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White Wines for Christmas

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Rhône-style Whites for Christmas


White Wines for Christmas Dinner

White Wines for Christmas Dinner

If you are looking for white wines for Christmas but dread having to drink another bottle of Chardonnay, then you should turn to Rhône Valley-inspired whites. Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc are four popular and food-friendly options. By drinking outside the box this Christmas season, you’ll start a new tradition while discovering some amazingly delicious wines.

Of the four, Viognier is the most well-known and most likely to be produced as a single-variety bottle. It has a very aromatic peach nose and taste, followed by Springtime honeysuckle and lime. A medium- to full-bodied wine, Viognier holds up nicely to food.


Get with the Blend
Wines for Christmas

Wines for Christmas

Many Americans tend to think that blends, two or more wines combined to produce a single wine, are inferior. This false perception is fueled by the predominance of wines produced as a single variety in America. However, in Old World wine regions, blends are the norm.

In the Rhône Valley, Roussanne and Marsanne are integral blends in the production of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage wines. In the esteemed northern Rhône Côte-Rôtie region, up to 20% Viognier is added to Syrah. Southern Rhône winemakers blend up to 10 different wines, and on occasion more.


Christmas Dinner Selections

Christmas Wines

These Rhône-inspired whites are superb wines for Christmas dinner:

  • Tablas Creek Vineyard, located in Paso Robles, focuses a lot of their blends on Rhône-style wines. Their 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc is made using Roussanne primarily.  The wine’s taste brings back memories of a summer day with citrus, apricot and white peaches.  The abundant minerality allows it to pair well with Christmas foods including seafood appetizers such as shrimp or a main salmon dish.  $45
  • Santa Barbara County winery Beckmen Vineyards 2011 Le Bec Blanc gives a bow to France with a blend of  Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.  At only $18, it offers all the classic flavors noted above.
  • E. Guigal La Doeriane Viognier (Condrieu, France) This is a quintessential 100% Viognier that’s a little pricey at $100 but worth it if you can drink in this neighborhood.
  • I started drinking wines from this producer about four years ago and have never been disappointed. The 2012 Cline Cellars Viognier has lush honeysuckle, white peach and ripe pear flavors. It pairs well with turkey and gravy. Priced near $16, it’s not an overly complex wine but carries enough acidity to earn a spot at the dinner table.

Merry Christmas!

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The Newest California AVAs

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California Gets 13 New AVAs

California Gains More AVAs

California Gains More AVAs

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is granting new American Viticulture Areas (AVA’s) with the same frequency that Biogenesis distributes steroids to professional athletes. In 2012, there were 206 registered AVA’s in the United States. During the past couple of years, that number has increased markedly.

Many states, including North Carolina new AVA designations. But California, already home to more than 50% of all AVAs, is leading the pack. The most recent additions include the new AVA called Eagle Peak Mendocino County,  11 new sub-AVAs, all part of the Paso Robles AVA, as well as, Malibu Coast.


The Newest California AVAs

Beginning on November 10, growers will be able to label wines produced in the Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA with the new moniker. The new region encompasses approximately 26,260 acres. It is part of the greater North Coast AVA, located about 125 miles north of San Frsmcisco. As strange as it may sound, despite the name, Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA is not situated within the already-established Mendocino AVA, nor is it a sub-region. Thankfully, Eagle Peak Mountain, a prominent topography feature, and rising 2,700 feet above sea level is delimited to the region.

The distinguishing characteristics include a marine influence climate, strong breezes, shallow soils with low-holding water capabilities, and a mountainous terrain.


Central Coast
Ocean Breezes & Fog

Vines Love Ocean Breezes & Fog

Paso Robles, in its quest for new sub-regions wins the prize for the longest and most detailed proposal ever filed with the TTB. Paso may have been feeling like the Rodney Dangerfield of wine regions. Prior to the establishment of the new AVA’s, Paso Robles was the largest undivided AVA within California. In comparison, the Napa Valley, which is two thirds smaller, currently has 11 sub-appellations. Now, the two prominent regions are even. Paso Robles AVA Map

With the division in place, the hope is winemakers will be able to show the diversity of the soil and weather of each region, in essence the terroir. The distinguishing attributes also include average annual rainfall ranging from 11 to 29 inches and altitude rising from 600 feet to over 2,400 feet above sea level.

Taking effect on November 10th, the 11 new sub-appellations are as follows:

  1. Adelaida District
  2. Creston District
  3. El Pomar Paso District
  4. Paso Robles Estrella
  5. Paso Robles Highlands
  6. Paso Robles Genesso
  7. Paso Robles Willow Creek
  8. San Juan Creek
  9. San Miguel district
  10. Santa Margarita Ranch
  11. Templeton Gap

The timing of this announcement is perfect as it coincides with the Paso Robles Wine Harvest Celebration on Oct 17-19.


Surf’s Up

In July, two existing AVA’s, Malibu-Newton Canyon and Saddle Rock-Malibu became sub-appellations of the new, greater Malibu Coast AVA.  With a size of approximately 44,590 acres, it includes portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Boundaries were also redrawn as a result of the addition. If a winery wishes to use a specific AVA name on a wine bottle label, at least 85% of the grapes must have been grown in the region.


Do Wine Drinkers Care?
Visit the Tasting Room

Visit a Winery & Taste the Difference

Winemakers in all of these new AVA’s will now have to accept the challenge of demonstrating the subtle differences to consumers. Will wine drinkers recognize and/or appreciate these hard-fought battles for new AVA status?

If nothing else, it’s a great excuse to get out and visit wine country.





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Beckmen Vineyards

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2009 Beckmen Vineyards Cuvee Le Bec – Santa Ynez Valley

Tasting Room Beckman Vineyards

Beckman Vineyards Tasting Room

Two years ago on one of my annual wine pilgrimages to Santa Barbara Wine Country, we stopped at Beckman Vineyards.  Just because I’m a wine educator, I don’t always want to pick the wineries that my group visits.  So, my friend Beverly chose Beckman and I’ve been a fan ever since.

I purchased (too) many wines on this trip, which is fairly typical.   I’m still working my way through some of those bottles.  But that’s the best part about visiting a wine region.   Instead of simply buying bottles off of retail shelves, you really get to know the wine.  You get the opportunity to taste it before you buy it. You see where and how it’s grown; and meet the people who make it, including the winemaker, if you are lucky.

Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec

Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec

I opened my bottle of ’09 Cuvee Le Bec and enjoyed it with a take-out order of ribs from Phil’s BBQ in San Diego.   Like many wineries in this sub-appellation of Santa Barbara, the Rhone grape varieties are well represented.  This Cuvee Le Bec had 45% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 34% Mourvèdre and 7% Counoise.

If this wine was giving an acceptance speech at an award’s ceremony, it might thank Syrah for its deep-purple color, tannins and spice. And give a “Hats Off” to Grenache for the wonderful fruit.

I was a little worried when I saw I still had this bottle in my wine captain I use as my aging cellar.  But, it was not past its prime.  For that, Mourvèdre deserves the coo-does. Counoise is lesser known but a common grape used in the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which blend up to 13 different varieties. It’s this Counoise that brings the necessary acidity to the blend.

As far as the taste, Loved It!  On the nose, it gives black pepper, raspberry and cherry.  These flavors were a magical pairing with the barbequed ribs and baked beans.  The dark cherry fruit wasn’t jammy, which I believe takes away from a wine’s complexity.

Grounds at Beckmen Vineyards

The Grounds at Beckmen Vineyards

The tasting room is small; and it can get crowded on weekends.  It’s become a lot more popular after word got out that President Obama served it at The White House for a function.  The grounds are lovely though.  My wife and I managed to grab two seats out by the pond.  It was a peaceful place to enjoy our tastings.




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Top-Rated Wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma and Santa Barbara

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Enjoy these Top-Rated Wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma and Santa Barbara

As the weather turns warmer, many people turn to white whites and these three whites from Napa Valley, Sonoma and Santa Barbara are sure winners.  I recommend these top-rated wines because they are refreshingly crisp and are fairly inexpensive but still make worthy dinner companions because of the balance of fruit and acidity they bring to the table.  For this review, I  drank two Sauvignon Blanc wines, one from Napa Valley and the other from nearby Sonoma.  Next, I tasted a Santa Barbara County Chardonnay that was perfect for casual drinking on an unexpectedly warm day.

5/5 Silverado Vineyards Miller Ranch 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
This is a classic Sauv Blanc with grapefruit, lemon/lime zestiness. That’s why it earns a  great wine review rating. It has a lovely bright and crisp finish. Between this wine and the weather, it felt like I was enjoying a hot, August day. It’s great to see some of that esteemed Napa soil being used to grow Sauvignon Blanc. Blended with Semillion, this wine is a great example of a Bordeaux-style white. $22

Hanna Sauvignon Blanc

Hanna Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma

5*/5 Hanna Estate Grown 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma
My review for this wine is an impressive 5-star with value/5 rating.  I recommended this winery to a couple heading up to Sonoma for a long, weekend getaway. This wine is a great value especially from the Russian River Valley, which can be a high-rent district for California wineries. It’s wonderfully crisp, but delicate. It has the tropical flavor of pineapple, and a bit of Granny Smith apple with a lemon finish. Don’t be turned off by the screw-cap closure. $18

5*/5 Tangley Oaks 2007 Chardonnay, Lot #4, Central Coast
Here I go again with my Chardonnay disclaimer. I don’t typically care for these wines but, of course there are always exceptions, which explains the high rating I gave this Chard.  Tangley Oaks Chardonnay is not overly oaky, the very thing I dislike about chardonnays.  What a nice touch of vanilla with a Bit-o-Honey, which was one of my favorite candy bars as kid. Maybe I liked it so much though because it tasted like a Sauvignon Blanc with creamy pear and zesty lemon. $14

Here’s an explanation of my Tasting Notes Ranking System.



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