While spending Christmas with my family in Tacoma, we managed to successfully deep-fry a turkey without injuring ourselves or setting the place on fire. As far as wine choices with this turkey, and especially with a holiday meal where everything under the sun is on the table, I say just drink what you like. A handful of ideas, however, did come to mind during and after I pounded down a few beers in front of the boiling cauldron of oil and turkey:
- Bubbles. Anything crunchy and salty (like chips) seems to have an affinity with sparkling wine. The deep-fried turkey had a remarkably crisp skin that I could have eaten by the handful if only I didn’t have to share it with a dozen other people. (Not that I was complaining….OK, maybe a little.)
- A light, refreshing red and/or white. A lively Northern Italian white or something in the Gamay/Pinot Noir family is a classic with turkey. But then again…
- Why not a hearty, burly red like a Zinfandel? Or a bruiser of a Spanish Garnacha? You’ve got that spicy skin, and you can’t discount the dark meat. Put some brawn into your glass! Which reminds me…
- A big, rich white would work as well; why not a plush White Burgundy or California Chardonnay? Nothing that’s an oak monster, but a little bit of heft wouldn’t hurt.
So you can have bubbles, a lighter white and/or red, or a heavier white and/or red. They all have their pluses (and minuses). It’s best just to have a lot of variety and experiment with whatever happens to be within arm’s reach. I ended up drinking the same red I had for Thanksgiving: The 2009 Brundlmayer Zweigelt. An easy-drinking red in a shareable one-liter bottle, it was great with a slight chill on it.
So what did you end up eating and drinking over the holidays?
2009 Brundlmayer Zweigelt (1L) $15
My good friends at Foodista, Barnaby (auteur) and Andrea (charming co-star), put together a great little video tour of Esquin and were kind enough to let yours truly be the guide.
On our “wine safari” I help Andrea navigate the dizzying array of wine selections and give her some tips on how to find great wines in the face of unfamiliar names and labels. In the new year we hope to be working on some more videos focused on a single topic such as region, style, or varietal. (There also needs to be some rigorous work on my part to expunge “um’s” and “you know’s” from my on-camera work; it’s all a bit nerve-wracking!)
I’ll also be a bit more contentious, controversial, and contrarian. Because it’s who I am.
So is there any wine topic you’d like to see us potentially cover in 2011? Suggestions welcome!
Sometimes you can learn a lot about a wine from a back label. Let’s take the Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede for instance. This single-vineyard gem is not only thirst-slaking, palate-cleansing, and party-starting, but the good folks at Bisol are kind enough to let you know the vintage of the bottle in your hand. Even better, you can tell when it was bottled by deciphering the lot number. No Rosetta stone necessary: L10082 means it was bottled on the 82nd day of 2010. With most Proseccos, and sparkling wines in general, there is no way to discern freshness based on what you see on the label. (And here is where I must say that we sell oceans of bubbles at Esquin; nothing that we love sits around for any extended period of time.)
This is a practice I would like to see more sparkling wine producers undertake, beyond their vintage-dated offerings. For non-vintage wines that do not go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, why not stamp the date it was bottled on the back label? If it’s good enough for Budweiser, it’s good enough for all your quality sparkling wines that peak in their youth.
Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede: $20
Like Dal Forno Romano, the wines of Quintarelli will change your notions of the heights that great Valpolicella can reach. And, to my pleasant surprise, Quintarelli also makes a hell of a white wine.
The Secco Ca’ del Merlo is an unusual blend: Garganega, Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Saorin. (I have no idea what Saorin is.) Aromatic, medium-bodied, silky-textured, and refreshing as a mountain stream, it was pretty damn incredible with some Thai food we had delivered to the home of Esquin’s Wine Jedi, Arnie Milan. (I’m Luke to his Obi-Wan. Though I’d prefer to think of myself as more Han or Boba Fett. But I digress.)
And though I really love stylized wine labels, there is something really charming about Quintarelli’s scripted label. I love the unique look of his writing; I wish my chicken-scratch penmanship could hold a candle to it. Can someone please turn it into a font?
2007 Quintarelli Secco Ca’ de Merlo: $52
I was at a spectacular family-style meal that started with a welcoming glass of white and a duo of wood-fired pizzas. As we sat down to our multi-course feast, I figured we would have a different wine with each dish. With the breadth of food coming, one wine could not possibly cover all the bases and be that versatile. Could it?!? Panic mode started to settle in. Egads, I only spy one red wine!
I quickly calmed down and realized I wasn’t there for some kind of dinner that required an army of appropriate glassware and a dizzying array of wines. It was an informal gathering (that became quite boisterous) in a quiet, out-of-the way location where we had glass after glass of an easy-drinking Côtes du Rhône: the 2008 Delas Saint-Esprit. What surprised me was how well it went with everything, from a squash soup to a frittata with sorrel to a bean gratin with bacon. I concluded it must be because this is a Grenache-intense blend with maybe a small dollop of Syrah.
And then I found out I was wrong. The Saint-Esprit is mostly Syrah with a little Grenache. The exact opposite of my well-reasoned, educated, professional conclusion based on years of experience. D’oh! Only 30% of the wine goes into barrels and the rest is left in tank so it retains a lot of freshness, has very low tannins, and isn’t heavy or sweet. And certainly being in a convivial setting, surrounded by delicious food and the laughter of friends both old and new, makes good wine taste great.
So if you had to choose one red to go with a multi-course meal, what would you pick?
2009 Delas Côtes du Rhône “Saint Esprit” $12
I can admit to being a bit finicky and quite opinionated about Champagne. My strident feelings bubbled (hee hee) over at the uncritical stance many of my colleagues have towards Grower Champagne. (As opposed to negociants who often purchase grapes or juice to blend into their Champagne, growers own the land, harvest the grapes, and make the wine. You can tell a Grower Champagne from a negociant by looking for the tiny “RM” at the bottom of the label versus “NM”, respectively.) While most of my favorites are from growers, I felt that the discussion surrounding these Champagnes, sometimes affectionately referred to as (seriously) “Farmer Fizz”, and the larger houses seemed to cleave in an all-too tidy “us versus them” dichotomy. Just because a Champagne house is big (or owned by a large company) doesn’t mean it’s bad or that Grower Champagne is good solely based on heartstring-tugging sentimentality. Part of my stance on this issue I will admit comes from my penchant to be a contrarian, but I like to judge and recommend Champagne based on the most important criteria: taste.
But lest you think I sit around all day guzzling Fortune 500 Champagne, I must tell you about my new favorite producer. And it happens to be a grower. (“You liberal hippie!”) Tasting the Champagnes of Vilmart was a game-changer for me; they are simply the finest producer of the loveliest sparkling wines.
I’ll address the rosé first, the Cuvée Rubis. Wowzers! It’s as beautiful to look at as it is to drink. Sometimes there is a bit of hesitancy on the part of people to try rosé Champagne; but for bubbles fanatics like myself, they are often the most memorable and pleasurable. The Rubis teases out flavors of every red berry fruit you can imagine, from the sweet to the tart, with a rich finish that’s like a dollop of some yet-to-be-discovered, otherworldly creamy goodness.
The 2004 Grand Cellier d’Or is a stunner. Like Krug (which is in my mind the gold standard of Champagne; the 1996 may be the best wine period I’ve ever had), Vilmart ferments and ages the still wine in barrels before transforming it into Champagne. This process gives the wines a richness and complexity that does a gorgeous dance with Champagne’s natural acidity and liveliness. Somehow the Grand Cellier is both substantial and ethereal at the same time.
So what Champagnes are you looking forward to enjoying this holiday season?
As a lover of the bracing whites of France’s Loire Valley, my introduction to Muscadet (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape) was a welcome delight. And if you love oysters and (like me) have a budget far from unlimited, Muscadet is the ultimate bivalve wine. It’s the kind of wine you want to drink ultra-fresh and well-chilled. At least that’s what I thought until I was introduced to the Pepiere Muscadet Clos des Briords.*
Produced from vines planted in 1930, the Clos des Briords defies the typical profile of your everyday light and crisp Muscadet. It has remarkable depth and length and is certainly well-suited for the cellar. Last night I enjoyed a magnum (with friends; not by myself) of the 2005 and it was lovely. I feel slightly guilty for opening it up so soon, but the pleasure of enjoying it with friends washed away any misgivings.
If you are starting to cellar wine, or already do so, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better value in a wine you can easily lay down for a decade. And nothing is more fun than pulling a big bottle out of the cellar; magnums rule!
*I must give praise and a lifetime of thanks to my former Triage sales rep, Tom, for introducing me to this wine and the fact that I could get it in magnums! Go have a pizza at his place in Seattle.
Is there a wine that smells better than Viognier? It reaches its aromatic pinnacle in a tiny little sliver of the French wine world, Condrieu. This Northern Rhone appellation produces Viognier with truly ethereal properties: fragrant like blossoming fruit trees, with a textured richness recalling some kind of nectar only accessible to mythological gods or hummingbirds.
Condrieu and other transcendental white wines, unfortunately, come at a steep price. So I was thrilled to reacquaint myself with a lovely French Viognier that hints at Condrieu but at a third of the price. The Domaine Rougié Viognier is just a pretty, pretty wine to drink and requires no accompaniment other than a corkscrew and a glass. OK, maybe some butter-poached lobster and a fennel and apple salad. And a hot date.
This Viognier inspired me to pull my well-worn copy of Jay McInerney’s Bacchus & Me; his musings regarding “The Cult of Condrieu” make everything I’ve just written seem as passionate as a parking ticket. And he has a very logical justification for why you should shell out good money for this most fragrant of white wines: “Perfume is much more expensive, and it’s not potable.”
(Oh, and the 02-09-2009 on the label is the date the grapes were harvested. Provincial American that I am, I wondered why they would pick grapes in February. Then it dawned on me that I was an idiot.)
(And when I say Viognier is voluptuous I’m thinking Rita Hayworth in Gilda)
I’m not above admitting that a flashy wine label gets my attention; I appreciate some thought, graphic design, and artistry wrapped around a bottle. It’s nice to have a little sizzle on the outside and deliciousness on the inside, no?
The Weingut Markus Huber “Hugo” Rosé Sparkling (or Sparkling Rosé?) is a true delight. These pink bubbles from Austria are a blend of Zweigelt (a traditional Austrian red grape that I have previously noted a fondness for) and Pinot Noir. I first had a glass of the Hugo at my new favorite restaurant, La Bête, and was charmed by its freshness, elegance, and style. With two of my wine industry brethren in tow, we naturally had to order a bottle. The only thing more clever, playful, and fun than the label of this great bottle of pink bubbles was this trio of dudes at La Bête. We held court at the bar, ate delicious food, gabbed with fellow patrons, and create more than one inside joke. Drinking bubbles just makes everything that much better.
Though I recently gave a compendium of Thanksgiving picks, I overlooked a couple of my favorites. The theme for my Thanksgiving drinking enjoyment will be this: Austrian wines in one-liter bottles. For under $15 you can get 33% more wine than the standard, puny, insignificant 750ml bottle.* Both of the wines, the Hofer Gruner Veltliner and the Brundlmayer Zweigelt, are notable for their lightness and moderate alcohol. I would venture to say that anyone who likes crisp, dry, unoaked wines would enjoy the Hofer. And with Beaujolais and Pinot Noir being such popular Thanksgiving reds, I think the Zwiegelt would play nicely with those wines; it’s a lighter-style red that will help you wash down the overflowing bounty of the holiday table.
I don’t know what the origin is of the 1L bottle versus the 750ml or why Austria seems to have cornered the market on them (though I have seen German wines in this size). All I know is that I love drinking them and they will please a large, thirsty crowd. And the icing on the cake (the stuffing in the turkey?) is the Hofer is sealed with a bottle cap. How fun is that?
I guarantee this will facilitate conversation around the table. (Like the time a customer at a previous job said to me about the Hofer: “This beer is flat.”)
Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
(*If these bottles were 750mls I’d still feel they were a good deal at the same price. Therefore, I am getting an extra third for free. At least that’s how my math works.)