Wine and spirit recommendations for the holiday season

Most Americans spend more on wine and spirits during the holidays than at any other time of the year. Whether you are giving a gift or looking for the perfect drink to pair with your holiday feast, Brian Freedman — who is a wine, spirits, food and travel writer — has a recommendation for every palate and price. He joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

Freedman’s picks:

  1. Catena High Mountain Vines Malbec 2019 (Mendoza, Argentina)
  2. Blue Quail Old Vine Zinfandel 2020 (Potter Valley, California)
  3. Vitkin Grenache Blanc 2019 (Galilee, Israel)
  4. Proxies Non-Alcoholic Wine Alternative
  5. Iron Horse Stargazing Cuvée Brut 2014 (Green Valley of Russian River Valley, California)
  6. Boondocks “Bottled In Bond” Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (Bardstown, Kentucky)

Read the Full Transcript

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The holidays are when most Americans spend more on wine and spirits than at any other time of the year. Whether you are giving a gift or looking for the perfect drink to pair with your holiday feast, Brian Freedman has a recommendation for every palate and price. He is a wine, spirits, food and travel writer and author of the book "Crushed: How a Changing Climate Is Altering the Way We Drink."

    Brian, its great to have you back on the program.

  • Brian Freedman, Writer:

    Thanks for having me, Geoff.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So let's get right to your recommendations, starting with a red from Argentina. Argentina, when they're not winning World Cups, apparently, they're producing lots and lots of wine. They're the biggest wine producer in South America. And you have recommended a Catena Malbec. Tell us more about this.

  • Brian Freedman:

    So the Catena Malbec comes from a producer that is near and dear to my heart. I write about them in my book. You know, they're really leaders in the environmentally friendly growing of grapes and production of wine.

    And they're really trailblazers in the world of South American wine and wines of Argentina in particular. This one I love because this is sourced from higher altitude grapes.

    So we're getting that great sense of concentration and expressiveness, very, very food friendly. And its under $25. And this one proves that you can find wonderful value and wine that is still expressive of where its from and at the same time, is not going to break the bank, which frankly that means that you can open up a second one with impunity.

    And that's what the holidays are about, right?

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So if we opened up a second one, tell us about the Blue Quail, because that one, as I understand it, you say, is another pretty good value.

  • Brian Freedman:

    Yes. Very similar price point. And this one is interesting because I'm sure you've heard about wines that on the label, they say, old vines, right?

    And what does that mean?

    You know, there's really no specific legal definition on the book for what old vines means in the United States. So it's really sort of the honor system. But in this case, this vineyard was planted in 1971. So these vines are over 50 years old.

    So what does that mean?

    Why are we supposed to care?

    Well, older vines, they tend to produce less fruit but more concentrated and expressive fruit. They tend to have deeper root systems as well. So they're going to express that patch of planet Earth in a more accurate and often effusive way.

    And this particular one, I think the Blue Quail, old vine zinfandel, it really sort of bucks the trend of what a lot of old vine zinfandels tend to be, right?

    I mean, oftentimes they're higher alcohol. They are quite concentrated. This one is really showing that more elegant end of the spectrum. So this one, with a holiday roast, with brisket, this is going to work well.

    But you can also pair this, I think tonight, actually, we might be enjoying this with a little bit of barbecued salmon before that crazy cold front comes through.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The Vitkin Grenache Blanc.

    Why did that one make your list?

  • Brian Freedman:

    This is a wonderful producer in Israel.

    The grapes for this are coming from the upper Galilee. And I think a lot of times there tends to be this sort of unnecessary bifurcation when it comes to how we classify our white wine drinking lives. Right?

    You're either a chardonnay person or you are a sauvignon blanc or a pinot grigio person, right?

    You either like heavier whites or lighter and more crisp whites. But the truth is some of the most interesting ones exist in that sort of gray area in between. And Grenache Blanc is one of those grape varieties that is going to have plenty of energy.

    It's going to have plenty of mouth-watering acidity when grown well, like Vitkin is doing. But at the same time, there is this sort of silky, plush texture that will allow it to pair with richer foods and be great just on its own.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So for people who can't consume alcohol or choose not to consume alcohol during the holidays, we've got some nonalcoholic wine options on the list. These are proxies. And I will say, they don't taste much like wine. I guess they're not really supposed to.

  • Brian Freedman:

    Yes. I think they're taking sort of a playbook from the world of very complex tea. And I think, you know, a lot of times when you do have non-alcoholic wine replacements or spirit replacements, one of the areas that they tend to fall short with is in the area of texture, right?

    I mean, so much of when we drink wine is that textural component. And when it comes to pairing these with food, that I think is what makes them so compelling, because so much of pairing wine and food is not just about the flavor and aroma but it's also about the texture and how that interacts with the food itself.

    It's one of the reasons, Geoff, why you go to a steakhouse and there's like 9,000 pages of tannic reds and three sad pinot grigios by the glass up front. It's not that they would taste bad with the steak, it's that they probably wouldn't taste like much at all, because texturally they'll be overwhelmed.

    So the texture of these and the range of flavors that they're incorporating in these, I think, is very interesting. But you're right, I think there's a lot of crossover here in the world of tea.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    We've got a splurge option here on the list. This is a wine that retails for nearly $200 and the label is inspired by the pictures taken by the James Webb telescope.

    Is that right?

  • Brian Freedman:

    You're right, this is this is, I believe, the Carina nebula, if im not mistaken, on the on the label there. And this is interesting. Like you said, this is a splurge option. But if you're having a large group of people over, a magnum, which is essentially the same volume of liquid as two bottles, right?

    This is a great option. This is fascinating, because this is from 2014. But it was just released now. And this spent seven years on what we call the lees. So after that second fermentation was done in the bottle, that's how the bubbles get there.

    That yeast sort of died effectively once it no longer had any more sugar to ferment and convert into alcohol and carbon dioxide. And it sank to the bottom of this magnum here. So those seven years that the liquid sat on those leaves, it's giving it all these wonderful toast and brioche notes. This is mostly chardonnay. About a quarter of it is pinot noir.

    It's incredibly complex. The French actually have a saying the first time I went to champagne. And one of the winemakers said to me, Brian, I firmly believe that a magnum of champagne is the perfect size for two people to share as long as one of them isn't drinking. And I think that's good life advice.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And we've got a spirit on the list. This is the Boondocks bottled in bond. It's a rye whiskey. I usually swear by Uncle Nearest when I'm consuming bourbon.

  • Brian Freedman:

    I love Uncle Nearest.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    This is good. It's drinkable. It's smooth.

  • Brian Freedman:

    Yes. This is a wonderful producer. You know, Boondocks is actually being made by Dave Scheurich. He was the wine enthusiast, I believe he was the wine distiller of the year. He's won all kinds of awards.

    And this is a wonderful example of why rye is such a food friendly option for this time of year. It's wonderful on its own. You can certainly drink this neat or on the rocks. I love rye in classic cocktails, right?

    In an old fashioned, in a Manhattan, that spice that we get in this rye is really going to be a great counterpoint to the sweetness that we're adding to those cocktails. And very important here, bottled in bond.

    This was an act created in 1897 and it was a way to just, sort of, stave off fraud in the world of whiskey. So when we say bottled in bond, that means that there's a whole set of regulations it has to follow. It has to have been aged for a minimum of four years in a government bonded warehouse.

    It has to be 50 percent alcohol or 100 proof and it has to be the product of a single distilling season from a single distillery.

    So this really is an artisanal craft whiskey. I think they're just hitting it out of the park with Boondocks.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Brian Freedman, I always learn something new when I'm speaking with you. Thanks for the recommendations. We'll put them on our website and happy holidays.

  • Brian Freedman:

    Thanks, Geoff. You, too.

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