Courtesy: Coast and Valley / Liz Clayman
Courtesy: Coast and Valley / Liz Clayman


Holiday Wines That Spark Joy? These Restaurant Pros Share Their Secrets


“I find myself seeking out bottles that I can simply enjoy right now — turning my brain off, taking pleasure in the flavors and aromas in the glass, and letting the constant anxiety of this year fade to the background for a while,” says Morgan Calcote, general manager of Charleston’s FIG restaurant. And it’s not a stretch to say she’s probably speaking for a lot of us. As 2020 has been a lot of sitting around, waiting to see what happens next, it only makes sense that we’d be looking for a little immediacy in our lives, especially in the realm of wine. 

This holiday season, waiting for something to open up in a decanter, or springing for vintage Champagne, or pacing back and forth in front of the wine rack, might just be too much. This is the moment to go for wines that are generous in all the right ways, and that won’t require too much on our part. 

In this spirit, we sought out six sommeliers — from Nashville to Brooklyn — to get their holiday wine picks. While they’ll happily pour whatever you want, what will they be drinking? An aged trebbiano from Sicily, a heritage-variety wine from California, and an ideal meatball wine from France, all of which might prompt some inspiration these very weird holiday times.

The pick: Jérôme Bourgeois-Diaz 3C Champagne

“For me, the holidays are a time for relaxing at home with my wife and our beagle, Kirby, ordering Chinese food — wontons, fried rice, and egg rolls — and opening some baller wines. Once the holidays come around, I always instinctively reach for grower Champagne. It’s not only absolutely delicious, but it also offers an immediate escape from the stresses and realities of 2020: Champagne can take you someplace beautiful and frivolous. My go-to is definitely Jérôme Bourgeois-Diaz, specifically his 3C cuvèe, which is a delightful blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay. This wine is simply harmonious, with notes of citrus, apple, red fruits, and a subtle savory quality. Jérôme Bourgeois-Diaz farms biodynamically, a rarity in Champagne; he also uses a traditional press that gently extracts the juice from the grapes. All of this love and care translates to wine with personality and life. It’s definitely happiness in a bottle.”  

Tony Aquilina
Beverage director, Lou, Nashville

(In the same vein: Blended grower Champagnes from the Marne Valley, including Tarlant, Clément Perseval, Geoffroy, and many, many others.) 


The pick: Pedres Blanques Vin de France Red 2018

“On their less than 4 hectares, winemakers Rie and Hiro Shoji use organic practices to care for the old vines they bought after finishing wine school in Burgundy. This is 100% grenache grown on the very steep, very rocky, terraced slopes of Collioure in France’s Roussillon. The topsoil is so thin that it looks like the old, craggly vines are twisting directly up out of big slabs of crumbling rock. The wine is so pure and elegant, but it packs a punch — it’s heady and complex! Super seductive aromas of red raspberry and some dark, spicy fruit, black olive and thyme show grenache at its finest. But there is a sort of ruggedness too, that evokes the formidable terroir of this part of southern France. It’s a wine that brings so much pleasure but also makes you want to slow down and enjoy the careful work that has gone into producing it. Have it with lamb and roasted vegetables, have it with beef, of course. But! I want to try it with my Grandma M’s Swedish meatballs, which are spiked with more than a little cardamom.”

Natalie Johnson
General manager and beverage director, Anton’s, NYC 

(In the same vein: Naturalish Roussillon reds from Danjou-Banessy, Domaine Yoyo, Domaine de L’Horizon, La Petite Baigneuse, and others)


The pick: Produttori di Carema Riserva 2015 

“I can drink nebbiolo any time of year, but there is something special and natural about consuming these wines during the holidays. One of my go-to producers, Produttori di Carema, makes incredible nebbiolo-based wines that don’t break the bank. Their 2015 Carema Riserva invokes all the beauty and soulfulness that you yearn for in a wine. It always brings me a sense of warmth and cheer.”

Etinosa Emokpae
Former wine director, Friday Saturday Sunday, Philadelphia

(In the same vein: Affordable nebbiolos like Nervi-Conterno Gattinara, Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo, Produttori di Barbaresco, and others)


François Mikulski Crémant de Bourgogne Brut

“Often around the holidays we see people wanting to indulge and treat themselves with a splurge-worthy wine — a gift to themselves. This year being what it has been, we could all use that bit of indulgence, but the ability to spend big may not be as accessible. This is Champagne-method sparkling wine from a rock-star producer in Burgundy. This wine gets at least a year on the lees to develop texture and complexity. It’s a bottle that can satisfy both the simple pleasure and indulgence desire without the hefty price tag. It can work as an aperitif, a pairing with lighter seafood and veggies, or something to sip on for your holiday Zoom gathering.”

Morgan Calcote
General manager, FIG, Charleston, S.C.

(In the same vein: Crémant de Bourgogne from Richoux, Tripoz, Bruno Dangin, Clotilde Davenne, and others)   


The pick: Porta del Vento Trebbiano 2006

“This year, I am treating myself to a bottle of 2006 Porta del Vento Trebbiano. We rarely keep vintage wines in stock [at Botanica], instead opting to serve fresher and friskier bottles of recent years. This one, however, is special and demanded to be added to our list. Winemaker Marco Sferlazzo of Porta del Vento is situated in a valley outside Palermo 600 meters above sea level, where he tends 14 hectares biodynamically. This aged trebbiano gives all the nutty, toasty, roasty, sherry vibes, perfect for cozying up and taking a little escape from the world.” 

Margaret Stanton
Wine director, Botanica, Los Angeles

(In the same vein: Savory Italian whites like Foradori nosiola, Pietracupa fiano and Paolo Bea’s Arboreus)


The pick: Folk Machine Charbono 2018

“We recently announced our equity action plan at Coast and Valley. It’s three-step: One, we’re getting rid of tipping and paying everyone a livable universal wage. Two, we’re  elevating POC voices in the wine industry by getting our wine list to 50% POC winemakers, owners and operators. And three, we’re committing to ongoing accountability and transparency with our winery partners to make sure we all do better going forward. Kenny Likitprakong, who is half Thai, is one such winemaker. He’s the man behind the Hobo Wine Co., Camp, and Folk Machine wineries. His charbono from Folk Machine is a triple threat, to say the least. Charbono is one of California’s heritage grapes; it’s endangered because no one knows about it (which will make you the cool kid at the table). Part of the profit goes to the organization 1% for the Planet, so you’re saving the world while drinking wine. Finally, the nose is crazy intense, like you’re getting a whiff of smoked meat, and on the palate you get cherry Coke, vanilla and baking spice. This wine will mess with your mind, and that’s the reason you’ll love it, too.”

Eric Hsu
Owner and wine director, Coast and Valley, Brooklyn

(In the same vein: Unexpected California reds like charbono from Napa’s Calder Wine Co.; valdiguié from Folk Machine, Broc Cellars, and Cruse Wine Co.; or Martha Stoumen’s Post Flirtation)