Speedy Holiday Wine Recommendations

The holidays get busy.  You barely have time to shop, decorate, make food, attend parties, try not to get drunk and, OH YEAH, still work!  All of this stress adds up, manifesting itself in strange ways and differently within each person, as evidenced by the varying types of “holiday spirit” seen in the photo on the right.

You don’t have time for this!  Your time is too precious to waste upon wondering which kind of wine to bring to coworker Aaron’s holiday party and wait, is it Aaron or Erin…CRAP, you’re so stressed you can’t even remember!  It is with these conundrums in mind that I have constructed my Vinopanion holiday wine recommendations and pairings, listed below.  Short, sweet (or dry!) and to the point.  Let’s drink.

[Note: Reeeally in a hurry?  Skip to the bottom for the list of wines recommended and no jibber-fabber.]


Pair with just about everything, including the high pressure, yet celebratory mood of the season.  Blammo!  You just paired everything at once, how fast is that!?

 Freixenet Cava Cordon Negro Brut NV – $9

This under-$10 Spanish sparkler is our hands-down, go-to daily bubbly.  Yes…we drink bubbly that often.

[winebadge id=”6093″]

Color: Meyer lemon yellow, with green highlights and a medium fine, robust bead.

Nose: Clean and bright lemon with just a tinge of cream, and some kiwi to round things off, along with some light florals.

Palate: Crisp and zesty, with that same, but now juicy lemon from the nose, those same white florals enter in the mid-palate and ride out to the juicy, multiple layered lemon finish. Good as always, and always a great value play: QPRWK.

Freixenet Cava Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut NV – $18

Another Spanish bubbly win that while not made from a traditional Spanish varietal, this a great example of a well-made rosé sparkler.

Color: Beautiful darker watermelon red, with a fine and very robust, fine bead.

Nose: Great red fruited nose of juicier strawberry and bright Bing cherry, complemented by some zestier red grapefruit.

Palate: Medium-bodied, with that same fine and zesty bead on the palate, with great red grapefruit acidity and an underlay of cream and toast. Finishes with smooth, sweeter Bing cherry.

 Schramsberg Vineyards North Coast Brut Rosé 2004 – $40

Here’s your heavier hitter, featuring some creaminess and added complexity to the fine examples already listed above.  This is our favorite producer of domestic bubbly.

Color: Pale salmon, fine bead, robust mousse.

Nose: Cherry with strawberry cream.

Palate: Starts with citrus, bright cherry and then some cream and lemon at end. Full body. Very good: NewWorldWK.


Why dry rosé, you ask?  Well, it just so happens to match most everything on the table, as well, with its tasty acidity and lack of tannin.  It’s also perfect for those guests that say bubbles give them a headache, or the other one that only eats fish…and drinks bold red wines.

 Georis Carmel Valley Estate Les Abeilles Rosé 2008 – $22

This is the high-end rosé from my favorite winery and the one that introduced me to good, dry rosé.  Just a phenomenal mix of vibrant acidity, complex and juicy fruit, all mingling with some extra floral notes.  Outstanding fun.

[winebadge id=”51487″]

Color: Light salmon pink

Nose: Quite good and a bit crisper than last vintage with bright strawberry, celery root and light florals.

Palate: Also very good and right up there, perhaps even surpassing the superb ’07.  Good complexity again here of bright, crisp red fruit, light fresh garden herbs and even lighter floral notes, finishing with a crisp strawberry, juicy cherry mix! AwesomeWK.

Albret Navarra Rosado Garnacha 2010 – $15

Another Spanish wine here showing very good quality (hmm, could there be a pattern!?).  This has all that I like in my dry pinks: zesty acidity and juicy red fruit, cut with robust citrus.

Color: Light ruby, with almost clear edges.

Nose: Very juicy and bright red fruit on the nose and some red apple as well. Very inviting.

Palate: Very bright, great mix of citrus, tart cherry and cranberry, with some strawberry underneath. Very zesty acidity, some hint of tannins, but still lighter bodied. Good.

 County Line Anderson Valley Elke Home Ranch Rosé 2010 – $18

This is just a heavenly wine, with such crazy complexity for a rosé that you almost forget to just sit back, enjoy and have fun with it…almost.

Color: Beautiful light salmon pink and copper colored.

Nose: Earthier but still ripe and bright, strawberry and cherry.

Palate: Good bright and juicy acidity with the lightest of tannins complement this light-bodied strawberry, raspberry and dusty cherry rosé. Finishes with zesty plum skin. I’ve been a fan of this wine for a number of years, great stuff from Eric Sussman, yet again: NewWorldWK.

Lighter Reds:

OK, you’ve been plowing through the bubbly and dry rosé with your friends whilst avoiding your family and now you’re looking for something a little heavier and YOU’RE RIGHT!  You only want to reach for reds that are on the lighter side; all that tannin, toasty oak, and big alcohol is going to squash your food.  So shoot for things like Pinot and Cabernet Franc, for instance.

Wild Horse Central Coast Pinot Noir 2008 – $20

This is one of my favorite wineries to mention when someone asks me about affordable pinot noir.  Yes, $20 isn’t cheap, but for the finicky grape, it’s quite low, yet this has quality that is quite high: yesss.

Color: Ruby core, light ruby edges

Nose: Distinct fresh cherry pie, complete with toasty pie crust, very bright.

Palate: Cherry pie here as well, fuller body and smooth and chalky mouthfeel, toast out to the cola finish: QPRWK.

[winebadge id=”60608″]

Masút Vineyard and Winery Mendocino Estate Pinot Noir 2009 – $40

This one brings the bigger guns to the table, but only in comparison to other pinot.  This has phenomenal savory aromas and flavors to balance the silky soft tannins and earthy red fruit.  This Estate vineyard is also organically farmed, by the family that brought organic farming to the vino mainstream, the Fetzers.

Color: Medium to lighter ruby, clear edges

Nose: Very reductive at first, but with 30 minutes of air, it totally reverses, showing earthy red fruit, slight baking spice, light toast and slight loam.

Palate: Light bodied, good brightness, earthy red fruit, with nice touches of more savory flavors hinted at, then the light tannins and good acidity kick in for a long spicy, rhubarb and cola finish: OldWorldWK.

 Titus Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2009 – $36

This one almost breaks my lighter rule with its alcohol, but it’s so sexy smooth and filled with great food pairing components like soft tannins, juicier acidity, and nice savory notes that it fits right in with this crew.

Color: Deeper ruby with some highlights of violet, medium ruby edges.

Nose: Very good, with some integrating toast, followed by cherry tobacco, deep red fruit with darker hints of cassis and some rose petal just showing through, loam.

Palate: Very smooth and while bigger in alcohol, the balance is definitely here, with that same deep red/black fruit from the nose, soft and almost silky tannins and very food-friendly acidity, all with a finish that show some savory earthiness, sweeter tobacco and toast: NewWorldWK.

And there ya go!  You can find all of these wines tagged with “2011Holidays” to put in your own WineLog and they are also conveniently listed below.  Cheers!

[winelist query=”2011Holidays” num=”100″]

5 Questions with Gavin Chanin of Chanin Wine Co.

Chanin Wine CompanyI had quite a great time while moderating and tasting my way through the very cool California Pinot Noir: In Pursuit of Balance (Twitter) event, back in late March.  It was there during the trade tasting at Rn74 (Twitter) that I had the great pleasure of trying two Pinots from a young winemaker by the name of Gavin Chanin, winemaker and proprietor of his relatively new, Chanin Wine Company (Twitter, WineLog).  After getting to know a bit about Chanin while at the event, I resolved to find out more about this fresh winemaking personality and his myriad of fine vineyard connections and non-wine, artistic leanings.

1. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): You have a bit more of an old school philosophy about your wines, despite making Pinot in California. Could you explain more about what you’re striving for with each vintage of your Chardonnay and Pinot Noir?

Gavin Chanin - Chanin Wine Company Gavin Chanin (Twitter, WineLog): My wines are generally lower in alcohol and higher in acidity that what has recently been coming from California. I strive to make wines that have balance, energy, ageability and most importantly wines that are delicious. To do this in California I think you need to eliminate hot, alcoholic, fruity wines that show little about the place they were grown. I am fascinated with this idea that certain vineyards are so unique that they leave recognizable characteristics in the finished wines years and years down the road. In my experience, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are most sensitive to changes in soil, and climate and thus a great place to explore the idea further.

2. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): Despite your decidedly youthful age, you’ve thrown down some serious wine time, working vintages at such legends as Au Bon Climat, Qupé and a few others around the world. How did you get into wine so quickly and can I have your hookups (j/k)?

Chanin Wine Company Gavin Chanin (Twitter, WineLog): I worked my first harvest a few months after my high school graduation. I though winemaking really sounded cool so when to opportunity came up to make wine for a summer I jumped on it. I ended up falling in love with wine really quickly. I worked the next two vintages in California before taking a year off of school and working in south Africa and New Zealand. This will be my eighth vintage in California and my 11th harvest overall.

3. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): Out of the vintages listed above, which one has been your favorite and why?

Gavin Chanin (Twitter, WineLog): I really loved the 2010 vintage. It was a challenging vintage but at the same time I think I made my best wines yet. Doing you best work it what many consider a very tough vintage makes me even more proud of the wines. I love the elegance of the 2008s, the muscle of the 2009s and the balance of 2007. So I guess I like them all. I am a big believer that vintage is just as important as soil and climate when it comes to showing terroir so I love how every vintage is so different.

4. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): Your degree out of UCLA was fine art. Indeed, you are actually quite an accomplished artist, winning awards for your artwork, which can be seen on each of your wine labels. Was it hard to decide between the two? Are you still actively painting?

Gavin Chanin art & labels - Chanin Wine Company Gavin Chanin (Twitter, WineLog): I struggled between art and wine for a few years. Really art had no chance, I used to talk about wine all day in class anyways. I knew when I left school to work abroad that I would have to reapply to UCLA which at the time wasn’t accepting a lot of students. I took this risk because I loved wine and didn’t want to wait. I am still painting but I do it in quick productive bursts then take a few months off. I guess I am used to working harvest hours.

5. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): You’ve worked in parts of California, New Zealand and South Africa. Was it hard to choose where you wanted to settle down once you made the decision to launch your own winery? Also, what’s next for Chanin Wines?

Gavin Chanin (Twitter, WineLog): There was never a question in my mind that I would make wine in Santa Barbara. This is such a unique area and I spent so much time training here. Maybe in the future I will have an opportunity to make wine from other regions in California, Sonoma has always been very appealing to me. I would love to make Syrah in South Africa. There is not a lot made out there and I think it could really be world class. As for Chanin Wine Co, I think in the future you will see more single vineyard wines from really unique places. On the flip side don’t rule out a Santa Barbara County Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I think it would be a great way to introduce people to the more elegant side of California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay without them having to jump straight into the single vineyard wines.

Listed below are the two wines that I had the fortune of tasting from Chanin, during that fine day in March for In Pursuit of Balance 2011.  Below that are all of the wines that I tried at the event and am continuing to upload to my WineLog, tagged with “IPOB2011March“.  I also wanted to throw out a big thanks to Gavin for granting me the time for this interview.  Cheers!

Chanin Wine Company (Twitter, WineLog):

Chanin Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Color: Light ruby core, clear edges

Nose: Toast & earth, with baked yet juicy red fruit here, alongside some cola.

Palate: Very juicy fruit here, very fresh and bright, and not anticipated from the nose. Good with the toast and fine tannins balances and light earth finish.

OldWorldWK - WKBadges Chanin Santa Maria Valley Le Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2008

Color: Light ruby core, clear edges

Nose: Good tarter raspberry here, earthy toast and slight char, but also has some nice bright red fruit in the fore.

Palate: Very bright acid here, light florals, earth and toast, good juiciest cranberry raspberry and finishes with touch of cola. Very good: OldWorldWK.

In Pursuit of Balance 2011 (Twitter, IPOB2011March):

[winelist query=”IPOB2011March” num=”50″]

TasteLive!: Pinot Noir & The Influence of AVA

TasteLive!Some of my favorite wine events don’t actually exist.  Well, that’s not quite right…they don’t actually exist, physically.  Some of the most interesting and educational tastings that occur each month take place virtually, over on the rather snazzy TasteLive! (Twitter, WineLog) Twitter-based tasting platform.  Just in the last month they’ve had a phenomenal tasting of affordable Bordeaux hosted by Planet Bordeaux (Twitter, WineLog) and an even more comprehensive tasting of Spanish wines from Navarra, hosted by Wines of Navarra (Twitter, WineLog).  Join us tonight 6-7pm PST, as we taste through three Pinot Noir for “Pinot Noir & The Influence of AVA.”

Creative FurnaceThe wines that we’ll be tasting tonight from (mine were courtesy of TasteLive! & Creative Furnace) were specifically picked to demonstrate the effect that appellations have upon that finicky grape variety and wine varietal, Pinot Noir.  Pinot has as well-deserved reputation for being very sensitive to its surrounding terroir (or climate/soil/water, etc) of the vineyard.  While these wines are not all from the same producer nor vintage, they were chosen because they demonstrate the expected terroir of each of these three fine California appellations: Carneros, Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley.

You can find all of the wines that we’re tasting tomorrow night for listing in your own WineLog, tagged with “TasteLive2011PinotAVA“.  All of the wines that I’ve tasted during TasteLive events over the years can be found tagged with “TasteLive“.  Even if you don’t have the wines handy, log on to Twitter and catch the #tl_wine stream and participate!


QPRWK - WKBadges Gloria Ferrer Carneros Estate Pinot Noir 2007

Color: Lighter ruby/rose with almost clear edges

Nose: Bing cherry, bigger pepper and some sweeter violet florals and some dried rosemary.

Palate: Lots of sweeter rhubarb and creamier cola, with spicy cherry and a cooler savory herb component into the light-bodied, light-tannin, nicely bright finish. Good deal for this quality of pinot: QPRWK.

Krutz Family Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2007

Color: Medium to lighter ruby, slight brick, clear edges

Nose: Sweet Bing cherry fruit, with some toast underlain below it, sweeter cola rounding out the nose.

Palate: Cool round mouthfeel, with some unsweetened Dr. Pepper almost, with the cherry and anise components melding on the rounder palate and more floral and creamier toast going into that finish. Fruitier, not as structured.

Davis Bynum Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2009

Color: Medium dark ruby edges, lightest ruby edges

Nose: Cool, baking spiced red fruit, definitely bright, yet quite plush, unsweetened root beer with some nice light violets to add complexity along with a hint of earth.

Palate: Fuller here, with cool and round red and some black fruit here.  Light, fine tannins and good bright acidity adds to the cherry cola and lightly toasted finish, ending with a bit of cream and more cola.

All TasteLive wines that I’ve tasted:

[winelist query=”TasteLive” num=”200″]

Slingin' the Pinot [for] Days

7th Annual Pinot Days 2011I don’t know if my life has turned the speed of time to 11 or what this year, but it’s already time again for one of the best SF wine events of the year: 7th Annual Pinot Days 2011 (Twitter)Last year’s event was a must attend and this year Lisa and Steve Rigisich et al, have added a slew of additional events for the entire week of festivities and have expanded many wine regions to make this one even mo’ betta.  How can such a fine vino event get any better, you ask?  Try upping the number of producers over the 200 mark (over 400 Pinot Noir), organizing “the largest presence of Oregon producers ever gathered outside of Oregon” [I’m excited about this one], a fantastic online charity auction and a new Burgundy Corner to showcase the birthplace of this finicky but fine grape variety.

The Pinot Days San Francisco Online Auction is being hosted over at BiddingForGood.com as I write this and attendance at the Festival is not needed in order to bid.  This year’s Charity Beneficiary is the OCMC Water Well Dig Project for the Turkana people of Loupwala in East Africa.  There are a ton of diverse lots available, including 2009 Kosta Browne Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – Magnum Etched & Signed in Wooden Box, Socolo Chocolatier Artisan Chocolate Truffles and the awesome 2008 Benziger Pinot Noir (3 Tiers) – 1 Case and Gift Certificate for a Benziger Biodynamic Tram Tour lot!

The full deets for the entire week of Pinot fun are below and my posse and myself are going to be at the Grand Festival in full, spitting force (minus one glorious Lady, unfortunately), so we look forward to seeing all of you there as well!

7th Annual Pinot Days Grand Festival

Saturday, June 18, 2011 1:00pm-5:00pm

Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center

Cost: $50


In Pursuit of Balance: Pinot in the Spotlight

Pinot Noir grapes at Chehalem Ridgecrest Vineyard, Newberg, OregonFollowing on the heels of my panel workshop at the very successful 9th Pinot Noir Summit this past month, I’m involved in another new, rather exciting Pinot adventure this month.  California Pinot Noir: In Pursuit of Balance (Twitter) is a revolutionary new partnership intending generate dialog about balance in Cali Pinot.  The partnership was founded by Jasmine Hirsch (Twitter) of Hirsch Vineyards and Winery (Twitter) and Rajat Par, longtime wine director for the Michael Mina family of restaurants including his own Rn74 (Twitter).  As a well-respected family winegrower and an international restaurant wine director respectively, they are knee deep in the world of Pinot each and everyday. It is through this dedication to a single varietal that they realized a conundrum: is California Pinot becoming too big and unwieldy?

Hirsch Vineyards and WineryThis conversation is very timely, as the topic of balance vs. power, elegant vs. burly in Pinot has truly reached fisticuffs a peak.  I was excited to be approached to work on this event because balanced, medium-bodied and earthy, cool climate Pinot really fits my palate.  Thomas L. Powers (Twitter) of the web-based HD food and wine series Gastrotommy, will be doing a live broadcast of the trade seminar and filming for a future Gastrotommy episode.  Rn74 - Michael MinaI will be the online moderator for the broadcast alongside panel the on-site moderator Ray Isle (Twitter), Wine Editor of Food & Wine Magazine (Twitter).  In addition, John Trinidad (Twitter) has written an awesome primer for IPOB, over at his SF Wine Blog.

The event drops 03/28/11 at high noon at the Mandarin Oriental San Francisco (Twitter) and Rn74, so come check it out online we’ll chat about @BalancedPinot!  Catch the full deets for the seminar and trade and consumer events are below and follow on Twitter with the hashtag #IPOB.  Cheers!


On March 28 twenty-one wineries will gather in San Francisco to share their pinot noirs. These wineries and their wines have been selected by Rajat Parr to promote the theme of balance and hopefully inspire passion and dialogue around this topic. Please click here for the list of participating wineries.


Seminar: In Pursuit of Balance

* Open to members of the press and trade by invitation only. Please RSVP to info@inpursuitofbalance.com in order to reserve your seat. Closed to the public.
Moderator: Ray Isle, Food & Wine Magazine
Panelists: Wells Guthrie, Copain; Vanessa Wong, Peay Vineyards; Geoff Kruth, MS, Director of Operations – Guild of Sommeliers and Wine Director – Farmhouse Inn
Location: Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 222 Sansome St. (between Pine and California
Time: noon – 1 pm

Trade Tasting

* Open to members of the press and trade by invitation. RSVP kindly requested to info@inpursuitofbalance.com. Closed to the public.
Location: RN74, 301 Mission St. (between Beale and Fremont)
Time: 2 – 4 pm

Public Tasting

* Advance ticket reservation required. Please click here to reserve your tickets.
Location: RN74, 301 Mission St. (between Beale and Fremont)
Time: 5 – 8 pm

Finished wines confirmed for the seminar (IPOB2011March):

[winelist query=”IPOB2011March” num=”100″]

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