The Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holiday season—a time of free-flowing libations—gave me the opportunity to sample a number of new wines. They were either relatively new to our state or just new to me. Here are some winners I'd like to share with you, since they will become part of my regular 2015 libation rotation.
One of the best bargains I've come across in a while is Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley, which is a lot of good juice for a mere $9.99. Oddly, Concannon sells the same wine for $18 per bottle from its own online store. Deep, rich flavors of cassis, cherries, plums and coffee, along with subtle cedar notes, characterize this blend of 98 percent Petite Sirah and 2 percent Syrah. The Conservancy label indicates that the wine's grape growers have placed their land into a legal trust that protects against urban and other development, forever.
A couple of Argentine Malbecs also caught my attention during the recent cold snap. Bodega Septima Malbec ($11.99) has a fancy genealogy: The winery was founded in Mendoza, Argentina, by Spain's original winemaking dynasty, the Codorníu-Raventós family. The grapes for this wine come from two regions: half from Agrelo and half from the Uco Valley. The former delivers red fruit flavors and aromas, while the latter imparts floral aromas and a somewhat vegetal characteristic. If you like raspberry jam—perhaps combined with smoky oak—you'll like Septima Malbec.
The other Argentine Malbec I've been enjoying is Trapiche Broquel Malbec ($14.99). The wine is made from single estate vineyards that average more than 25 years old. Aged for 15 months in new American and French oak barrels, it's an intense purple-red color with lots of jammy black fruit flavors, a hint of smoke and notes of cacao and vanilla. It's really good with grilled steaks and hearty stews. I recently served Trapiche Broquel Malbec with red chile posole and found it to be a terrific pairing.
During the recent holidays, a couple of interesting sparkling wines teased my palate. First, there was Sokol Blosser Evolution ($19.99). The idea here was to produce an American sparkling wine with a blend of different grapes: assemblage, as the French would say. What's unique about this wine are the grapes chosen. It's a racy blend of nine different ones: Muller-Thurgau, Riesling, Semillón, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. Whew! The result is a creamy sparkler that is dry, fresh and clean-tasting, with pear, peach and citrus notes. The winemakers think of Evolution as an everyday sparkling sipper, and suggest pairing it with fish sticks, chicken nuggets, double-cheese nachos or fancier foods like cedar-plank salmon and chicken Cordon Bleu.
From Italy comes Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut ($37). Usually, when we think of Italian sparkling wine, we're thinking of Prosecco. This wine, however, falls into the luxury Italian sparkling wine category—made in the metodo classico manner, or using the classic methods and techniques of fine Champagne making. This Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend spends 18 months fermenting before disgorgement, and is quite elegant and crisp, with pear and apple aromas and citrus notes on the tongue. I like it as an aperitif, all by itself, or with light pasta and seafood dishes.
Finally, don't pass up the chance to sip Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay 2012 ($27.45). Like most Landmark wines, this one's a stunner for the price. Serve it with butternut squash ravioli and you're headed straight to wine pairing heaven.