By Rick Riozza

It never fails; time simply rushes through at this end of the year. And every so often the hustle and bustle gets in the way of thinking through a nice wine choice or so for the gatherings and holiday meals. As your friendly neighborhood wine steward at Pavilions in Rancho Mirage, perhaps I can help with some very reasonably priced recommendations.

Sure—for many, you’re already glancing and imagining the quaff of your favorite vino which stands vertical and gleaming on your dining table—ready to be uncorked!

For Cabernet Sauvignon lovers who really like to treat themselves, I know bunches of you will be experiencing the 2012 Caymus’40th Anniversary Napa Valley, $55. Wine critic Robert Parker says “it’s spectacular’ with its dense purple/black color that’s followed by copious quantities of crème de cassis and blackberry fruit with silky tannins, a voluptuous texture and stunning purity as well as length—a full-bodied effort.” My humble comment is that it surely exhibits lush textures and opulent fruit—a big bomber for those wishing full throttle.

Let’s quickly remember that the California Napa 2011 vintage was rainy and cold where the 2012 was “ideal and warm”, and, the 2013 was bright with sun and heat. For a California Chardonnay, 2012 was a stellar year! And we have the luxury of enjoying so many tasty chards at all price ranges. Whether it’s high-end, discount, or medium range, enjoy what the 2012 California chard has to offer.

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For Cabs, on the other hand, as with the 2012 Caymus, that “ideal” weather can produce pretty hefty ones. But the 2011 has produced some delicious toned-down red wine that can wonderfully pair with meals. So if you wish to “treat” you and yours to a delicious Cal Cab that won’t take you down at dinner but is lively and elegant, consider the 2011 ZD Napa Valley Cabernet at around $35. This has the winter power of a Cab, but is so well balanced with fresh red & black fruits, with elegant complexities and a toasty vanilla finish.

One of the most reasonably priced Cal Cabs, at around $12, is the 2012 Souverain from the North Coast of California. It boasts bright and vivid aromas of roasted vanilla, mocha and baking spices which meet elegant layers of blackberry and ripe cherry flavors. Fully balanced with fruit, tannins and acidity, it leads to a juicy and lengthy finish. Honestly, this wine makes me look like a wine maven to the customers: Almost everyone loves it and comes back to purchase more—it barely stays stocked on the shelves!

Another red wine keeping my patrons happy is Open Range Red Blend from Casey Flat Ranch Vineyards, also around $12. This Syrah/Cab Sauv blend is a real crowd pleaser. And the wine was just featured at 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro winemaker dinner and previously at Bellatrix. By the way, look forward to my review of these restaurants and winery in a couple of weeks.

Of course, the two Italian wine recommendations in last week’s column continue to be perfect reds for Christmas dinner As to my white wine endorsements, the 2013 Honig Sauvignon Blanc, just over $15, is a crisp, fresh flowery and electric Sauv Blanc with white peach, lemon grass & hints of jasmine and pea shoot balanced by grapefruit and lime. Medium bodied, with a bright lingering finish, a really yummy wine that serves as a featured white for many meals and cleanses the palate between all the courses of the holiday dinner.

For my 2012 Chardonnay pick, that goes to Chloe. Crafted from grapes grown primarily in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley by winemaker Georgetta Dane, it has structure and depth from new and used oak to showcase ripe, clean flavors of fresh citrus, apple, pear with notes of creamy butter and a hint of vanilla. A great buy at around $13.

As to party-opening and celebratory sparklers, Candace over at Total Wine will be driving my next Champagne & sparkling wine article next week—so stay tuned. But for a great, tasty, and colorful brut rosé for Christmas, at only around $14, is the Mumm Napa Brut Rosé.

It offers a bouquet and palate of ripe Pinot Noir fruit, rich with black cherry and strawberry notes; added, is a small percentage of Chardonnay that gives the wine power and structure. It’s a robust Brut Rosé and a wonderful wine for Christmas cuisine around the world, ranging from Thai to Italian.

The Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé goes for around $20 and is a different style of rosé from the Mumm. It’s 100% Pinot Noir and definitely European in bouquet and palate, it’s tangy with flavors of watermelons, strawberries, lemons and some minerals.

As I’ve mentioned in prior columns, a great and classic medium-dry (that is to say slightly sweet) wine that works both as a sexy aperitif and an elegant dessert wine is Dry Sack Medium Dry Sherry, easily recognizable by its distinctive sack-cloth bag and sleek bottle. The wine also performs well with the meal and is very good company with soups.

The famed Dry Sack Sherry is full-bodied and balances its sweetness with crisp acidity; flavors range from roasted nuts, apricots, raisins, figs, toffee, yeast & musk. For you in the know, it’s a unique blend of Palomino and Pedro Jimenez grapes aged in oak for 6 years in the traditional Solera method. One of the best wine buys at around $13.

Cheers! Happy Holidays!

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