From left to right, Terry Kanowsky, Elissa Nemecek, Whitney Eggers, and Cindy Armstrong.
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Monday, we had our annual White Elephant Christmas Party. I’m told that I’ve got it all wrong – it’s not White Elephant but no one seems to know exactly what it’s called.

You tell me. Everyone brings a good wrapped present (not some piece of offal that you’re glad to unload) that’s within a preset price limit. Then you draw numbers. The first person chooses a present, then the next one can either steal hers or select an unopened one. And so on until all the presents are opened and beyond the steal limit (we set it at two times). What do you call that game?

Anyway, we played that game, drank wine. and had some Jersey Mike’s sandwiches. Very tasty. (And the best part – I was the only guy with six ladies.)

We worked while we played. We tasted side by side two California Chardonnays from large producers. Surprisingly, while both were well received, they each had their own set of fans.

The first was the 2014 Harken. Harken is produced by O’Neill Vintners, which is owned privately by Jeff O’Neill. Jeff’s doing okay. His company, which owns several brands of wine and brandy, is the 8th largest US winery based on total production volume. He owns 15,000 acres of vines and crushes over 150,000 tons of grapes annually. So, it’s a massive operation. Often when you get wineries that size, quality suffers.

Not so with Harken. I really enjoyed it, finding it creamy and citrusy, with a pleasant tropical bouquet. The ladies concurred. Cindy said it was light and crisp on the palate, finishing with a slight, sweet tang. Both Holland and Whitney detected a woodsy, smoky smell. It was the favorite for me, Cindy and Terry. And it’s a bargain, costing about $13/bottle.

The next was the 2015 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands, produced by the Wagner family, which also makes the world renowned Caymus, which I wrote about earlier this year. Mer Soleil is easy to find, considering that almost 500,000 bottles of it are made each year.

Whitney and Holland liked this one the best. Holland described it as having a fruity, honeyed aroma. Whitney said it had a light, slightly sweet taste, reminding her of a liqueur. Cindy found it had almost a caramel finish, a little off-putting for a dry wine. Mer Soleil goes for around $30 a bottle.

You can tell we got a lot done that afternoon, but it was fun. Now, what is that game called? It’s going to drive me crazy.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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