Because what would Christmas wine picks be without ... a Rockette?!
Because what would Christmas wine picks be without … a Rockette?!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Or, for those of us in Northern California, let it sort of drizzle, let it sort of drizzle, let it sort of drizzle!

Yes, songwriting is all about context and catch-y-ness, isn’t it?

Regardless of where you spend your holidays, chances are more than a few corks will be pulled. Today, I’m dolling out some of my top picks from California whites I’ve tasted in recent weeks; my picks include great wines from Sonoma, Napa, Livermore and Lodi. To keep things interesting I’ve thrown in one of my all time favorite everyday Rieslings into the mix, the only wine of the bunch not from California.

Some of these you’ll find at Costco, Whole Foods, BevMo, and Trader Joe’s. Others are smaller production; you’ll need to seek out a boutique, or reach out directly to the winery. Whichever you prefer, these are all easy drinking, crowd pleasing wines. Best of all, they won’t break the budget — those special fine wine recommendations I’ll save for another day, maybe for New Year’s when many of you will reach for their most pleasurable and expensive bottles.

Top White Wine Picks for the Holidays

Franciscan Estate 2011 Chardonnay – Napa Valley

Franciscan Estate Chardonnay - Wine Review

Why I like it: Classic Napa Chard. It’s clean – meaning there’s none of that overwrought oakiness you get with Chardonnays of yesteryear – and yet there’s light fruitiness that keeps things interesting. Apple, apricot… maybe even some banana (does that make sense?). Backstory-wise, winemaker Janet Meyers has been at the helm at Franciscan for a while – the experience shows through in a deft approach that’s not afraid to embrace one of my favorite components of wine: minerality.


DeLoach Vineyards 2010 Chardonnay – Russian River Valley, Sonoma

DeLoach Russian River Valley Sonoma - Wine Review

Why I like it: Crisp, but more oak then the Franciscan – the DeLoach is a reliable Chard that is a wonderful, easy-drinking wine suited for casual hors d’oeuvres, or a whimsical cheese plate. Yes, it’s made by a large production producer. But don’t let that turn you away. Sonoma is known for their Chards, and this DeLoach is a great example.


La Rochelle 2010 Chardonnay Dutton Ranch

La Rochelle Chardonnay Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley

Why I like it: Livermore is a gem of a wine destination. Not many realize it was actually the first place wine was planted in California. While Pinot is my favorite varietal by La Rochelle, since we’re talking about whites, I’m going with this 2010 Chardonnay, part of the wineries new “Grand Cru Collection.”  It’s a small-lot wine (only 120 cases were produced) so you might find it harder to source, but this is the one to pop open when you’re looking for complex layers, balanced acidity/fruit and an elegant finish.


Buena Vista 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma

Buena Vista Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma - Wine Review

Why I like it: Here’s a light Sauvignon Blanc that doesn’t go overboard with that to-be-avoided flower-in-the-water vibe; that’s the kind of SB that feels like you’re sipping on a bouquet of flowers. Instead this 2011 Buena Vista is playful – apricots, melon, even some herbal action. The Sonoma winery, which celebrated its “re-birth” this year, has an especially interesting background involving a Count, wine caves, and an intriguing European connection.


Twisted Roots 2010 Chardonnay Lodi

Twisted Roots 2010 Chardonnay

Why I like it: Talk about a sleeper. While Napa (and Sonoma) get the lion’s share of attention, places like Lodi (and Livermore, Mendocino and Santa Cruz for that matter) make exceptional wines too, but are off the beaten (touristy) path. When you see a bottle from one of these special places you’ll often get a quality wine for 50% the cost of a high-profile equivalent. Case in point is this gorgeous, lush Card from Twisted Roots. Again, it might be hard to find (try the winery’s web site), but, man, the effort is worth it. I especially like the interplay between the vanilla, almonds, and butter (but not too much!).


Chateau Ste. Michelle 2010 Riesling Columbia Valley

Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling - Wine Review

Why I like it: The perfect everyday wine to pair with spicy food. For US-based Riselings, Washington State – Columbia Valley specifically – is my go-to spot. Chateau Ste. Michelle is the largest domestic producer. There’s a reason for that. Their wines are superb. This one you can find on the shelves of many grocery stores. It’s nothing fancy. It won’t, for example, take down a fine German Riesling anytime soon. But you can find this one for less than $10. I have a bunch in my cellar, and nine times out of ten it’s the one I like to pair with a spicy Thai chicken dish; though, I typically find it just a tad too sweet to drink on its own.

Under $10

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear