Sunday, December 22, 2013
For the Love of All Things Good...
Please, for the love of all things good, drink well this Christmas and New Year.
Because you deserve it. So do your guests. Yes, I said it. You deserve it, and so do your guests.
How do I know? Because you’re here reading my blog, aren’t you? Which means you have at least some curiosity about good wines, otherwise you wouldn’t bother sharing your wine thoughts and tasting notes with other people. You wouldn’t bother reading other people’s observations about wines. Right?
I thought so.
And you probably want to know what makes me think that your guests also deserve to drink good wine. Well, this is how I know. If you’re opting to spend time with them over Christmas and ring in the New Year with them, then they must be as awesome as you are. (And if you don’t like them, why do you spend time with them? Give your time to those you truly love, and those who truly love you. And if they don’t know how much you love them, you need to tell them, and you need to show them. But that’s another topic altogether.)
I’m blessed. I have a wonderful family. I have some awesome friends. And I have a very special guy in my life. Those are just a few of the reasons why I believe I’m blessed, but for purposes of this blog post, I’ll focus on those reasons. And those are the people I love sharing wine with. It’s partly because some of the people closest to me are either in the wine industry too, or they’re just so used to being around me and sharing cool wines with me, that we have that in common.
Anyway, I’ve picked some really fabulous things to share with them. I’ll tell you more about what I’ve picked when I write my blog posts after Christmas and after New Year’s Eve. For now, I want to focus on you and your selections for this special time of the year.
What I suggest is that you pick a few dependable wines that you know already and wouldn’t want to celebrate without them. It’s one less thing to worry about at an already stressful time (a good idea if you’re working with some challenging recipes and flavors). I also suggest you pick a few really fun, off-beat wines because the best way to experience wine is to share them with others, and what better conversation topic (especially among wine enthusiasts) is there than wines that provide an interesting learning experience (and trust me, it’s a lot safer than many other topics) - what’s more fun than wine, really? And then I also suggest you splurge just a little - spend on a few great bottles. Just a few. Because it’s a special time, and you deserve something special. Do it for you. And do it for the people you love the most. The memory of what you enjoyed that night will last you all through the year, until next Christmas and New Year.
A few suggestions, if I may.
For my fellow Italians - well, I’m fortunate that my Italian-American family is not the kind that despises all things French. I come across a lot of Italian-Americans who claim they just don’t like French wine, French food, or anything French really. Nonsense. I repeat, NONSENSE. If you don’t like French people, that’s just flat out narrow minded to begin with. (I’ve gotten to know a lot of French people since I’ve been working with wine - they’re really wonderful people. And they make amazing wine.) Fortunately for me, my Italian-American family has what appears to be an infinite amount of patience and curiosity with my little (read: major) obsession with off-beat French wines. So I get to bring out lots of French wine, but I also remember to bring out many other things too. (For the record, so far I’ve chosen wines from France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and the United States for dinners and gifts for Christmas.) So, for my fellow Italians - please, for the love of all things good, do not bring out the straw basket. There are plenty of incredibly good Italian wines to enjoy with dinner. For the curious type, go with Sicily or Campagna. They’re not just delicious; they also pair well with lots of foods, and they tend to show characteristics that other wines don’t, including expressive minerality and sometimes cool floral notes. For the elegant type, how about some aged wines from Piemonte, like a great Barolo or Barbaresco, or some Gavi with your Seven Fishes, Dolcetto and Barbera with your macaroni dishes, and if you love bubbles, go for a good quality Moscato to start off the evening. If you and your guests prefer something a little safer, go with some Tuscan selections - Chianti is safe and very food friendly, but if you want to rock the dinner party for real, go with Super Tuscans (Bordeaux type blends made by some very talented Italian winemakers) and Brunello. Wow. And for the lovers of luxury, Amarone is your wine.
If you, on the other hand, love French wine, then the sky is the limit in terms of good French wine. For the love of all things good, please try to stay away from just the safer stuff. And yes, we know you love to strut your stuff (I do too), but don’t just bring out the names that everyone will know. Sure, some splurge wines of the most luxurious nature will be great over the holiday. But anyone with a good Christmas bonus can do that. Put down your issue of Wine Spectator, and leave Robert Parker out of this. Where’s your sense of adventure? Here it is. Burgundy lovers, look to Cotes Chalonnaise for great quality at very good prices. Bordeaux people, how about Fronsac and Pessac-Leognan? And go south too - an aged Bandol or Saint-Joseph can be quite mind blowing. Want something big and bold - how about Cahors? Need a lighter alternative - look to the reds of Loire. And speaking of Loire, don’t just go to Sancerre. Everyone knows Sancerre. Please, for the love of all things good, find yourself Muscadet, or even more exciting, Menetou-Salon. And don’t forget some fun Cremant! (And on New Year’s Eve, maybe consider Grower Champagne and small production sparkling wines?) See what I mean about French wine? The possibilities are endless.
And what about those of you who love (and whose guests love) the fruitier wines? Germany. And for the love of all things good, don’t keep on going for that same blue magnum of the same old thing. You know what I’m referencing. Find bottles labeled Kabinett, Auslese, Spatlese, and the like. If you’re not sure what’s on the label, ask your favorite wine shopkeeper. They’ll be able to help you out. (And if they can’t figure out the label either, find a new favorite wine shopkeeper.) German wines are often a great value for some of the purest, most delicious wines. And not just sweet wines, either. In fact, while we’re at it, not just Riesling. But I, for one, love opening a dinner with a German Riesling. The fruitiness is fun and delicious, and the bright acidity toward the end primes my palate for more wine and more food.
Hanging with hipsters and an off-the-beaten-path crowd? Hunt down some fascinating wines from Austria. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth it, because they’re not like anything else. You can find some really fun Rieslings from Austria, and Gruner Veltliner is one of the most food friendly whites out there, especially if you’re going with lighter dishes and chilled foods. (And for vegetarian fare, you cannot go wrong with Gruner. Its typical notes of celery and white pepper are a match made in heaven with vegetable-based dishes.) But Austrian wines also love to be matched with cheeses and cold meats. And for reds, on the heavier side you can go with a Blaufrankisch, and for something a bit lighter and fruitier, try a Zweigelt. And if you’re a total geek like me, it’s worth looking for a good quality Sankt Laurent. I promise you, Austrian wines are among the most fascinating, so for the love of all things good, pop open a Sekt and do your homework.
One of my favorite Christmas movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” One of the lines is spoken by Nick, the bartender. He tells George and Clarence that he serves drinks for men who want to get drunk fast. Do you want to get drunk fast? Well, let’s not go quite that far, but if you want the ultimate party wines at good prices (and some with insanely high alcohol levels), then you, my friend, need a little Spanish wine at your party. I’m sure you know all about Rioja. Did you know that Rioja Crianza often comes in at under $20, and packs quite a punch? And if you want to try something really cool, try a Priorat - they’re (in my opinion) among the most expressive of all Spanish wines. Want to bring out the big impressive wines? Find some great wines of Ribera del Duero. And if you need some whites, Albarino and Godello are perfect. Bubbles? Cava is your wine. One of the great things about Spanish wine is that you don’t have to spend much, they’re fairly easy to find, and they are the ultimate party wine. But for the love of all things good, don’t overdo it, because it’s really easy to overdo it quite quickly on Spanish wine (it’s happened to me, trust me) - and please behave responsibly by the end of the evening.
Other great values can be found in wines from South America (in particular Argentina and Chile), Australia, New Zealand, and some of my favorite value wines are from Portugal.
I hope you didn’t think I forget the United States. That would never happen. If you’re serving hearty meat dishes, Napa and Sonoma are for you. But while you may want to go with some of your safer picks that you’re used to, in order to avoid conflicting flavors and stress, you may also want to find some other cool American wines. For the love of all things good, please don’t just find something local and drink it just because it’s local. If you want some local wines, find the best ones! After all, if you’ve got guests from out of town, you want your hometown to shine and make you proud. (Insert shout out to my favorite New York producers.) Find the best local wines. And if you and your crowd have an elegant style palate, Oregon Pinot Noir and Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah from Washington might be a fun thing to bring to your table.
So you see, the possibilities are endless. All you need to remember is that you ought to be drinking good wines over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, because you and your guests deserve it. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, drink something(s) FABULOUS, keep it interesting, and I’d love to hear all about the wines that grace your tables this season!