Red wine to sip with Santa

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

If you flew through a cold winter’s night in a sleigh, circumnavigated the globe and slid down sooty chimneys from Wisconsin to Siberia, would you be happy with a few crumbling cookies and some tepid milk?

Nope. And Santa Claus likely prefers something more fortifying.

Spirits might be too strong for a strenuous evening and beer would add to his bloat. Given his traditional ensemble, nothing would be more appropriate than a fine red wine.

When the tree is lit, the gifts are wrapped and carols warble softly in the background, there is nothing quite like popping the cork of that perfect bottle.

Consider these red recommendations:

All things old are new again and the same might be said of the Ravenswood 2014 Besieged ($22). Winemaker Joel Peterson has created an “old vine” blend of Petite Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet and Barbera. The Sonoma County blend boasts essences of blackberry, baking spices and cherry in a full-bodied wine that delivers a smooth, satisfying finish.

Leave it to filmmaker-turned-winemaker Francis Ford Coppola to tap his familial roots in creating the unique 2013 Pitagora ($23), another red Sonoma County blend. According to legend, Coppola’s grandfather played as a young boy among the ancient Greek ruins of a school established in southern Italy by the mathematician-philosopher Pythagoras (Pitagora in Italian).

That name inspired Coppola to create a blend of Petite Sirah, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot. Expect a dark, rich wine with aromas of plums and cinnamon and a velvety palate sparked by notes of blackberries, cassis and a touch of black pepper.

Cabernet Franc, the sire grape of Cabernet Sauvignon and an essential component to most Bordeaux blends, rarely stands alone. Credit Vinum Cellars winemakers Richard Bruno and Chris Condos for producing their 2011 The Scrapper ($27), a Napa Valley wine produced entirely from Cab Franc grapes.

Aromas of black cherry and cassis open the senses to flavors of black cherry, plum and black pepper on the palate. The boxer on the label suggests a feisty experience ahead.

If big reds are Santa’s favorite, then he would certainly enjoy the Girard 2013 Petite Sirah ($26). This Napa Valley red, a blend of its signature grape enhanced by a smote of Zinfandel (11 percent to be exact) pours a deep red with hints of blackberry, cherry, coffee and even a little bacon on the nose, unleashing flavors of black currant, chocolate, espresso and nutmeg on the palate. Good acidity enhances this well-balanced wine.

Global reds

Santa is an international traveler and no doubt would appreciate red wines from other climes as well.

The Murdoch James 2014 Estate Pinot Noir ($23) explodes with bright fruit balanced by a soft, savory undercurrent with considerable depth. The wine from Marlborough, New Zealand, makes a bold statement coming from a region better known for its succulent Sauvignon Blancs. It appears it’s time to give New Zealand reds a chance.

South African winemaker Rudi Schultz carries enough confidence to name his wines after himself, and the 2014 Rudi Schultz Syrah ($27) is good example why. Produced from grapes harvested from a single vineyard in the country’s famed Stellenbosch region, the wine teases with aromas of blackberry, raspberry and a peppery essence, leading to a palate of dark fruit, earthiness and spice. This is a Wine Spectator 92-pointer — and justifiably so.

The Tommasi Family Estates has been vinting exceptional wines since 1902 and a new vineyard acquisition will help extend the wine family’s legacy. The 2011 Tommasi Casisano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($60) offers a taste of Tuscany that tickles the palate while helping chase away the winter blues. Produced from 100 percent Sangiovese grapes grown on recently acquired acreage in Montalcino, the Brunello pours with a dark garnet color and a nose both fruity and spicy. The well-structured wine replicates its nose on the palate, delivering a long, lingering finish.

Good as those selections are — and they are very good — we’ve saved the best for last. And this one, too, is a product of the Tommasi family.

Few wines are as pleasing as a good Amarone and the 2012 Tommasi Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG ($80) is a wine of no little achievement. The wine is a blend of 50 percent Corvina, 30 percent Rondinella, 15 percent Corvinone and 5 percent Oseleta grapes, the balance of which provides smooth and complex flavors.

In keeping with the Amarone process, the harvested grapes were placed on drying racks in the winery’s fruttaio, a room used for just such a purpose, where they dried under the fall and winter breezes from the fall harvest until February. The grapes, which lose about 50 percent of their residual weight but maintain a full complement of natural sugars, are then pressed, fermented and stored for 30 months in Slavonian oak casks.

The resulting wine is full-bodied and luscious, with flavors of dried fruits and soft, velvety tannins that lead to a long, joyously lingering finish.

It is just the wine to reward a long night of holiday preparations.