12 Favorite Holiday Wine Picks from Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya
Whether you’re bringing a bottle to a party or giving one as a gift, here’s the low-down on our favorites for the season.
Before our food and dining editor went on maternity leave, Catherine Toth Fox asked master sommelier Chuck Furuya for some wine recommendations. Proving that the best way to get something done is to ask a busy person, Furuya went ahead and wrote it up himself.
Thanks to both of them for the wine gift suggestions!
Yes, ’tis the season for holiday parties and get-togethers with families and friends, and the time for giving presents. Here are some ideas that I hope make shopping for wine this time of year a little easier.
Prosecco, Ruggeri “Gold Label” (roughly $20 a bottle)
It seems so natural to sip on a glass of bubbly this time of year. It certainly sets the mood and adds to the festivities. For value, I look first to Italian prosecco. It’s one of the top wine imports into the U.S., which means every store will have a prosecco of some sort for sale. What a big change that is from just a decade ago! It can also mean there are a lot of so-so renditions out there. At only $8.99 a bottle in many cases, who knows where it comes from. Ruggeri, on the other hand, is a family-owned wine project from northeast Italy. Furthermore, it is so wonderfully delicious and remarkably light on the palate with tiny, flirtatious bubbles.
Brut Reserve, Paul Bara “Grand Cru” nonvintage (roughly $58 a bottle)
This is a longtime favorite of ours—a true artisanal, family-owned winery. They own and farm their estate vineyards and makes their own wine. We also love how tasty, yeasty, innately complex, layered and complete it is on the palate, with great purity, balance and fine bubbles. Worth seeking out.
Moscato d’Asti, Saracco (roughly $20 a bottle)
The Italian Moscato d’Asti category has also meteorically risen in popularly in the past few years and is therefore also worth researching to get the real deal. At its best, Moscato d’Asti is a delightful, delicious, effortlessly light, finely tuned balance of sweet and sour. It should be uplifting and refreshing rather than sweet or, in the worst cases, cloying. Saracco is a venerable estate that has a long history of being at the top of the appellation’s quality ladder.
Chardonnay, Broadside “Wild Ferment” (roughly $14 a bottle)
If you like elegant, remarkably lighter, crisper, more food-friendly chardonnay, especially one that offers sensational value for the dollar, this is the one for you. The grapes come from an older vine vineyard in Edna Valley and two from further south in the Santa Barbara appellation.
Riesling Medium Dry, CF Wines “Euro-Asian” (roughly $15 a bottle)
This is a medium dry (which most tasters will think is sweet in smell), lush, tropical scented, contemporary German riesling exclusively crafted for Hawai‘i’s warm climate and local-style foods. If the fare is Asian-inspired, this is the wine to bring. This wine greatly over-delivers for the dollar.
My Essential Rose (roughly $14 a bottle)
Pink wine? There is a reason why many of the top restaurants in the U.S. offer at least one pink wine by the glass: It makes food taste better and adds to a joyous celebration. Just as cranberry freshens the palate in the middle of a rich, savory Thanksgiving feast, this tasty, fruity (but not sweet) wine can freshen, whether served with ham, turkey, pizza, pasta, salads or any kind of holiday fare. This can also be quite an eye-opening experience with rich soups—oxtail, pig feet or ramen. Just make sure to serve it well chilled.
Moulin-a-Vent, Diochon “Vieilles Vignes” (roughly $23 a bottle)
This is Cru Beaujolais, one of our all-time favorites, because of its deliciousness, supreme food friendliness and fabulous gulpability. I have been buying this wine continuously since the 1980s—it was and is still that good! The grape variety is Gamay noir, which experts have proven to be a descendent of pinot noir, which is why, from my point of view, it’s worth looking for. Note: Stick this wine in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving it.
Dolcetto, Palmina “Santa Barbara” (roughly $18 a bottle)
Dolcetto is a grape variety we normally see from the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The Palmina version, however, is grown and produced in the Santa Barbara appellation of California, and the additional generous sunshine makes the grapes a little plumper and more delicious, along with the intriguing, savory, earthy character for which this grape variety is noted. This is a wine one can make lots of new friends with.
Pinot Noir, Costa de Oro “Santa Barbara” (roughly $27 a bottle)
If you like lovely, elegant, suave, wonderfully textured pinot noir, this is the one for you. Yes, this is another artisanal, family-owned wine project, essentially a “one-man show” operation creating some of our favorite wines from California.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Ancient Peaks “Paso Robles” (roughly $20 a bottle)
At this price point, it is hard to find quality-minded, estate-grown Californian cabernet sauvignon of this quality. The vineyard was planted in 1999, 1,000 feet up in the hills of southern Paso Robles, 14 miles from the ocean. This tasty red has character and mojo to its core, with elegance, civility, superb balance and a great price.
Extra Special Gift
Chardonnay, Neyers “Il Novillero” (roughly $42 a bottle)
From my point of view, this is undoubtedly one of the top three chardonnays out of California today. Done with Old World sensibilities, this wine lies somewhere between California and Burgundy in style. In any given vintage, the production is a mere 200 cases, but it’s worth the search and is ideal for the wine connoisseur.
Merlot, Selene “Frediani Vineyard” (roughly $38 a bottle)
Owner/winemaker Mia Klein is a “Hall of Fame” Napa Valley winemaker, having crafted such collectibles as Spottswoode, Araujo and Dalla Valle in the past. Her own label is called Selene, and her superb, elegant, majestic, worldly merlot will stand its own in a cabernet lineup. No fruit bombs here!