It never fails to impress and delight. The gift of good Pinot, that is. I can't tell you how many times I've gifted or received outstanding, even what some might call "cult" California Pinot Noir, and it's always with a sense of giddy anticipation. If receiving, the excitement stems from my anticipation of quaffing the fabulous stuff. If receiving, I know there's an excellent chance I can wrangle a glass (or more, if I'm very crafty) from said bottle, so it's a win-win situation no matter what. I think the reason good California Pinot makes such a great gift is that, when well made, the stuff is an absolute treat. It's so delightfully smooth and rich at the same time and knitted through with simply gorgeous notes of baking spices, licorice, herbs, cherry and pomegranate fruit, leather and other treats that it's, well, a really wonderful drinking experience. Better yet, good California Pinot can be consumed right away (so no need to shove it away for years of opining) and drinks beautifully by turns with both food and just on its own, perhaps sipped next to a roaring fire on your next holiday ski getaway. (Go ahead, cue mental picture of yourself apres-ski at Tahoe or Snowmass or Telluride with said Cult Pinot. Looks good, don't it?) There's also something fabulous about uncorking a beauty of a Cali Pinot on a nothing-special Wednesday night at home, to quaff with take-out served on good china. Suddenly the mid-week hump just got a lot easier to get over. However or wherever it's drunk, great Cali Pinot is guaranteed to delight. Which is why it's at the top of my holiday gift list this year, and is a top candidate for gifting to others as well. Snag a bottle for your boss, your spouse, your favorite client, your mom - everyone is guaranteed to love it. And, they just might share it with you, if you’ve not been too naughty this year. Here are a few of my favorites, all of which can be procured from K&L with very little effort and great reward: Woodenhead. I was first introduced to this stuff by very cool wine blogger about town Alder Yarrow, who nudged me towards it at Zap (they make great Zin too, those multifaceted folks). Their Zin was outstanding, and I’ve since been thrilled to discover that the same goes for their Pinot Noir. The SF Chron described the ’03 this way: “Rose, raspberry, pomegranate, blackberry, cassis, earth, mushroom, dried herb and white pepper aromas and flavor; Burgundian style.” Tempting, no??! Here’s a pic of a bunch of Woodenhead Pinots from Pinot Days earlier this year. Look at those gorgeous pastel labels and snazzy gold caps! If there’s a cult Pinot the ladies will love, it’s this one (we’re suckers for pretty packaging). But fear not: they make some with more masculine black labels too – a little something for everyone. It’s all great, no matter the color! Recommended wine: 2004 Woodenhead "Buena Tierra Vineyard" Russian River Pinot Noir, $44.99. Only 193 cases produced of this single-vineyard beauty. How fab is that? Burrell School Vineyards. I just got back from a delightful visit to this very cool winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, where I met winemaker/owner Dave Moulton, who’s been experimenting with a host of grape varieties including, rather famously, Cabernet Franc, in this area for more than 30 years. His Pinots are simply gorgeous, and my favorite on this trip was from the Veranda Vineyard, which is located at about 800 feet elevation in the southern part of the Santa Cruz winegrowing region. The wine strikes the perfect Pinot balance between complexity and lightness of body, and is teeming with pretty herb, spice and red fruit aromas and flavors. The oak is deftly applied and really well integrated alongside a pleasant earthiness, making a Pinot that’s perfect for our New World palates, which crave ripe fruit but appreciate a little funk as well. Plus, you can’t beat the price on this one. Who says you can't afford cult? Recommended wine: 2003 Burrell School "Veranda Vineyard" Santa Cruz Pinot Noir, $27.99. And finally, Saintsbury. A name so long affiliated with top Cali Pinot it hardly needs an introduction. Known for producing one of the most balanced Pinots in the state, this affirmed Cali cult producer only bottles very small amounts of their Brown Ranch Pinot Noir each year. The Ranch features a dazzling array of soil types, rootstocks, exposures and Pinot clones, all of which add up to a beautiful, nuanced wine that’s a welcome departure from their typically more red fruit-driven Pinots: this wine shows lovely dark fruit flavors and earthiness, a perfect combination for the fall and winter months and richer foods. Santa would approve. Recommended wine: 2003 Saintsbury "Brown Ranch" Pinot Noir, $49.99. --- Courtney Cochran, aka Your Personal Sommelier, provides personalized wine services to adventurous wine collectors, purveyors and enthusiasts, making wine accessible and fun for those who think outside the mainstream wine box. Visit her at www.CourtneyCochran.com
Cliff Lede Vineyards was established in 2002, when Canadian businessman Cliff Lede purchased approximately 60 acres in the northern end of the Stags Leap District. The property, formally known as S. Anderson, is planted to Bordeaux varietals: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. Mr. Lede put together an all-star team, which includes winemaker Michelle Edwards (formerly of Colgin), Vineyard Manager David Abreu (Harlan, Colgin, Bryant Family Vineyards and Screaming Eagle) and internationally renowned winemaking consultant, Michel Rolland (Harlan, Bon Pasteur), to help create a wine from Napa that he could be proud of. 2005 Cliff Lede Napa Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99) Fresh, crisp and still rich complex fruit explodes from the glass and finishes with a hint of lime and citrus. This mineral-driven Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorites from Napa. 2003 Cliff Lede Stag’s Leap District Claret ($29.99) Offering delicious blackberry fruit with a rich, concentrated middle, lush and fleshy finish, the Claret is a blend of 69% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot, 6% cabernet franc and 1% malbec. This wine can be enjoyed now with a bit of air. 2003 Cliff Lede Stag’s Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon ($47.99) Build for the long haul, this Cabernet shows deep, concentrated fruit, hints of mocha and spice and a firm backbone. It will be at its best with several more years of bottle age and should develop even more over the next 10 years. —Trey Beffa
With a refreshing aromatic nose of white flowers and a note of lavender, the 2005 Raventos i Blanc Parfum de Vi Blanc, Penedes ($13.99) is a blend of macabeo (60%) and muscat (40%), that finishes clean and bright. A splash of ripe peaches also shows through on the palate, with great acidity and a long, fresh finish. Serve as aperitif, with appetizers, or right up to the turkey! A little more lemony citrus, with great floral character and nice acidity, the 2005 Bodegas Angel Rodriguez Martinsancho Verdejo ($14.99) is lovely. Josh Reynolds of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar gives it 88 points: “Pungent, grassy nose, with vibrant scents of lemon, green tea, ginger and jasmine. Spicy and incisive, with brisk citrus flavors accented by herbs and minerals.” (Sep/Oct 06) This will be on my table November 23 with the turkey, of course. Perhaps you’d prefer a red wine with your roast beast? The 2004 Bodegas Vizcarra Ramos Roble, ($14.99) from Ribera del Duero boasts a tannic backbone surrounded by cherry and a hint of cocoa. Robert Parker gave it 88 points: “…Displays elegance as well as dramatic aromatics with scents of flowers, cherries, and berries…A medium-bodied, nicely concentrated style.” (06/05) A week without drinking Rioja is a terrible shame. The 2000 La Rioja Alta, Alberdi, Rioja ($18.99) makes for an affordable indulgence. This is a classic blend of tempranillo (90-95%) and a touch of mazuelo, exhibiting dried berries, spice box and a hint of vanilla. Its softly refined tannins will please neophyte and veteran Rioja lovers alike. Did I mention lamb, ham and turkey? —Dan Buckler
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