By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Many of us will be memorializing the upcoming holidays with great food and wine. As much as we love the traditional food associated with Thanksgiving, it’s Christmas that begs for something special to share with just a spouse or a few people who are closest to us. Maybe it’s just Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day, but we try to reserve one day for an intimate dinner with spouses or close friends. It’s a time to bring out the special plates, table cloths and candles to make this really special.
This is a holiday that for us calls for red meat – prime rib or rack of lamb that are not often on our plates most of the year. These cuts aren’t cheap but because of their size they are meant to be shared. Their fatty content pairs nicely with cabernet sauvignon, and merlot blends of red Bordeaux grapes.
We dig into our cellars for wines that we have aged for decades. Not everyone has a cellar of mature wines, but there are plenty of current releases just as noteworthy. Only with red meat can the tannins on these big wines be tamed. We know these wines are expensive, but maybe once a year we can break the bank for holiday luxury.
Here are several luxurious red wines to share that moment:
Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($325). Pritchard Hill is arguably the most sought-after vineyards in Napa Valley. Rising from 800 to 1,800 feet, the vineyard has 40 blocks of cabernet sauvignon from which winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus draws his fruit for this colossal wine. He says the 2019 “strikes a balance between opulence and elegance that is both thought provoking and profoundly rewarding.” Indeed, it is. Very complex and ageworthy with floral, cassis aromas and ripe dark berry flavors with hints of vanilla bean and spice. Very nuanced.
Viader Black Label 2018 ($150). This is an eclectic and rich blend of estate-grown cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cabernet franc and malbec. Ripe blackberry, cassis and plum fruit with hints of mocha and baking spice. Opulent dark fruit aromas.
Gamble Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($60). Petit verdot, malbec, merlot and cabernet franc are blended with this Bordeaux-like wine from a producer who is not embarrassed to call himself a farmer first, a winemaker second. Blackberry, cassis and vanilla aromas are followed by jammy and rich blackberry and plum flavors with a hint of mocha and cedar.
Faust The Pact Coombsville Napa Valley 2019 ($125). We loved this cabernet sauvignon from the start but despite the soft mouthfeel, it can improve with age. Lots of blue fruit and mineral aromas with black cherry, cassis and herb flavors.
La Jota Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Franc 2019 ($125). Winemaker Chris Carpenter turns out one hit after the other for this property, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Not many winemakers can produce a cabernet franc that can stand on its own without massive assistance from other grape varieties. But from the grape grown in mountain vineyards, he gets concentration, complexity and depth. Violet and dried herbal aromas give way to blackberry and black cherry flavors with a touch of kirsch.
Baldacci Fraternity Red Wine Napa Valley 2019 ($70). Cabernet sauvignon makes up 46 percent of this blend with the balance coming from merlot, syrah and cabernet franc grapes. With this breadth, the wine is fittingly broad-shouldered with blue fruit and olive aromas, strawberry and pomegranate flavors, and long in the finish. The tannins are big here, so decant or age.
Stags’ Leap Winery Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($110). Full bodied with fine tannins and intense red berry, herbal aromas. Ripe cassis and blackberry flavors.
Sullivan Coeur de Vigne 2019 ($130). Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Sullivan has something to cheer with this spectacular edition of its vaunted Coeur de Vigne. There is a good dose of merlot in the blend to soften the Rutherford-grown cabernet sauvignon. Rich and round with black cherry, spice and pepper flavors and layers of aromas ranging from boysenberry to forest floor.
Sosie Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Moon Mountain District Charlie Smith Vineyard 2019 ($75). Only 75 barrels of this beauty were made. A big wine but balanced offering black cherry notes elegant oak with some herbs and a mocha finish.
Cuvaison Diablo Syrah 2019 ($70). Syrah makes serious wines in Northern Rhone Valley, but it can also be complex in Napa Valley. Diablo is the clay soil that nourish the 21-year-old vines that give this syrah good complexity and depth. Although the tannins are soft, the fruit is abundant with plum and currant notes augmented by hints of black pepper and leather.
Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2019 ($125). The fruit for this spectacular wine come from Mount Veeder and Napa Valley AVAs. Great concentration and fresh fruit character with black fruit flavors, depth and balance.
Looking for something special to go with red meat but more reasonably priced? Here are some suggestions:
Textbook Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 ($33). This is a delightful, balanced and approachable cabernet sauvignon that is reasonably priced for Napa Valley. Blueberry and mint aromas are followed by jammy dark fruit flavors and a long finish.
Josh Cellars North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 ($22). This is a great deal in cabernet sauvignon, a category f vastly overpriced and over-hyped wines. In a more handsome and hefty bottle than its popular introductory red wine, this cabernet has an expressive aroma of plums and black cherries with hints of violets and nuts. The black cherry notes continue on the palate with the addition of vanilla and mocha.
Ventisquero Grey Valle de Colchagua Apalta Vineyard Red Blend 2017 ($25). From a single block, the grapes for this complex Chilean blend include garnacha, carinena, and mataro. Floral and cassis aromas are followed by fresh cherry and raspberry flavors with a hint of blueberries and pepper. Good tannins give this aging potential but it can be easily enjoyed now. This is a great deal for anyone looking for complex wines or who want to start a wine cellar on a low budget.