Wines for the week

December 18, 2010 • 12:04 pm

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!

59 thoughts on “Wines for the week

  1. if you want good riesling come to Washington. I heard more riesling is produced in the Yakima valley than anywhere else in the world.

    1. Indeed, the US makes some terrific rieslings. I haven’t yet seen them equal the Germans or Alsatians, but they’re getting closer.

      1. Agreed. The Spanish Rioja is one of my favorites. But ice and late harvest wines are where it’s at.

        It looks like this picture was taken in the freezer room. That’s probably a good place to store wine.

    2. Dare I suggest the Finger Lakes for riesling. Some favorite wineries: Fox Run, Dr. Frank, Red Tail Ridge, Anthony Road. Though these don’t quite match the price/quality ratio, they are very good American wines.

  2. We’re well stocked with cava (mostly a South African one, which turned out to be excellent) and our usual Chilean reds, plus a few from South Africa and an old favourite from Croatia (called Faros) that you have to buy there.

    But yeah, one needs some good wine for the holidays.

    We’re essentially snowed in here in southern England, but I think we have enough wine to last us a while.

  3. Have a happy holiday and a very good 2011.

    And thanks for the great moments you give us. It is always fun to see an email from WEIT just arrived. I say to myself: “Now what? What is Jerry going to say today?”

    Enjoy your wine: salud!!!!!

    1. I had not known I had never really lived until breaking open a bottle of 25 year old port with a group of friends a few years ago. Sublime.

  4. Carting in a Riesling to a party is hit and miss for me. Any hint of residual sugar puts some people off. Depends on the crowd I guess…I don’t want to say it but the “older” crowd seems more appreciative!

    Props Dr. Coyne for mentioning Tokaji in your list of great desert wines. Ever since the fall of communism, Hungary has been been improving quality to the point where they are a world class producer again.

    Cava is great but Champagne is best! One of the most illusive wines that I hope to taste before I kick-it is the 1928 Salon of course…


    1. That’s why I recommended a Kabinett because they’re nearly always very dry. Pity, though, that sweetness puts people off, since a touch of sugar can really enhance a wine’s compatibility with food. Think of a Sauternes with good, salty cheese!

      1. I think some people also confuse the floral quality of Riesling and Gewurtz with sweetness. I’ve have some near-dry Alsatians that others have described as sweet.

        I’m definitely a sucker for “wine as a foil” – my fave is a decent port and rich blue cheese – like Rochefort or something similar.

  5. And, yet again, our wonderfully eclectic host raises the bar.

    I was going to comment that if you increase your budget to $15, you can find quite a few passable wines, but you seem to be aware of that. And as I am spending xmas alone this year, for the first time in probably 25 years, I need to find a favorite viande and a good red to go with it. Thanks for the suggestions.

  6. I like your work, but don’t have time to deal with your posts about all subjects on earth like wine, travel, etc. Is there a way you can categorize your posts so that I only get those relevant to subjects about science, evolution, and other matters of rational thought? Thanks in advance.

    1. What part of the title and introduction led you to think this was gonna be about anything but wine?

      You’re allowed to not read, yanno. Just delete the post from your reader. It’s so much faster for you than for Coyne to do.

      As they said of Don’t like, don’t read.

  7. “A man (or at least I) need some alcohol…”

    I would have had trouble writing that sentence. When you go from plural to singular in parentheses, are you supposed to stick to the singular (need) or go back to the plural (needs) when you get back out of the parentheses?

    A man (or at least I) needs to have this grammar issue cleared up.

    1. You are correct. It should read: “A man (or at least I) needs…”, or “A man needs (or at least I need) some alcohol.” Unless you’ve been drinking.

      1. If I may be pedantic:

        it is not a change from singular to plural, but from first to third person.

        Mixing singular and plural (as well as first and third person) would allow you to write more simply: “Men (or at least I) need…”. One could even change the ‘Men’ to ‘People’.

  8. If you are looking for a really good deal in a sparkler, try Hungaria from Hungary, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir I believe, of course mad in the Champagne method. On sale here in BC for about CDN $13.00.

    I am providing this information as I have already picked up the half dozen bottles I won’y and figure most of you will have forgot to next year.

    Just a heads up for you Bordeaux fans 2009 was another “vintage of the century”. Who says global warming is good for nothing?

    1. That should have been Hungaria “Grand Cuvee” sparkling wine. Need to check my peck and poke typing. Sorry about that.

  9. If you want a nice winter beer that doesn’t taste like a typical a Christmas ale, try Santa’s Private Reserve by Rouge. Yum…I just cracked one open!

  10. I have a bottle of Robertson’s Rebello Valente from Vintage Port 1983 (wedding gift in ’88) that I think I’ll use up this year as it is probably going past its prime. Still a few more years to go for the Warre’s 1994 Vintage Port in my cellar though.

  11. In terms of Australian fortified wines, Seppeltsfield is really disappointing. Too bad you couldn’t get a Chateau Reynella or a good vintage tawny from Rutherglen.

  12. Yay for Riesling! I was never much of a wine drinker until I lived in Germany and discovered the wonderful wines of the Rhine and Mosel–love *all* the Rieslings. They were relatively cheap, too (although that was a distressingly long time ago…)

  13. “The incredible aromatics consist of forest floor …”

    I always read that as “smells of dirt and mildew”.

  14. If you want to love some new Rieslings, or other German/Alsatian style wines, you really need to try some BC wines. the Okanagan Valley produces some lovely stuff, world medal quality. My inlaw from Alsace-Lorraine enjoys them – I drink almost nothing but BC VQA wines. My personal fave is an Ehrenfelser from Summerhill.

    Our icewines are world medallists as well…I have one from Summerhill that I’m going to break out over the holiday (if I’m not still taking these pesky muscle relaxants)

  15. We’re spoilt here in Oz – a great range of wines at quite reasonable prices. I agree with one of the previous commenters – Rutherglen stickies are the best!
    If you like a big red, see if you can find a durif (petite syrah); grown much more widely now in Oz and producing some great wines.

  16. Paras are ok, but you should really try Penfolds Grandfather liqueur tawny if you can. I tink it has a much better balance between sweetness and spirit. They also make Great Grandfather, which is ok but isn’t worth the asking price imho.

    Rutherglen ports? Meh. I don’t care much for vintage ports.

    If you like sticky rieslings I recommend you sample Brown Brothers Patricia.

  17. Among my own favorite wines are Rheingau Rieslings. Most age gracefully, but they rarely make it to old age in my household. 😉 One of those vineyards – Georg Breuer – doesn’t enter the “Qualitätswein mit Prädikat” testing, but the wines are really great. I’m not sure if those wines make it to the US, though.

    If you can get hold of them for a reasonable price (here in Germany that would be 15-20€) try the sparkling wines from that area. YUMM!

  18. Tesco’s (a UK supermarket chain) do a Cava priced at £4.50 (or 3 for £10) that has won all kinds of awards and recommendations.

    It is not bad at all.

  19. I’m waiting to find a white wine that is actually any good. Well, not so much waiting as given up.

    I do keep a couple of bottles on hand for friends who prefer whites, but I’ve never seen the point myself. I mean, why drink a nearly tasteless white wine when you could have a nice red wine?

    Red-loving Ray

    1. I wonder how much of that is down to what you expect from a white as opposed to a red.

      Even experienced wine experts have been fooled when given a white wine that has been dyed red with food colouring. A significant number will taste the wine and identify it as a red.

    2. Ray,

      You may just not like whites. It happens.

      I recommend the following trials (not at the same time!):

      A good fino sherry ($25 and up)

      A Premier Cru Chablis from a good vintage, imported by Kermit Lynch or Robert Kacher, chilled to 50°F

      Cuvee Silex Pouilly Fume from Didier Dagueneau, chilled also

      A Meursault from a good vintage and a good maker, chilled

      A Premier Cru Riesling from Alsace (JC has listed some good makers above), chilled

      A good Sauternes, drunk alongside foie gras on good, simple peasant loaf.

      Vouvray from Champalou from a good vintage. (The wine every chenin blanc grape wants to be.)

      Make sure you use proper glassware that is clean. Chill the dry white
      (but not to US refrigerator temp!)

      If you come away from these thinking white wine is tasteless, then you will know for sure that you are a reds-only guy.

      What are your favorite reds? That might help with advice on whites …

  20. I love your blog, I do! But this time it really saddened me! You cannot call it a Port if it does not come from the Douro valley in Portugal. It might be a great sweet wine, I would love to try it, but if it comes from Australia, it is not Port, it is just a good dessert wine.

  21. Armando,
    I agree totally. Not only Port, Champagne, Burgundy, Chablis.
    America you are the worst offender for this “place name desecration.” 🙂

    1. Nah, everyone does it: His examples are from Oz!

      Quality US wines no longer do this. Only the vin tres, tres ordinaire commits this crime in the US now.

      I agree that all nations should recognize the quality control naming rules of the classic wine growing regions.

  22. Non-oenophilia-related comment: it gies me great pleasure to see It’s A Wonderful Life recognized unequivocally as a “fantastic movie,” in particular by someone at the same time removing himself from a full embrace of the seasonal context with which it has come to be associated (and, to be fair, that lends itself to thematically). One year around graduation from high school or in college I had the experience of happening to get to see the film by myself for the first time, and it was the first time I really took it in on its own terms, apart from its place in modern Christmas kitsch. And from that time on, I have never ceased to be impressed with its poignancy, depth, and humor each time I watch it. I always tell people to really watch it, not just let it be part of their Christmas background scenery and noise. It’s worth anyone’s time any time of year, who hasn’t given it two hours of their full attention yet.

  23. Nice brief primer on rieslings! I spend a lot of time these days looking at the BACK of the bottles — who imported the wine. I’ve found that to be a very strong indication of quality.

    My favorite importers are:
    Kermit Lynch (French mainly, a little Italian; I’ve never had a wine with a bad quality/price ratio from KL.)

    Robert Kacher

    Eric Solomon

    Who imported the Coteaux de Languedoc? (And good onya for trying different things!)

    Thanks vor the tips on the stickies from Oz. So far I’ve been very disappointed with “ports” from down-unda.

    I too love sweet wines. My favorites are:
    Cream and Oloroso sherry (all sherries actually, dry or sweet)
    Tokay (from Hungary)
    Vin Santo (can be stunning)

    Arrgh, I could go on and on!

  24. Dr. Coyne:

    May I suggest Whiskers Blake Tawny Port for a delightful and affordable everyday tawny. Australian. About $15 for 750 ml.

    I’ve had both more expensive and less expensive tawnies that I liked less. I’ve had much more expensive that I liked more than Whiskers. But I’ve yet to find a better taste value for the bucks.

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