Holiday Wine Suggestions from Jill Mott

Sommelier Jill Mott has a few more suggestions to round out your holiday wine list, and as usual, her suggestions won’t break the bank!

Orange wine seems to be having a moment. Hip winemakers from Portland to Oakland and Vermont to the Veneto (and a lot of places in between) are making orange wines. Wine media (even Martha Stewart) have wondered if orange wine is the new rosé. Truth is, there’s nothing new about orange wine (and nothing to do with oranges, but more on that in a bit), though a handful of winemakers in the northeastern corner of Italy and bordering region of Slovenia may be given credit for its resurgence over the past decade.

Before orange wine became the new hip wine to drink, there was a movement in and around the small village of Oslavia in Italy and across the Slovenian border (two hours northeast of Venice) that would become known as a Slovenian style of winemaking shortly before the words “orange” and “wine” became a popular couple.

Producers like Gravner, Princic and our focus for this e-missive, the one and only Radikon, embraced an ancient style of winemaking: instead of pressing off the juice from white-skinned (or pink-skinned) grapes like Chardonnay, Tocai Friulano and Pinot Grigio, they left the skins in the juice to macerate (like steeping tea leaves–or like making red wine). Not only did this impart extra flavor, structure and color, it allowed winemakers to reduce or even eliminate the use of sulphur since loads of antioxidants (one of the reasons S02 is used) reside in the skins.

When asked by his importer Louis/Dressner how he came to make his golden wines, rich with complex fruit aromas, notable for their length in palate and ability to age, the late Stanko Radikon shrugged and said, “It’s how my grandfather made wine in the 30s.”

The color of this wine alone gives new dimension to the words, “orange wine” as if pumpkin and coral orange were to merge. This Chardonnay is as aromatic as they come and exudes the complexities and amplitude inherent in its skins. Co-ferment this with the local Tocai Friulano grape and age in Friulian-made French oak with close to two weeks on the skins and the sheer genius of caramelized Satsuma mandarins emerges on the nose, as does the fragrance of a rainy day at a botanical garden. The peaceful harmony between tannin and acid is pleasant and exalts the aromatics in unexpected ways.

Sivi is Slovenian for “grey,” making reference to Pinot Grigio’s pinkish/greyish color whilst ripe and still hanging on the vine. Naturally, if one macerates their PG juice with the skins, the resulting wine is considered an orange wine, but actually pours a pinkish, coho salomon-like color. You’ll be mesmerized by its hue alone but let’s get onto smelling it. After approx. two weeks on the skins, the wine rests in Slavonian (Croatian) oak for over one year and is bottled completely without sulphur. The nose creates a juxtaposition of the natural (red currant jam) and confected (marshmallow fluff); the very mild Indonesian vanilla whispering from the oak creates depth, a sort of 3D resonance on the palate. The wine finishes on an earthy note with a little black rice and red fruits. A defiant and truthful Pinot Grigio if I’ve ever tasted one.
Merlot like you’ve never tasted it before, this drinks more like 1970s regal Ribera del Duero or Bordeaux before they were heavily oaked. Restrained & elegant with an armchair air that’s entwined with black cherries, Kenyan black tea, dried sage, denim and mulberries on the nose. The palate’s entry is lush and envelops quickly, with a little bit of the Pignolo grape delivering lift and brightness. Serious red wine for serious red wine drinkers. I would also be equally happy popping this with pizza on a Thursday night alongside a great carpet picnic companion.
The wines of Esmeralda García are riveting and sought for the world over: Japan, Belgium, even in her native country of Spain, bottles are extremely allocated. I once had a buyer in New York plead for the wines but alas, there aren’t enough cases and Minneapolis/St. Paul is the only place her wines call home in the entire United States.

She calls the small village of Santiuste de San Juan Bautista home, smack dab in the middle of the Rueda region. Thing is, Rueda is synonymous with the Verdejo grape and this grape unfortunately, has been industrialized to the nines with lab yeasts, intense filtrations and immense amounts of sulphur leaving the stellar Verdejo tasting more like a Kiwi Sauv Blanc than its actual, more Chenin Blanc-like self. This had been true for years until Esmeralda burst onto the scene a few years ago, crafting wines without lab yeasts, rearing them mostly in Spanish clay and bottling them sans soufre (w/out sulfur addtions) since her very first vintage in 2015. I cannot believe the wines keep getting better; a single mother of two simply gettin’ it, working her vineyards in a bioD/sustainable fashion and making world. class. baller. wine. vintage in and vintage out. Welcome to the wines of Esmeralda García.


This is a collection of the following vineyards listed below, a composite if you will, of her surrounding vineyards. Part warm, broad, linear, and tense, this Verdejo aged partially in stainless steel and dolia (Spanish clay) is a great entry into the true world of possibilities this grape can provide. It’s friendly and candid and acidic (read: a great pairing for richer fare) that any fan of world class wine will adore. Drink now through 2025. No sulphur added. 2 cases available.

*THE FOLLOWING WINES… Are all vinified the exact same way to capture the available terroir that exists w/in the borders of the Rueda area but are never fully realized in this sense. Post harvesting of the 130+ year old, ungrafted vines, grapes are put into Spanish dolia (clay) to ferment and age for just shy of a year. They are never moved/racked until bottling. The wines are not fined nor suphured at any point.

This site is chunky, with a layer of sandy with larger cantos (alluvial stones) above. This area was once an ancient seabed and the texture of this wine always mimics the soil; a little more coarse with plenty of elegance underlying. The nose is layered with stone fruits and pear jam that is Verdejo but with nooks and crannies the aromatics dance in and around. The palate has an incredible amount of play with more here-&-there exchange of fruit, acidity, and very low tannin that all carry through a penetratingly long finish. Six cases came to the United States. One case available.

In the Fuentecilla vineyard/area, the soils are similar to Vallejo but it’s one of very few places in the surrounding few kilometers that has easier access to water hence, the wine has ample breadth, is very fluid, and the aromatics characteristic of Verdejo are slightly tempered and softened. Check out how tall these vines are in the image – the vines in this area grow but here there is growth and vigor and this wine is full of energy, life, poise and ease. Six cases came to the United States. One case available.

Carrascal is the highest of all of Esmeralda’s sites and although this usually means a cooler more acidic site, it’s the opposite here w/in the Rueda area. Carrascal is the warmest vineyard delivering much body, volume and overall feeling of magnitude. The acidity is still ever-present and the finish so enduring. This is Verdejo at its most grandiose and forthright. Six cases came to the United States. One case available.

This is Esmeralda’s lowest elevation site, deep in the heart of the ancient Tethys Ocean; imagine the deep sea with the finest of sandy soils and here surrounded by pine nut groves. In the line up, Vayuste has the finest texture, the most filigree and stamina in terms of acidity and overall length. You’ll also notice the finish has a sort of garrigue that we normally associate with Southern France – aromas and retronasal sensations of the surrounding scrub brush and flora typical of that area. Here the garrigue of Vayuste is in full effect with wafts of pines, pine nuts, herbs and dried scrub that hum on the finish. Six cases came to the United States. One case available.

This wine is made from a small parcel w/in the Carrascal area thus the wine is intense, bold, yet these vines are 250+ years old, tended to by Esmeralda’s great grandfather/mother. The wine is as wise as her elders with insane layers that open with time in the glass; the acidity is high so this wine can age a decade or more. I try to put down notes of aromatics every time I have the chance to taste this and I always come up empty for the wine is just too complex to put to words. Aged in a combination of clay and Spanish chestnut, this wine is really one of Spain’s best and most complete natural wine that Esmeralda’s great grandparents would be damn proud of. 1 case available.

Michiko and Michika are both made in a style reminiscent of wines from Rueda made in the 1940s; under flor (veil of yeast that grows in an untopped up barrel) without fortification hence, the flavor is a little like Sherry but completely unique in that they’re made from the Verdejo grape and from a totally distinct climate. Michiko is one barrel’s worth of Carrascal aged in a Sherry cask for one year allowing flor to grow. Michika is Vayuste made the exact same way. The result, a vinous portrait that terroir can exist when flor is involved; Carrascal is rounder, more powerful and that flor really latches onto that with notes of almond, brazil nut, and grape stems. Michika is finer-grained, more linear and acidic and the flor is displayed in a much more subtle way, a marriage of fruit and slim nuts… Think raw (Vayuste) v. toasted (Carrascal). Taste side by side for a mind blowing comparison and don’t feel rushed to drink these in a day. These will taste great over a week+ open. One case available of each wine.

Originally aired on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019 on the Morning Show with Emily Reese.

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