Small scale wineries seem to be the the hot thing this year. Whether the wine was produced on an organic farm in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley or in an industrial warehouse in Berkeley, these adventurous winemakers are getting some well-deserved attention for their interesting wines. Not all limited production wines are great, or affordable, but many are. This year I tried several very good California small lot wines for under twenty bucks including: Sherman and Hooker's white blend Shebang, Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc on tap, Navarro's Edelzwicker and Pinot Noir from Mendocino, a Tempranillo from Bokisch Vineyards in Lodi and a Rose from Berkeley’s Donkey and Goat.
Just how small is small is up for debate, I tend to think under one thousand cases. It seems the designation is determined not just by a number but by a certain kind of style: a more hands on, focused and often natural approach to winemaking. For more recommendations on holiday wines and bubbles, I paid a visit to two local experts.
Peter Eastlake is co-owner of Vintage Berkeley, a wine shop that focuses on small production wines -- most under $25. This year the small wines promoter is thinking big. "I am really into magnums. To me they capture celebration, boldness, going big. Their size makes them look prohibitive but when you multiply a bottle times two, it's not that different. I think they are great for hosting and gifting," says Eastlake. I was shown a Kermit Lynch Cotes Du Rhone for $26 and a Zin made by the organic Santa Cruz producer, Alfaro Family Vineyards for $45.
Eastlake, whose stores are in North Berkeley, Elmwood and Albany coordinated this year's Wine Lands as part of Outside Lands. At the big San Francisco music and food event he showcased some of his favorite local, small scale producers including Wind Gap and Rajat Parr’s Sandhi wines. For this holiday Eastlake recommends wines from Lou Preston, a Sonoma legend who uses organic grapes from Dry Creek. "I really like L. Preston, a proprietary Rhone Blend. It's an organic estate grown wine that goes for $25.” Eastlake also carries Madam Preston ($24). I personally love this wine which is a blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne.
Since no holiday season is complete without popping the cork on a good bubbly, Eastlake recommends Domaine Taille aux Loups, Jacky Blot, Brut "Triple Zero" ($25) “It is an incredible sparkling Chenin Blanc from Montlouis, Vouvray. "His sparkling has quince, and stones. It’s dry, savory stuff," says Eastlake.
Champagne and sparkling wine may be the most popular holiday booze but Ian Becker, the wine director at Arlequin Wine Merchant in San Francisco, thinks that bubbles are one of the most misunderstood wines. “They are more flexible than people think and have so many pairing possibilities. I have had champagne with rib eye steak," says Becker.
One of Becker’s favorite small champagne producers is Jacquesson. He featured the Jacquesson Cuvee 734 at the store’s annual champagne tasting event. This one was $63. "It has dry herbal aromatics that are quite appealing,” says Becker. Becker also recommends an affordable French sparkler, “Francois Chidaine makes a dry and compelling sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley that is high in acidity and has a lot of pairing possibilities." At Becker's shop the sparkler is less than $22.
If you have heard of Natural Wine Week, Becker is the guy behind it. Some of his favorite winemakers are experimenting with native yeasts and bottling without fining or filtration. For the holidays, Becker suggests, "pick up a Pinot Blanc from Lioco ($23), it's a very dry Chardonnay alternative." If you are in the market for a red, Becker recommends a Cab Franc from Broc Cellars ($22). With only one hundred cases produced, you better hurry. In addition to a more natural style of wine, both of these winemakers picked up on other trends from this year including lower oak and alcohol levels. Want more holiday drink ideas? Try our festive cocktail tips!