TJ Brightman

In a year with too many natural disasters to count, conflicts and crisis around the globe, political bickering in Washington and media chasing one another for the next “BREAKING NEWS STORY,” you don’t have to look far to find many Americans happy to see 2017 go out with a loud thud! That is precisely why you should kick back during the upcoming holiday season and enjoy friends, food and my personal favorite – MORE WINE!

As I’ve written in previous wine blogs there are no rules to follow when picking your holiday wine, only that you buy what you like regardless of price point or what the “shelf talker card” at your favorite wine merchant says.

There are no rules… buy what you like

The holidays present the perfect opportunity to sample new wines considering the variety and abundance of food we will consume at parties and family dinners over the next few weeks. Don’t get stuck on what I like to call the “pairing game,” the need to bring or pour the perfect wine with each and every dish. Keep it simple, have fun and clang your glasses with friends as much as possible!

The Recommendations
Understanding plenty of wonderful choices and varietals from around the world exist, I’ve decided to narrow our focus to the “Golden State” of California, largely because the wines are so good, but as an additional act of support following the recent wildfires that plagued and destroyed many homes, businesses and wineries in both Northern and Southern California this fall. I encourage you to support the Sonoma and Napa communities by purchasing California wines this holiday season. It feels good to give back and look like a wine expert at your next holiday gathering, all at the same time.
2015 Landmark Chardonnay Carneros Sangiacomo Vineyard
This winery located along Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley survived the recent wildfires and has consistently produced great wines. This bottle received 87 points from Wine Spectator and will leave you with flavors of white peach and fig with a toasty, smoky oak. WS 87 | $45

2015 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Valley Russian River Selection
The Russian River Valley delivers wonderful wines year after year and this one hits the mark! Enjoy spicy green apple, pear and melon with your New Year’s Eve lobster dinner. WS 88 | $35

2016 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Russian River Valley
If you were a fan of the 60’s TV show, “My Three Sons,” then you might also find the wines of the late founder, Fred MacMurray even more interesting. Producing terrific reds and whites this bottle of Pinot Gris is an excellent choice with appetizers of all kinds and received 87 points from Wine Spectator. Lots of juicy fruit, a refreshing wine for any occasion. WS 87 |$20
2014 Darioush Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Signature

Located in the heart of Napa Valley this winery’s property is as beautiful as the wines it produces. There is nothing like a Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley and this wine won’t disappoint. Packed with earthy, berry flavors it’s the perfect complement to many meat and even fish dishes. WS 89 | $65

2015 Kivelstadt Cellars Father’s Watch
A small family winery under the direction of Jordan Kivelstadt, this Sonoma red Rhone-style blend from the North Coast is not only a great choice but extremely approachable now and a real value for anyone on your holiday list. $25
2015 Cosentino Winery “Cigar” Old Vine Zinfandel
Talk about a great 90-point wine and a real value at the same time. Hailing from the Central Coast this traditional California Zinfandel is full of aromas like pepper spice, nutmeg and coffee.  If you can find it, buy as many bottles as you can. Enjoy with winter barbecue style dishes and your friends will be very happy. WE 91 | $15
Let us know if this list helped you pick the right wine as a gift or for a holiday meal.

TJ Brightman

You finally wrapped your last present, put the finishing touches on your decorations, baked one more batch of grandma’s famous cookies and even selected your holiday dinner – but what about the wine?

The hectic nature of the holiday season is stressful enough without worrying about the right wine to serve or worse yet, the right wine to bring to someone’s home as a gift. Follow these simple tips in making your wine selection and then kick back, say cheers and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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  1. The sky is the limit. – When selecting a wine for the perfect holiday occasion, understand that short of box wine there is nothing off limits. Wine comes in many varietals and price ranges, but expensive doesn’t always mean good and taking a chance on a smaller brand you’ve never heard of doesn’t mean bad.
  2. Wine should be fun. When you find yourself staring at the shelf full of wine bewildered by all of those cool, edgy and colorful wine labels (designed by some hip ad agency no doubt) or shelf talkers screaming at you with giant wine scores from the so-called experts, remember to take a deep breath and relax. Wine is supposed to be fun and about sharing something with your family or friends over delicious food and warm conversations.
  3. It’s all about variety. Don’t be overly concerned about wine pairing or one particular varietal over another. If you’re like most Americans, the holidays are about variety, everything from carved red meats, creamy cheeses, savory dishes and sweet desserts. Like that wonderful baseball movie line, “If you build it, they will come,” or in this case, “if you serve it, they will drink it!”

But since this is a wine blog about the best wines to enjoy for the holidays, here are a few of my personal favorites that you might want to add to your cellar. Keep in mind all of these wines are deliberately $50 or less considering all of the choices in this price range.

Cabernet Sauvignon


2013 Simi Alexander Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County) $26
2012 Hall (Napa Valley) Cabernet $46  – pictured
2012 Jordan (Alexander Valley Sonoma) Cabernet $49
2012 Groth Vineyards (Oakville Napa Valley) Cabernet $50
Quite truthfully, what could be better? If you know me you probably know I’m a California purist at heart and for this publication will only recommend wines from the Golden State with a focus in Sonoma Valley or neighboring Napa Valley. These wines pair perfectly with a medium-rare Christmas tenderloin, carved roast or dark chocolate truffle after dinner.

ABI_TJ_Wine_Recommendations_December_2016-33Gloria Ferrer (Sonoma), Brut $18
Domaine Carneros (Carneros), Blanc De Noir Sparking $38
Veuve Clicquot (France), Yellow Label Brut $45 – pictured
In all my years enjoying wine, I’m pretty sure there is one thing that goes with everything and that’s a fine bubbly. Nothing says elegant more than a bottle of Champagne or Sparkling and your guests or special someone will thank you for it later.


St. Francis (Sonoma County) Old Vines Zinfandel $20 – pictured
2014 Selby (Sonoma County) Bobcat Zinfandel $42
2014 Gamba (Russian River Valley) Zinfandel $50
Maybe a varietal you haven’t tried or liked, but the secret is finding the right food to enjoy with this wonderful red with for the holidays. Typically lighter in color than a Cab or Merlot this moderate tannin and high acidity wine is higher in alcohol and perfect with lamb, pork, especially barbecue or a big hearty meal like your Mom can only make.

Pinot Noir
ABI_TJ_Wine_Recommendations_December_2016-9 (1)2014 Decoy (Sonoma Valley) Pinot Noir- $22
2014 Sonoma-Cutrer (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir $33
2014 Landmark Vineyards (Sonoma Coast) Grand Detour Pinot Noir $35
2014 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir $44 – pictured
2014 Ramey (Russian River Valley) Pinot Noir $49
Forget about the 2004 cult film, “Sideways,” this varietal was made famous by the French and in Sonoma County some of the very best in the world! If the label says “Russian River” or “Sonoma Coast” then it’s like tossing darts.

2015 Walt (Sonoma Coast) Chardonnay $40
2015 Adelshelm (Willamette Valley Oregon) Pinot Gris $18
2014 Hall (Napa Valley) Sauvignon Blanc $22
2014 Cakebread (Napa Valley) Chardonnay $44
2015 Darioush Signature Viognier $45
2014 Kiernan Robinson Wines (Stagecoach Vineyard Napa Valley) Viognier $45 – pictured
Don’t just grab the first bottle of Chardonnay you see! Many California Chardonnays are pretty typical, and you either love them or you don’t. You know the kind, big, buttery and oaky with hints of vanilla and butterscotch. Unless you are serving some lobster tails New Year’s Eve, try some of my favorite white varietals, including Chardonnay.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!