Pascaline Lepeltier is one of the best sommeliers in the U.S., but the beverage director and partner at Rouge Tomate in New York is also a tireless promoter of wines from France's Loire Valley, where she grew up. For distinctive holiday gifts, she recommends two wines from the Loire and an unusual one from Burgundy.
Lepeltier's favorite grape is Chenin Blanc, which achieves its highest expression in the Loire. She cites as an excellent example the Clef de Sol made from 70-year-old vines grown on limestone in Montlouis-sur-Loire by the young producer Damien Delecheneau. The wine is vinified "very precisely," she says, with a minerality on a par with good Burgundy, and its notes of quince and camomile means it will pair well with fall and holiday dishes.
Cabernet Franc is the predominant red grape in the Loire, and here Lepeltier suggests the La Porte Saint-Jean, Les Carmiers by Sylvain Dittière, another talented young producer who is making wine that has "the silkiness of Pinot Noir" and the depth of wine made from grapes grown on limestone, Lepeltier says. She says the wine drinks well now and will continue to age for another 15 or 20 years.
For many drinkers, Burgundy is the apex of French wine, and Lepeltier recommends Claire Naudin's Le Clou 34. Naudin makes the wine from Aligotè grapes grown on vines planted in 1934 rather than Chardonnay, the source of Burgundy's most famous whites. Lepeltier compares the Le Clou 34 favorably to Chablis and says it will pair well this year with oysters, sushi and caviar but will also improve with time in the cellar.