By Rick Riozza

Amid all the real difficulty we’ve experienced this year, many of us have gotten by with a little help and comfort from a nice bottle of wine with a heartening meal at the end of the day. So as we come to the end of the year, let’s cut to the chase and consider some nice wine recommendations for the holidays and to enjoy some good cheer as we optimistically look ahead and remain hopeful for the best.

Let’s start off with a delicious bubbly—of course! Right now we’re enjoying the Faire La Fête Brut.  It’s one of the tastiest sparklers on the market for just under $20—indeed, it’s one of the best buys around for the quality.  It was my plan to write an entire piece on this wine—it’s such a good story on how this bubbly originated about 100 years before the Dom Pérignon experience; and, its historical roots in the world’s original Mardi Gras festival. Hey!—it’s been one crazy year. But I promise getting the article out really soon.

But there’s no reason for you readers to wait!  Please hop over to Ralphs Market in Indio or to Total Wine and pick up a bottle or two.  I assure that you’ll pick up more after enjoying its complex character with true brut brilliance.  That’s right!  Faire La Fête has 30 percent less residual sugar than the leading Champagne brands. For you blanc de blancs fans—Eureka! Cheers to you!  This Champagne-alternative shows aromas and flavors of baked apple, white cherry, and lemon meringue, along with great mouth-feel.

If you happen to be at Trader Joe’s, a last minute pick-up for a fine table sparkler at around $9, we recommend the Louise d’Estrée Brut. The nose is crisp and clean lemon, melon, citrus aromas, and flavors of ripe peach, tart lemon, and a finish of grapefruit.  The acidity is well focused and the finish is nice and full.

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For those of us wishing to taste a delicious brut rosé from California at a right price, we recommend the Non-vintage Schartffenberger Brut Rosé Excellence ($20).  This crisp and classy wine owns strawberry and persimmon aromas with raspberry and white peach flavors; great balance of flavors and acidity.

For those of you who plan to treat themselves to some especially good French Champagne or something like that, I’ll probably come out with some smart recommendations in a couple of weeks—let me taste through some first.

Many of you loyal readers know that I like to have a glass of white wine to accompany me while I write these columns.  You know—it’s a hands-on task.  Well believe it or not, I just checked my fridge and the only white wines I have available are kinda “high-end” ones—the kind you save for a good meal; not really a working/sipping wine which usually include Sauv blancs, Pinot grige, or some other light Italian wine.

Well—we can’t hold the presses, so right now I just opened a Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2016, which sells for around $40if you can find it.  Chilled up in my fridge for over a year, this wine is so impressive I have to write about it in live time!

As to background, what I do know about this wine is that our own famous Mike Grgich did not allow the Chardonnay to undergo malolactic fermentation, preserving its natural acidity.  If you have a wine friend who’s in the “ABC” club i.e., anything but Chardonnay, have them try this wine, and watch their expression; they may re-consider if they are truly wine lovers!

This wine opens with fresh lemon and orange aromas followed by more subtle notes of lemon zest and a hue of marzipan. These notes follow onto the palate, with balanced acidity that carries throughout the sip. Great freshness and minerality; this wine needs to be shared and I can’t just sip this alone.  Hey what’s cooking!

Decanter Magazine gave this Grgich Chard 97 points! “Stunningly complex with aromas of smoke, brioche, toast and a little flintiness! This is beautifully balanced with a blend of sweet apple, oyster shell and gentle sweet oak; a classy wine with such potential to develop further.”

Robert Parker wrote: “The 2016 Chardonnay reveals intense white peach, pear tart and pineapple scents with touches of honeysuckle, struck flint, pie crust and honeycomb. Medium-bodied with fantastic tension and loads of citrus and tropical layers, it has a satiny texture and finishes with great length.”

The Grgich Hills Estate Chard out in the markets currently is the 2017 vintage. ($30)  I’ve yet to taste it, but a reputable review states, “Phenomenal Chardonnay, with everything balanced and just the right amount of notes of pineapple, mango, ripe yellow nectarines and apples, a touch of honeysuckle and butterscotch, with an appropriate acidity to keep it refreshing on its own and food friendly. A wine that is evidently crafted by a master winemaker.”

As always—Mike Grgich puts out great stuff. For those so inclined, check out https://coachellavalleyweekly.com/my-accidental-casual-lunch-with-mike-grgich.

A great deal for you Santa Rita Hills Pinot fans is the 2017 Lafond Pinot Noir SRH ($25).  Wine critic Kim Marcus recently wrote, “This taut red features crisp red fruit and berry flavors, supported by glistening acidity.  Lithe mid-plate, offering ample slate notes.  The finish lingers with dark chocolate hints.”  A wonderful wine for casual holiday fare!

We’ll be recommending wines throughout our last month in 2020, so please stay tuned for some fun and interesting picks. For instance, our family has always enjoyed the inexpensive Il Bastardo Sangiovese Toscana by Renzo Masi.  Always featuring a somewhat amusing label of an Italian character doing something or nothing, the current 2019 vintage is a fresh, fruity style of black cherry, black currant, and violet aromas and flavors that are fun and festive for only $9 a bottle.  Saluti & Cheers!