Russ Winton: Wine List

What I really want for Christmas

I get the same question every Christmas. The Navigator tells me the kids want to know what I want. First of all, they are not kids. They are real grown-ups. My stock answer has been books, booze or balls. For clarity, I mean books on wine, single malt scotch and golf balls. The kids have been very generous the past 20 years. I have plenty of books, a cabinet full of single malts and, because of a neck operation, golf is out. So now I have enough golf balls to open a driving range. So this year, the three B’s are nixed. But what does one give a wine writer or a serious wine lover for Christmas? The answer is simple. What I really want for Christmas is a wine Passport.

Napa Valley

The best time to visit Napa Valley is the “off-season,” which is right now. St. Helena has a passport called “The Little Book of Big Experiences” which is good through March 2017. It offers 25 St. Helena experiences valued at over $1,000 for only $100. Sixteen wineries participate, including two of my favorites, Clif Family Winery and Charles Krug. At Clif Family you will taste wines paired with bruschetta from their popular Bruschetteria Food Truck. At Charles Krug, you will taste five family reserve wines, limited releases and an exclusive barrel tasting. Go to for more information. The quaint town of Calistoga features 15 wineries for its seventh annual Winter in the Wineries. It started in December and runs through Feb. 5. Two of my favorite wineries are Chateau Montelena, which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, and Castello di Amoroso, the authentic 13th-century Tuscan castle. The passport is $50 with an estimated value of $300. To find out more go to

Monterey and Santa Cruz

The River Road Wine Trail Association has a passport for $45 with a $120 value. Eight wineries along the River Road in the beautiful Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County are participating. The passport is good for one year. Find out more a The best deal around is the Santa Cruz Passport Days, held on the third Saturday of January, April, July and November. The passport is $55 and is good for two years with more than 50 wineries participating. Go to for more details. So kids, if you are reading this, eliminate the B gifts and give me a wine Passport(s). I promise to act really surprised and get one for the Navigator too. Merry Christmas. Cheers!