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Wine Without Pretense: Buy yourself a Ferrari
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The wine: William Hill Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

The grapes: 92 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent petit verdot, 2 percent petite sirah and 1 percent merlot

The source: Napa Valley, Calif.

The verdict: Some of us old-timers in the wine biz get nostalgic for some of those wines that, 35 years ago, made us sit up and blink and cogitate on what fine stuff these Napa Valley cabernets were. I took one sniff of the 2010 William Hill cab and was hauled back to those days. This is a traditional, full-bodied and elegant red wine. It smells like Napa Valley with aromas of oak and eucalyptus and black cherries. This is a red wine made to savor the nuances ... and it will no doubt be even better in five years. I drank mine too soon, but loved it. I will find a few bottles to hide away in my wine vault. Hope I last as long as the wine.

The price: About $40

Want a Ferrari for Christmas? You can have one. It’s easy.

Just amble down to a good quality wine shop and ask for a Ferrari. You can have your choice of perle, brut or rose.

You probably have figured out I’m not talking about the shrieking banshee of an Italian sports car; the machines that turn men’s brains into oatmeal.

No, folks these Ferraris are fine products from Italy. But you don’t drive ‘em, you drink ‘em.

These are Champagne-style sparkling wines; crisp and dry and lovely. European law forbids wine producers outside of the Champagne region of France from calling their bubblies Champagne. But this trio of Ferraris is made the same way as Champagne, and their quality is quite high, indeed. Any of them would enhance a holiday table, either as a cocktail wine before the grand meal, or as the wine of choice with dinner.

Of course, you may not covet a Ferrari. Your tastes are simpler. Perhaps a lovely sparkling wine with only one letter "J" as its name. We’ll get to two of those in a moment.

Good, dry sparkling wines are the perfect partner with just about any food: red meat, white meat, poultry, seafood and vegetarian fare. The higher-than-usual acid levels give the bubblies the backbone to stand up to a bacon-wrapped filet or dance nicely with a simple grilled halibut or plateful of shrimp.

The Ferrari brut is made from chardonnay grapes. The wine is fermented for the second time in the bottle just as it is in Champagne. It is the most simple of the Ferrari trio, but is a solid choice for the holidays. I picked up the bite of a Granny Smith apple — that’s the acid — and a hint of toastiness, from the exposure to additional yeasts in the final fermentation. It is reasonably priced at $25. Only a few classic Champagnes are priced this low.

Next step up the ladder takes us to the blushing pink rose, produced from a blend of pinot nero — the Italian name for the pinot noir grape — and chardonnay. It sparkles brightly in a narrow glass called a flute, made exclusively for bubblies. The color is lovely and the inclusion of the red wine, made in the rose style, gives the rose a bit more heft than the brut. It’s about $37.

The big boy of the bunch sports a proprietary name, perle. It is the only Ferrari of this bunch from a single vintage — 2006. That tells you this is going to be a great wine, because only great sparkling wines bear a vintage date. The others are blends of different vintages just as in Champagne.

Laugh if you will, but when I gently extracted the mushroom-shaped cork and took a big sniff, the Ferrari perle brought back memories of one of the finest Champagnes I’ve ever had, Krug Clos du Mesnil. Why laugh? The Krug is priced about $800. This Ferrari is about $35.

Now, about that "J" wine. I have been a fan of this top-shelf Sonoma County producer for many years. J wines are made in the classic Champagne method, using only the three types of grapes permitted in the Champagne region: pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. These wines get a lot of tender-loving care, both in the vineyards and wineries. Only the best fruit from selected growing areas go into the J Cuvee 20 Brut and Brut Rose.

The Cuvee 20 Brut is squeezed out of those three types of grapes from the cool-climate vineyards of the Russian River Valley that meanders through Sonoma and out to the Pacific Ocean. These grapes are hand-harvested and gently pressed so as not to damage the fruit. It is aged an additional two years in the cellar and has emerged fresh, bright and tasty.

J winemaker Melissa Stackhouse suggests serving it with sea scallops in a citrus-based sauce. I just might try that over the holidays. The J Brut is priced about $30.

The brut rose is made from 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier. That means there is more body to be detected; it’s slightly heavier than the brut. The color is gorgeous, a salmony-copper hue. It is reminiscent of fresh strawberries and just flat out tastes wonderful. This wine will go nicely with grilled salmon and other full-flavored seafood, as well as veal and red meat offerings.

The J Brut Rose carries a price tag of $38. It compares favorably to rose Champagnes costing twice as much.

So there is a fine selection of bubblies for your holiday gathering or for any occasion.

Remember to do your holiday wine shopping early before the shelves get picked clean. Make sure these sparkling wines are served very cold, a minimum eight hours in the fridge. And be very careful opening these bottles. There is a lot of pressure inside.

Now, go and enjoy!

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on