A man (or at least I) need some alcohol to get through the coming week of enforced jollity and endless broadcasts of Christmas carols, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s a Wonderful Life (granted, a fantastic movie, but how many times can you see Clarence get his wings?). Here’s my partial selection for Christmas week, none of which I’ve tried:
My usual psychological price barrier for everyday wine (I drink roughly half a bottle per day) is about $10/bottle, but hell, it’s the holidays, and one is entitled to splurge.
Finca Torremilanos “Brut Nature” Cava de Duero NV ($13.79). This is actually a vintage cava (all grapes from 2005) but is not thus labelled. I like champagne okay, though it’s far from my favorite wine. But to get the really good stuff—the stuff that has that rich, creamy, and toasty flavor, you have to fork out big bucks, which I’m not willing to do. In fact, I think the quality/price ratio for decent-to-good French champagne is among of the lowest of all wines. But, thanks to a gift from a Spanish postdoc whose family makes cava, I discovered the delights of Spanish sparkling wine. Cava, most of which is made in Catalonia, is made from grapes different from those used to make French champagne (the latter are mostly pinot noir and chardonnay), but is often made in precisely the same way as the French stuff. And good cava can be really tasty, not to mention significantly cheaper than champagne. My choice is the Finica Torremilanos at only $14/bottle, aged on the lees for 25 months and recommended by my never-failing wine merchant as dry—my first requirement for all sparkling wine save a good Moscato d’Asti—toasty, and fruity. If you have a merchant you trust, and want something festive that won’t break the bank, ask for a good cava. It will never approach the quality of the $100-a-pop French stuff, but who can afford that?
Chateau Puech-Haut Coteaux de Languedoc Prestige 2009 ($15.99). I can’t remember who said “the first duty of a wine is to be red,” but I disagree, since many of my favorites (including the world’s best wine: good Sauternes) are white. But a man needs a red for those holiday viands. My choice is a grenache/syrah blend from southern France. Wine guru Robert Parker, whose taste in reds is very similar to mine, gives this wine an astoundingly high rating of 93/100, a score rarely attained by such an inexpensive red. Here’s his take:
“I’m infringing on David Schildknecht’s territory, but he has not yet tasted this wine. From a bio-dynamically farmed estate, this 2009 is a blend of 55% Grenache (from 60- to 75-year-old vines) and 45% Syrah (from 40-year-old vines), all planted in limestone soils, and aged completely in concrete tanks. I have followed Chateau Puech Haut for a number of years, and met proprietor Gerald Bru over a decade ago. Bru has employed some extraordinarily talented winemakers, beginning with Michel Rolland, followed by Claude Gros (of Chateau Negly). His current consultant is Philippe Cambie. This remarkable offering is a naked expression of the vivid terroir and excellent fruit found in this region. The incredible aromatics consist of forest floor, spring flowers, sweet black currants, raspberries, licorice, and incense. With a pure, velvety, seamless, full-bodied texture and a finish that lasts 30+ seconds, this wine possesses a stunning integration of acidity, tannin, and alcohol, suggesting this 2009 will age nicely for 3-5 years, possibly as long as a decade. However, it will be hard to resist given its current performance. Bravo!”
Finally, my ringer: Seppeltsfield Para Grand 10 year old Barossa Tawny ($29.99, but only $15 with a Groupon I had). Port ranks with Sauternes as one of my favorite wines: I think that sweet wines, including sherries like Pedro Ximenez, are some of the most undervalued wines in the market, mostly because Americans have little taste for them. I have a stock of real vintage port going back to 1977, but can no longer afford the stuff when it’s first released, since it’s now approaching $80 per bottle for good brands like Graham’s. Further, you have to age them for about 15 years, and I have to keep my mind on the actuarial tables! To tide me over between old bottles of vintage, I’m trying this Aussie tawny for the holidays. Australia makes some of the world’s greatest sweet wines (they call them “stickies”): if you want a world-class wine at about $15 per half bottle, try a Seppelt, Yalumba, Campbell’s or Chambers Reserve Muscat or Tokay—these have perhaps the highest quality/price ratio of any wine I’ve tried. This tawny, from Australia’s renowned Barossa Valley, comes highly recommended by both my merchant and the internet; and although I might not have bought it at the $30 sticker price, $15 is a bargain. I’ll be sipping this over the holidays with my postprandial book.
And a holiday tip to readers: if you want to show up at somebody’s house with something you know will be good—and appreciated, bring a good German riesling. Although rieslings are no longer the fantastic bargain they were when I was buying the ’71 and ’76 vintages, they’re still greatly undervalued in the American market. I think this is because German wine labels are simply confusing to Americans, what with all their classifications, names of the maker, region, and vineyard (all of which are important), and so on. But a good riesling is one of the world’s best wines, and goes with nearly everything except, perhaps, very red meat. You want a “Qualitätswein mit Prädikat” (QmP), which comes in grades of (generally) increasing sweetness, from Kabinett (dry) through Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, and (the very sweetest and most expensive), Trockenbeerenauslese. I’d recommend a good Kabinett from the Rheingau region (brown bottles); Mosels (green bottles) can also be great. Alternatively, a good Alsatian riesling or gewürztraminer from a good maker (say Hugel, Trimbach, or Zind-Humbrecht) will go down a treat.
Don’t bring a sweet wine—great as they can be—unless you know your host likes them!