyard 2003 ($47), with strawberry, spicy chocolate and cedar notes, or the earthy cherry and cranberry flavored Marimar Estate Pinot Noir Dona Margarita Vineyard 2004 ($45).