Every year when the Costco wine advent calendar is released, at least half a dozen friends message me to ask if Josh and I will be partaking. We never have, mostly because it’s difficult to justify buying a case of blind wines when we already have cases of wine we’ve selected stacked in the house. But this year, as COVID forced everyone to make different holiday traditions, we thought as long as we were just going to be sitting at home anyway, we might as well get the box!
Before it was released, however, we got overly excited about a wine deal at Trader Joe’s and found ourselves with four more cases of wine piled in our kitchen hallway, and decided not to buy any more new wine until 2021. So much for the advent calendar box.
Fortunately, when you have wine loving friends willing to think outside the prepackaged Costco box and share a few choice bottles with you, you can make your own fun! Thus we began ‘The 12 Wines of Christmas,’ a 12 night wine sharing extravaganza. With a selection of both reds and whites and new and aged bottles, this year’s 12 wines of Christmas had something for everyone. Keep your holiday celebrations rolling with one of our picks for the Christmas season!
12 wines of Christmas kicked off with a 2012 Hedges. C.M.S. Red Blend. This blend features over 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, so you get those smokey, bold flavors you’d expect from a Cab, with 44% Merlot and 6% Syrah to add a nice balance of acidity. Wine Enthusiast suggested the wine would hold up and mellow out after some time, and eight years after the vintage, the consensus was that it was, in fact, “tasty.” That said, the 2014, 2016, and 2017 are also highly rated and most notes don’t mention aging, so feel free to drink at will! The wine definitely stands on it’s own, but could be food friendly. That said, it might not be your first pick for your Christmas table. We drank ours with a holiday style turkey, mashed potatoes, and roasted veggies dinner, which wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t what I probably would have picked as the ideal pairing. The wine was easily the star of the show overpowering the meal itself. It was suggested a spicy, cajun shrimp dish might work well…which made me curious about the pairing and hungry for cajun shrimp! However you serve it, this Washington offering from the Columbia Valley is a nicely balanced and enjoyable red blend that makes the nice list!
Wine number two, and we found true love with 2016 St Francis Old Vine Zinfandel. When asked to summarize this wine, it was perhaps put best this way: “It takes me back to coming home as a young boy and not even taking my shoes and backpack off in anticipation. Then going to the pantry to rip open a pack of gushers and eating all of the red ones first!” In other words…fruity, smooth, crave-able, with a lingering finish heavy on sweet, ripe cherries. This wine is drinkable and was great both on its own as I was preparing dinner and while finishing the glass with my meal. Fits the bill as a traditional Zinfandel, so pair accordingly with spicy sausage, pastas with red sauce, burgers, or my favorite Zin pairing, pizza!
For the third wine of Christmas, we switched from reds to whites with 2014 Lightning Horse Chardonnay. On a super basic level you might describe Chardonnays as buttery or not and oaky or not. On those very very vague terms, you’d call this wine oaky but not buttery. This wine is fruity, and apparently really well balanced as our tasting group could not agree on the fruit on the finish. Peach…apricot…pear…it was a split decision, but there was a definite sweetness and smoothness to the front side of the wine, balanced with a bit of tartness on the finish. In the official tasting notes, the wine maker suggested (among pear and apricot) notes of pineapple, which would also fit that sweet/tart balance! Also noteworthy is the wine’s humanitarian missions. And while it doesn’t include three French hens, it does include dozens of miniature horses being raised as support animals for people with Autism. On their vineyard property you can not only sample their variety of wines, but also visit their stables of mini horses and learn about the charitable work they’re doing.
Wine number four was a platinum medal winning Syrah, 2017 Isolde’s Rapture. This wine was a First Leaf exclusive from their pandemic box back at the start of the COVID times, and one reviewer called it “bold and boozy,” everything I want from a wine that’s going to be paired with spicy taco bowls (our dinner of choice on night number four). Those bold flavors came through in strong cherry flavors and a long, spicy finish. The cherry notes were described by one as, “That first sip of kiddy cocktail when you get the pure grenadine at the bottom of the glass.” It wasn’t that sweet, but it did have that kick you in the tastebuds punch to it! Lots of body, lots of tannins, full of flavor, and at over 15% ABV, “bold and boozy” could be the official tagline of the label. Not a bit disappointed in this one!
The fifth day of Christmas brings five golden rings. The fifth wine of Christmas brings one awesome pinot noir, Estancia Pinot Noir. Fairly dry with a medium finish, this wine is balanced between earthiness and red fruits (strawberry, red raspberry), pretty typical of pinot noir. And any typical pinot noir is generally summarized with one gif in our house…
That’s plenty of gold for this fifth day wine!
Our sixth wine of Christmas is a personal favorite as it’s the wine Josh and I chose to be served at our wedding. Prairie Fumé from Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, WI is an American Seyval Blanc with a light body, fruit-forward sweetness, and well balanced acidity. At the halfway point of our twelve wines, this was a refreshing break from some of the full bodied, bold reds we’d tasted. Notes of citrus, mango and peach shine. The cold fermentation process is stopped earlier than some of the winery’s “dry” white wines, leaving some residual sugars and a touch of sweetness that’s not overpowering and fits wells with the fruit profile. Bottled year round, and with a small, 2 year, window for aging, this is a wine that’s good from the day you pick it off the shelf. Consequently, that also means we’re no longer enjoying the internationally acclaimed 2015 vintage from our wedding year, but the 2018 we currently have on hand was a Best of the Midwest award winner and just as satisfying.
Let me set the day seven scene: it’s the Saturday before Christmas; we’ve spent two hours driving around the area looking at the best Christmas lights; we’ve enjoyed a meal of pulled pork and chicken that sat all day in the smoker; there’s a Harry Potter marathon on TV; the Christmas tree is lit up; outside, the very first traces of snow still linger on the lawn…a glimmer of hope that we might still have a white Christmas! And into this scene we add the seventh wine of Christmas: Robert Mondavi Private Selection Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon. The ultimate contrast to the lightness of wine #6, this Cabernet is heavy, bold, and the perfect compliment to the smokiness of the meat and the coziness of a cold winter night. Rich flavors of blackberry, cherry, and mocha marry with notes of smoke on the nose and smooth tannins on the finish.
We were a bit heavy on California wines, so for the eighth wine of Christmas we took it Italian! 2019 Diversi Dal Solito Vino Rosso is a red wine blend from Sicily featured as another 2020 Firstleaf pick from one of our pandemic boxes. Most of the wines from our pandemic boxes weren’t quite this young, but according to the tasting notes, the 2019 vintage of this wine was noteworthy as the growing season started significantly later than usual, producing a harvest with a much smaller yield and fruit with intense flavors. Described as “old world” and “rustic” this red blend reminded me of the house wines we enjoyed on our tours through Florence and Rome. Light, acidic, tart cranberry and red raspberry notes, the wine is well balanced with medium tannins on the finish. Serve with any tomato-based pasta dish for an easy Italian dinner pairing. We paired with curry and found a delicious, though certainly non-traditional, play on spice and acidity.
When the ninth wine of Christmas falls on night one of The Bachelorette finale, there’s only one wine that will do! Numerous bottles of The Bachelorette Final Rosé had been purchased for a previous season of The Bachelorette, but when that season ended, and given the fact we didn’t like the wine that much, numerous bottles were left on the wine rack. We did discover that the wine was good as a spritzer, so with that backup plan in mind, we gave The Final Rosé another chance. My memories of the wine were caustic, sharp, and really boozy. The wine headache the next morning was as much a part of the memory as the taste. Such memories prompted such observations as “notes of battery acid,” which were more than a little overblown! Fortunately, age was kind to this rosé, and I was pleasantly surprised that it had mellowed out a lot. It still had bite, but it was much more balanced and drinkable. The most spot on observation made by our tasting group was that it was like a vodka cranberry, and we all felt like we liked it a little more the longer we sipped on it. It won’t be a staple on the dinner table. But I’d probably open another bottle for the next finale night!
Had I done my research on the tenth wine of Christmas in advance, I may have picked something else…not because the wine was bad, but rather because in doing a deep dive for the blog post, I learned most people are choosing to age this wine ten years before drinking. Oops! We gave Château de Villambis 2015 Haut-Médoc five years, and while it was good, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like in 2025! This Bordeaux style red blend was smooth and balanced with low acidity and packed with berry flavor. We started sipping before dinner, and found it very drinkable on its own, though it also transitioned very easily into dinner as well. That said, if you have one of these on the wine rack already, I guess I have to recommend saving it for later.
The eleventh wine of Christmas came to us just before a blizzard set in, and if I had to pick a wine to sit in front of my fire place and sip during every future blizzard to come, I’d probably pick this one: 2007 Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Merlot. Just before we poured the wine, our twelve wines of Christmas partners in crime sent over their tasting notes. While the “freshly oiled pair of leather cowboy boots sprinkled in pepper” was an excellently descriptive sentence (if not overly appetizing as a tasting note!), I was much more optimistic about, and in agreement with the other note: “A delicious treat to sip by the glow of the Christmas tree on a cold winter’s night.” Indeed it was. The nose struck me as Cherry Cola, and that rich cherry flavor, carried through on the palette along with notes of baking spice and something sort of earthy. Maybe it was…in fact…leather! Age had smoothed out any rough edges on this wine, and the finish was lingering and full bodied. We started this before a meal, and finished it with food. It was the star of the show either way. My favorite wine of the twelve!
While every other bottle of the twelve wines of Christmas came from something that was already in one of our stashes, for the final wine I went to our local liquor store and asked the salesman what he would recommend as the last bottle. He LOVED what we were doing and asked a lot of questions trying to figure out what would compliment everything else we’d tasted. Ultimately, given the theme and the fact there was only one other Zinfandel on the list, the twelfth wine was chosen: 2016 Green & Red Zinfandel Chiles Canyon. The whole green and red thing felt appropriate. I recommend decanting this wine. We didn’t, and the first sip was a straight shot of spicy pepper. But it quickly smoothed out with a few minutes to breathe, so 30 minutes in a decanter before serving would be more than adequate. Rich jammy notes of strawberry and blueberry blend with smoke, oak, and warming baking spices on the finish. It made me want pot roast for Christmas dinner. Like the Kendall-Jackson Merlot before it, another “warm you up from the inside” wine on a cold, snowy, winter’s night.
As we wrap on our twelve wines of Christmas, I’m grateful for friends who found a way to overcome the pandemic and celebrate safely from a distance. And I’m hopeful that 2021 will find us gathered back around the same tables again.
May you all find some joy in a holiday season unlike any other!