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In general, a 10-year-old tawny port will taste of roasted nuts, with some caramel and a hint of citrus and spice. A 20-year-old will emphasize dried citrus and exotic wood spice. Aged tawny can be savored over a few weeks: Keep the opened bottle in the refrigerator to preserve its freshness, and allow the wine to warm up somewhat before drinking. Aged tawny typically notes the bottling year on the back label; the more recent (within two or three years), the better. Read the full article HERE.
If you’re lucky enough to have a sommelier as a friend, son, sister, nephew or niece, I think it’s a safe bet that your holiday libations are a step up from the rest of us. Any well-selected bottle will add a glow to holiday parties and gatherings, uplifting spirits and stimulating conversation. But with sommeliers involved, occasions can be all the more memorable. The reason? It’s the simple fact that sommeliers love to share wine even more than they love wine itself, and what better occasion than the holidays? So we asked a handful of area wine experts what their plans were, and what they planned to serve.
Hatfield’s general manager Peter Birmingham typically throws at least one small dinner party with friends this time of year. Often his guests include other restaurant orphans who can’t break away from the service floor for a prolonged home visit.
Traditionally he starts such parties with bubbles, although this year will be a variation on the theme: a classic Spritz, a Venetian cocktail made with Prosecco, blood orange juice, and a splash of Aperol, the orange-scented Italian aperitif. Times being what they are, his wine selections will be a bit modest this year, but no less satisfying for it. He’ll pour two crowd-pleasing French wines: a traditional Beaujolais by Domaine du Vissoux (about $17) from the superb 2009 vintage; and a Pinot Auxerrois from Alsatian producer Albert Mann (about $18). Auxerrois is a fairly obscure white varietal grown almost exclusively in Alsace, with fresh, mineral Pinot Gris-like flavors.
Both wines, Birmingham points out, are biodynamic, which to his mind brings out an added liveliness. “The fruit is so vibrant in both of these wines,” he says. “They really have the power to lift the conversation — it’s like dosing everybody with low levels of giddiness.”
To a disproportionate degree, sommeliers are invited to potluck dinners, for the obvious reason that they can be relied on to contribute something really good to drink. Jason Hardy, GM at the Lazy Ox Canteen, is an old hand at the practice. “I like to do things in little waves,” he says, “and a lot of my friends are in the business, so each wave has to be pretty special.” This year that means starting with a round of beer, the Single Hop Centennial IPA from the Danish artisanal brewer Mikkeller (about $6 a bottle). Malty and honeyed, this limited selection bears a festive, seasonally apt topnote of nutmeg and pine needles.
As for the wines, Hardy loves to bring bottles that tell a story, such as the Cantina Valle Isarco Kerner (about $20) from Italy’s Alto Adige, a racy white varietal hybrid of Riesling and Trollinger that gets its name from a poet revered in Germany for his drinking songs. For the red, Hardy plans to bring a Plavac Mali from the Dingac estate (about $12), a meaty ringer for zinfandel grown on the Dalmatian coast, in an estate vineyard so rocky and treacherous that all work is done with donkeys. “That’s a story worth telling at the table,” he says.
If the party goes long into the evening, it just may have to conclude with cigars. “A friend of mine is in charge of the smokes,” says Hardy, “but I bring the bourbon.” His current favorite: the small batch Tuthilltown Hudson Baby Bourbon (about $50), made from New York cornmash with a smooth and subtle frame of vanillin that can seduce even bourbon beginners.
Dana Farner, the sommelier at Cut, and her wife, Melissa Denton, are both Midwesterners — Farner is from North Dakota, Denton from South Dakota. Both were raised with staunchly held beliefs on the importance of Christmas cookies. “Not just some cookies,” says Farner. “You had to have towers of Tupperware full of cookies, or it wasn’t really Christmas.”
Last year, when Farner and Denton decided to throw their first holiday cookie party, 60 friends showed up — apparently L.A. is full of expat Midwesterners yearning to fill a similar void. Each brought two-dozen cookies — that’s approaching 1,500, if you’re keeping track.
For the party Farner decided on punch, something cheery and simple — and red. After some research in old cocktail books she came up with a variation of the Chicago Fizz that she dubbed “The Holiday Cheer,” a blend of white rum, lemon juice, to which she added ruby Port (which turned it a brilliant crimson), and a portion of simple syrup infused with cardamom — all poured over seltzer. It had the sweetness to pair with cookies, says Farner, and plenty of Christmas cheer. “The cardamom gives it a Christmas-ey spice,” she says, “and works so well with the gingerbread.”
This New Year’s Eve will be Matthew Kaner’s first at Covell, the new-ish wine bar he manages in Los Feliz. He’ll pour his share of bubbles as the clock wends its way to midnight, but on New Year’s Day he plans to reopen the bar just for himself and a few friends for a party of his own. Bubbles plainly are a weakness for him. “I can’t help myself,” he says. “One day when I’m old and rich, I swear to you I’m going to hole up and just get fat on Champagne.” For New Year’s Day he’s laying out a three-country stash, from magnums where he can find them.
From Italy, he’ll pour an extra-dry Prosecco from Sorelle Bronca, named for sisters Antonella and Ersiliano, who are making some of the freshest, most driven sparklers from that region (about $35 for a magnum). From Spain, Kaner will pour a vintage Cava, the 2006 Recaredo, a Xarel-lo-heavy sparkler with toasty, lifted flavors — “and it’s a natural wine,” says Kaner, “from start to finish” (about $35).
From France, he’ll pour a Loire Valley Saumur rosé petillant from Louis de Grenelle (about $17), a non-vintage brut rosé made with Cabernet Franc with a brilliant color and fruit, says Kaner, “like a raspberry crème truffle, with a fresh, mineral note.” Of course, Kaner will have several Champagnes on hand, but one of his favorites at the moment is the Avise Grand Cru non-vintage blanc des blancs from Franck Bonville, which, at about $30, is a steal for a Grand Cru, one he’s likely to enjoy for many New Year’s to come — and well into his dotage, evidently.
When Spago sommelier Christopher Miller makes it back to New Orleans for the holidays, he’ll look forward to Christmas afternoon most of all, about when most festivities have wound down. The cooking at his grandmother’s house has all been done the day before — for good reason, since most Creole dishes, the gumbos, the jambalayas, the red beans and rice, are much better the next day.
Creole food isn’t the only thing that needs a day to meld. Miller loves to drink Krug Champagne during the holidays, preferring the Grande Cuvee on day two, once it’s gone a little flat. “It’s odd to say this,” he says, “but the bubbles can get in the way of the fact that it’s wine.” It’s a trick he learned from Olivier and Rémi Krug themselves, having served them several times over the years. “They prefer to drink it out of regular wine glasses,” he says. “And I decant the bottle for them.”
For his extended family Miller tailors his choices based on who they are and what they love. Aunt Sherry, whose tastes run to sweet-ish wines, gets a slightly floral, exquisitely balanced halbtrocken Estate Riesling from the Nahe (Germany) producer Hermann Donnhoff (about $20). For his father, lover of big Napa reds, he’s snagged a bottle of David Abreu’s Cappella (about $320), a single vineyard blend so newly minted and rare that the winery website claims no such wine has been released.
And for any wine geek friends who are likely to pop over, Miller plans to serve the Leon Barral “Cuvee Valinières” Faugeres (about $40) from the Languedoc in southern France. This biodynamically farmed blend of Mourvedre and Syrah is dark and spicy, with a texture that’s weighty and satisfying. “I bring it,” he says, “because I know every single person who tries it will be happy drinking it.” And that, after all, is what a sommelier lives for, and what the holidays are all about.
Choosing holiday gifts for wine lovers can be a challenge, as you navigate the useless (reindeer bottle stoppers), the tacky (“Wino X-ing” signs) and the endless permutations of corkscrews (who needs another one?). Wine – the obvious choice – is fraught with peril, if only because of the sheer variety out there. Champagne is an easy answer, welcome in any wine-loving household. But a less obvious and equally impressive way to go, bottlewise, is port.
It is a fortified, sweet wine produced in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal, one of the most stunningly beautiful wine regions in the world. It takes its name from the city of Oporto, at the Douro’s mouth, from where the wine traditionally sets sail to market, most notably to Britain. Port is made from traditional Portuguese grape varieties, with neutral distilled spirits added to the fermenting juice. The alcohol (about 20 percent in the final wine) halts the fermentation and preserves the wine’s sweetness.
Port’s stylistic variety gives us plenty of gift-giving options for loved ones and those we must impress, and for when we want to treat ourselves to something special.
Vintage port is top of the line in power, prestige and price. Port houses declare a vintage only in the best years, and their best grapes go into those blends. Aged in the cask for two years and then bottled, these ports are meant to age in your cellar for years, even decades. The 2007 is the current release, though some houses release older vintages from time to time. Vintage port is a nice gift to give the wine collector on your list. You might want to attach a note with your name so he’ll remember who gave it to him as he savors it years from now.
(Another premium category is aged tawny port, which I’ll discuss next week.)
Further down the price scale are ruby ports. These are fruitier and more supple than vintage and meant for immediate enjoyment. They typically are blends of wines from several vintages, meant to promote a house style immune to vintage variation. (An exception to that rule is “late-bottled vintage,” or LBV, ports. An LBV is essentially a single-vintage ruby, meant to capture some of the character of a vintage port at a fraction of the price.)
Ruby port typically is not labeled as such; that would be too easy. But it often carries a proprietary name or “reserve” designation. Ruby is also the category in which port houses can innovate and introduce new wines aimed at capturing the attention of younger wine drinkers.
Some innovations, such as pink port, are questionable, but others are exciting. Three years ago Fonseca released the first organic port, made from organically grown grapes and certified organic grape spirit. Called Terra Bella, the wine seems to pulse with energy drawn directly from the schist of the Douro’s terraced vineyards. This year’s entry is Noval Black, from the prestigious Quinta do Noval, a lively ruby that is almost as edgy as its sleek label. If vintage port conjures images of Britain’s upper-crust society at the height of the empire, these rough-and-tumble rubies remind us of the swashbuckling adventurers who built that empire.
So for holiday gifts for the wine lover, consider port: a bit of history, a bit of modernity and always a special occasion in a bottle
Consumers count on truth in labeling to make an informed decision on which wine to purchase.
That’s why celebrity chefs, including the renowned José Andrés and Michel Richard, have joined consumer advocates and a wide group of food and wine experts to support authentic labels for wines in the United States.
They are calling for the end of a legal loophole that allows some U.S. wines to masquerade as something they are not.
In an open letter to Congress, these chefs, alongside consumer protection organizations, top wine schools, and sommeliers, ask Congress to “reform the system which regulates wine labels to ensure that all wine-growing regions are protected on U.S. wine labels.”
Great wine has everything to do with location. Climate, soil and terrain all ensure that specific regions produce unique wines. Winemakers in the U.S. and around the world rely on these place names to market their wines and consumers know to look on the label to learn where their wine comes from.
In the same way that Napa Valley wine comes from Napa Valley, champagne comes from Champagne and consumers look to these—and many other—famous names when choosing their wines.
But the U.S. is one of the only countries in the developed world that allows wines to originate in a different region than what’s on the label. A loophole in U.S. laws allows port, sherry, champagne and 14 other world-famous names to be used on wines not coming from these specific regions. While some may claim that the EU-US Wine Accords signed in 2006 solved this problem, U.S. law allows thousands of wines to continue using misleading labels.
For consumers, one of the worst examples of these problems is the misuse of the term “champagne” on U.S. wines. Despite the 2006 agreement, over 50 percent of the sparkling wine sold is mislabeled “champagne.”
This campaign is timely, as the U.S. is projected to become the largest wine market in the world by 2015. As consumers become educated about wine, nearly 15,000 have signed up to the Petition to Protect Wine Place and Origin.
For more information, visit http://petition.champagne.us/.