Patrick Comiskey’s Los Angeles Times article “What Sommelier Will Bring to Holiday Parties” has me thinking about the sheer volume of holiday wine banter that is pitched around during this time of year. This is no criticism of Patrick, in fact, looking at it through the eyes of sommeliers offers some great suggestions. Sommeliers want to drink great wine EVERYDAY and the holidays are no different.
My underlying mantra is “great wine and great food always go together”. Simple. Are Muscadet and oysters going to be a more seamless match than Chateauneuf du Pape and oysters? Yes. But geeking out about it and pontificating to family members who already secretly whisper about your inability to speak of anything other than the ridiculous notion of the term “Super-Tuscan” is only validating your sense of personal superiority while eroding the confidence of your friends and family. Matt Kramer, the long outspoken critic at the Oregonian and Wine Spectator recently posted an article titled “Divorcing Wine and Food” that looks at the historical notions of “pairing” versus the real (or imagined) boundaries that separate Burgundy from Bordeaux, Barolo from Barbaresco, Napa from Sonoma.
That said, there are a couple of wines I seek during the holidays;
1. German Riesling – For a nation devoted to soft drinks and corn syrup in every manufactured product, the natural sugar found in Qmp riesling from the Mosel and Rheingau holds immediate interest. This is not your aunts Liebrfraumlich or uncle Bill’s Blue Nun – these are wines of nearly impossible balance between searing acidity and a touch of residual sugar. “Fruity”, as the marketing peeps have spun it.
2. Champagne – Let’s get this out of the way first thing – Champagne comes from the REGION CHAMPAGNE. The notion of Korbel still putting the term Champagne of their labels keeps me up at night. The sheer volume of interesting grower producers whose wines find their way to the States makes shopping for these wines a joy. Stick to bottles labeled Terry Theise Selections or Becky Wasserman Selections and you are in for a treat.
3. Pinot Noir – Sonoma Coast, New Zealand, Burgundy, Alsace; the grape is planted and producing exquisite wines the world over. Is there severe overplanting as myriad growers have jumped on the bandwagon of consumer interest to convert their alfalfa field in Wisconsin to Pinot Noir – yes; however, there are so many incredible wines to be found that you will quickly be overwhelmed by the cases arriving in your cellar. Check out Cobb, Hirsh, Peay and Lioco from California; de Montille, Frederic Mugnier and Domaine Dujac from Burgundy; August Kessler from the Rheignau.
4. Spain – Ok, it’s broad and encompasses an entire country, but the Spaniards spent all of their leveraged credit somewhere and one of those places was in viticulture. From the classic regions of Ribera de Duero, Rioja and Priorat (can we call Priorat classic now?) to the EXPLOSION of interest in Toro and Somantono – there are incredible, accessible and fruit driven wines to be found throughout the country that are perfect for the melange of holiday spices and flavors.
5. Napa Valley – The caricature of Napa Valley wines as monolithic and predictable is being challenged. Long time winemakers like Bill and Dawnine Dyer, Cathy Corison and Heidi Peterson Barrett (note that 3/4 of them are women and this does not include Mia Klein, Celia Welsch, Rosemary Cakebread et al.) are continuing to focus on elegance over power, site over style. In a word; refinement ( check my recent article on refinement here).