An (Organized) Hodgepodge of Festive Wine
When it comes to wine choices, the holiday season is forgiving (pun intended). There are fewer demands: the heat of summer calls for refreshing wines that won’t dominate; Thanksgiving brings complicated pairings, large parties and a desire to drink American wine; Valentine’s Day calls for wines that waft elegance and romance. The holiday season, however, has so many different wine drinking opportunities that choosing which bottles to open and/or gift is more about what is exciting right now than any particular fit. This year I am using the holidays as an excuse to splurge a little bit on bottles that I have been saving for special occasions and take chances on some wines that have been recommended to be, but with which I’m not yet familiar.
In the past few months I’ve been introduced to several fantastic, affordable whites I may have otherwise overlooked. The first is the 2010 Tessier Cour-Cheverny “Porte Dorée” ($22-$27). It is made from 100% Romarantin from Cour-Cheverny in the Loire Valley. The Porte Dorée is a medium-bodied white that has gone through malolactic fermentation but does not see any oak in fermentation and ageing. This gives it a wonderful creamy, soft feel without the oaky, vanilla aspect that is so polarizing in white wine. I found it to have bits of tropical fruit and Meyer lemon on the palate and a curious, tangy finish. It was perfect with meatier fish. 700 kilometers south, in Cotes du Roussillon, Domaine Gauby ($22-$27) produces the outstandingly complex and unique Gauby Blanc white blend out of Macabeu, Muscat and Chardonnay. This is a wine that I thoroughly enjoyed before having any idea where it was from and how much it costs. One can only imagine how happy I was that it is a traditional wine made in an old Catalonian style that still influences many small producers in northern Spain and southeastern France. The 2013 Solaro Estate Chenin Blanc ($35-$45) (silver medal winner in the 2014 NY International Wine Competition) is also medium bodied, a touch fruity, and wonderfully surprising. It is intensely flavorful, with hints of peach and a strong granite minerality. It is also from Texas, which was a welcome surprise for me.
It is hard to know where to start for reds. Several consecutive great vintages in the Pacific Northwest have loaded the market with fantastic, affordable wines, especially from areas where it is more difficult to grow grapes or have less history to look back on for advice when dealing with difficult weather. The Red Mountain Ava in Washington is producing a lot of terrific wine. I have thoroughly enjoyed many marks from both Seven Hills Winery and Delille Cellars (another silver medalist in 2014 NYIWC) in the past year, both of whom produce wine from Red Mountain and other parts of Washington ranging anywhere from $12-$100, so there's something for anything from a casual party offering to a cellar-worthy gift. I was also recently introduced to Cedar Creek Ranch Winery in the Fair Play Ava in the Sierra Foothills. Their Sangiovese ($28) and Syrah ($36) are both fantastic, if you can find them. They only produced around 115 cases combined last year.
On the opposite side of the world, Dandelion Vineyards (who also won silver in 2014 NYIWC) makes a Shiraz ($15-$20) that is deeply concentrated without sacrificing any pep or brightness the way some large production Shirazes do. Dandelion also produces a curious “Lion’s Tooth” Shiraz that is fermented over Riesling skins ($15-$20). Again, a wine that is wonderfully impossible to place, easy and exciting to drink, and more-than-fairly priced.
As for old-world wines, I have found myself heading to the Italian section of wine lists and stores recently. Mastroberardino, in Campania, holds back bottles of old Radici Taurasi Reserva vintages. Taurasi Reserva ($40-$100 depending on the vintage) ages beautifully, and the Radici bottlings from 1998, 1999 and 2006 are all currently available in the American market. More off the beaten path is the wine producer Altavia in Liguria. They produce a Dulceacqua Superior that is light, rustic and comparably easier to find than their eccentric and out of place bottlings of Vermentino/Viognier and Touriga Nacional (a grape almost exclusively found in Portugal).
Southeast of Liguria, in more chartered wine territory, Tenuta San Guido produces a wine called Le Difese. Le Difese is sometimes referred to as “Baby Sassicaia”, which I find to be very sales-y and misleading. It is, however produced by the same winemaking team, in the same facility, and from grapes that underwent the same vineyard oversight. I like Le Difese a lot, but the real reason I mention it here is because it is relatively easy to find, and affordable, in magnum ($40-$60). I love finding affordable magnums during the holiday season. They make for gifts that people probably would not buy for themselves and add a sort of joy and opulence to situations where two bottles of wine would probably be opened anyway.
Lastly, I do not yet know what I will be doing for New Years, but I hope it involves a magnum of Champagne like it did last year…. Piper-Heidsieck, if you are wondering.