Twelve Wines for Holiday Times

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring… except me – the wine cellar mouse! Yes it’s that time of year and I thought I’d share some thoughts for a Christmas case of wine with some rhyme. So here is my own version of the twelve days of Christmas!

Try one from the Left Bank meant to rest and to age (1)
and one from the West with notes of berry and sage (2).

Then pick a wine from new lands (3)
and one from the boot of old (4);
While making another choice from the hands of Oz (5)
and a bright green bottle from out of the cold (6).

Now you need some sparkle that glints, shines and dances in the light (7)
and a glass filled with ruby red to savor late into the night (8).

No holiday is complete unless there is fame (9) and a jaunty sipper to enjoy with the game (10).
And we’ll end with a bottle of artful delight (11) and one to celebrate the gift of this night (12).

This is a case for all to enjoy any day of the year
but especially now at this time of friends and good cheer!

Merry Christmas to all and Happy Hanukkah too – these are my sips of best wishes for you!
And if you’re still following here are some wines to fill your wishes too.

1 – 2010 Chateau d’Issan Margaux $80 “A complete, medium to full-bodied, exquisite Margaux from this medieval, moat-encircled, compellingly beautiful estate in the southern Medoc, D’Issan’s 2010 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot – a dense, purple-colored wine with beautiful aromatics of spring flowers, blueberries and black raspberries as well as hints of cassis, tar and charcoal. The wine is gorgeously pure, well-balanced, and soft enough to be approached in 4-5 years or cellared for 25-30.” -Robert Parker Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate – 95 pts

2 – 2012 Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge $28 “This wine is aromatically reserved with notes of milk chocolate, char, berry, barrel spices and high-toned herbs. It’s silky and polished in feel, with richness and elegance to the coffee flavors.” – Sean Sullivan, 11/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

3 – 2012 Norton Malbec Reserva $16 “Offers a fruity aroma, with red and dark fruit flavors that are complex and woven together with fine tannins. Minerally midpalate, presenting some inviting peppery notes. Finishes with a flush of spice and brambly details. Drink now through 2018.” – Kim Marcus, Dec 31, 2014 Reviewed by: Wine Spectator – 90 pts

4 – 2012 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva il Grigio $22 “A cool, sleek style of Il Grigio with mint, lavender and black-cherry aromas and flavors. Sweet tobacco as well. Full body with firm, fine tannins and a long, fresh finish. A wine with lovely texture and tension. Drink now.” – October 29th, 2015 Reviewed by: James Suckling – 92 pts

5 – 2014 Two Hands Shiraz Angel’s Share $30 “While there are no half measures with the weight or shape of this wine, it has a touch of elegance running alongside its blackberry, blood plum and dark chocolate fruit; the tannins wait until the last moment to join forces with the oak to speak clearly of the long future ahead. Great value.” -James Halliday – 94 pts

6 – 2012 J J Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett $28 “Prum wines are among the most exciting and delicious Rieslings of the middle Mosel. Slow-to-develop and long-lived, these wines are full of pure stone fruits with a slate-mineral driven finish.”

7 – 2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs $35 “The 2012 Blanc de Noirs expresses generous aromas of yellow peach, fresh orange zest, cantaloupe, and citrus blossom, which gradually layers with fragrances of warm apple dumpling and creme anglaise. Lush flavors coat the palate with tangerine, Santa Rosa plum, candied ginger and a hint of French flan. This sparkling wine delivers a clean, lingering finish with crisp mouthwatering.”

8 – 2009 Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port $24 “This is a smooth and rich wine, with generous fruit alongside spice and ripe, black plum fruit accents. Ready to drink, it shows surprising balance between a perfumed character and an unctuous palate.” – Roger Voss, 8/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

9 – 2012 Opus One $235 “Glorious purity of fruit here with black currants, blueberries, dark chocolate, fresh herbs and forest floor. Hints of mint too, plus hazelnut and chocolate. Full body with seamless tannins and balance. Tight and compacted tannins with beautiful fruit and great length. Goes on for minutes. One of the best Opus’ in years. Hard not to drink now but better in 2018. October 2015 release. This is 79% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc, 6% merlot, 6% petit verdot and 2% malbec.” – July 28th, 2015  Reviewed by: James Suckling – 97 pts

10 – 2013 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine $16 “2013 Old Vine Zinfandel is a blend of 16 different vineyard blocks of old vine zinfandel vineyards with an average age of 85 years. With berries and spice on the nose, dark, sweet fruit fills the palate with just a hint of black pepper. This wine has a long, lingering finish.”

11 – 2012 Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon $50 “With 20% Malbec, this wine is layered in refined complexity, swaying from juicy blueberry to herbaceous cherry and currant. Restrained in oak, with the slightest notion of vanilla on the palate, it finishes in mouthwatering dark chocolate, the tannins firm and structured.” – Virginie Boone, 9/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 93 pts

12 – 2014 St. Rose Pinot Noir Nunes Vineyard 777 $48 “Perfumed aromatics of youthful cherry and dusty tannins mingle with traces of lavender and white  floral notes. A bright entry offers a blend of red fruit— raspberry, cranberry, dark cherry and rhubarb—that is integrated with softening tannins and hints of oak. A ripe blackberry and vanilla essence appears near the  finish, adding another dimension as the  flavors linger on the palate.

Fall In To Fuller Wines

It’s official… summer is over.  But in many parts of the country we get to enjoy a great time of year – Fall.  And it’s also time for me to get back to some posting!

In Fall the days are strikingly clear, the nights crisp and cool, and I love the crunchy rustle of the fallen leaves as you walk through them.  In the vineyard the vines begin to shut down too and the leaves turn reddish rust or golden – a beautiful time to visit.

But no matter where you live Fall seems to signal that it’s also time for heartier foods and a return to the bigger style wines that go with them.  If summer is a time for Zippy Whites then Fall brings me back to mouth-filling reds, so I find myself reaching for different ones that fit the season.  It can be the ideal tailgate wine – California Zin,  juicy Merlot from Washington, tasty Syrah/Grenache blends from the Rhone in France, lush Tempranillo from Spain, spicy Shiraz from Down-under or terrific everyday Malbec from Argentina.  And, of course, there is always Cabernet Sauvignon in all of it’s kingly splendor.

Sure, that’s a pretty big list, but the tastes of Fall bring a lot of variety into the mix. At our house we’ve already chopped the carrots and chunked the beef for hearty stew, baked chicken and Italian sausage in the oven, braised short ribs, made a pot of chili, grilled thick cut lamb chops, roasted the pork all day to pull for tacos al pastor and slow cooked Osso Buco – and it’s only early October!

If you follow Sips or remember The Wine Experience then you know that my personal food and wine pairing mantra is “drink what you like.”  Well I like putting many of the tastes of Fall foods together with reds that just seem to complete the package.  Here’s what I mean:

  • Chili and Zin. Zin adds a dash of peppery flavor and has the attitude to stand up to the multitude of ingredients, especially the tomato and peppers. Other choice: Primitivo.
  • Beef stew and Merlot. Merlot’s jammy flavor seems ideal for the supple gravy and soft beef chunks, as well as the sweetness of the carrots. Other choice: Cabernet.
  • Baked chicken and sausage with Rhones. The Grenache based blends of the southern Rhone bridge the mild flavored chicken and the spiced sausage.  This one is interesting because we actually use white wine in cooking but I like the way the red pulls it all together when it’s time to eat. Other choice Sangiovese.
  • Thick cut grilled lamb chops with Cabernet. The tannins of the Cab are like an exclamation point to the richness of the lamb. Other choice Tempranillo.
  • Braised short ribs with Shiraz. I love the fruit and spice with the meatiness. Other choice Merlot.
  • Osso Buco and Tempranillo. I like the acidity of the Tempranillo with the deep hearty flavor of the slow cooked veal shank. Other choice Nebbiolo.
  • Tacos and Malbec. Si.

I think it’s time to start cooking – then pick some wine from our Sips pages for Every Day, Guest and Splurge wine choices.  And as your special treat, here is the Chicken and Sausage recipe!

Cristina Pastina’s Chicken and Sausage
Serves 6
Note:  Your choice on the chicken.  You can use a whole chicken cut up or six split breast if you prefer just white meat.

Ingredients:
6 split chicken breasts (bone in)
4 Italian sausages, cut in thirds
6 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
4 large carrots, peeled and cut to large chunks (3 or 4 per carrot)
1 large onion, halved and sliced
½ cup olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup seasoned bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 tbs. oregano

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  1. In a large baking dish, pour olive oil and coat the bottom.  Add the chicken and roll around to cover with oil.  Arrange chicken skin side up around the dish. You may use two baking dishes if more room is needed but this will add to the cooking time.
  2. Pour the wine over the chicken.
  3. Salt and pepper each breast.
  4. Sprinkle oregano, garlic and bread crumbs over each.
  5. Arrange sausage pieces, potatoes and carrots around the dish and between the chicken.
  6. Cover all with the onion slices.
  7. Loosely cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.  Remove the foil and bake an additional 30 – 45 minutes to desired doneness – cooking time can vary… the tighter it’s packed the slower it cooks (don’t burn, but make sure the carrots and potatoes are cooked tender)  chicken should be browned by now…if not you may broil for a moment…but watch carefully.
  8. Serve.

Full Bodied Reds

BODY is one of the most common descriptors of wine – and I think most of us know instinctively what it means.  It’s easy to identify with.  Some wines are thin.  Some are rich and full.  Others can be described as ‘muscular’ or ‘flabby.’  Sounds like people doesn’t it?

Well BODY is really about how the wine feels in your mouth and much of that has to so with how much alcohol the wine has, and of course the grape variety as well as the wine making style.  For a lot of wine drinkers, full bodied wines are the wine of choice.  After all, they tend to pack the most punch per sip.  We love the roundness of the flavor and heft of the wine.  Americans have never been accused of embracing delay in gratification in anything, have we?  I also think that we have learned to seek out these taste experiences in the US since we gravitate to bigger flavor foods.  How many of us were raised on a meat and potatoes diet? Lots of dairy.  Burgers?  Not a lot of nuance there.

And then there is the “New World” style of winemaking and the very popular rating scales used in the media.  The New World style, of which California’s influence is the most notable, is fruit forward, mostly drink-it-now, driven by the grape variety and the winemaking.  More extraction and higher alcohol are common.  A highly respected and followed publication, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, became known for higher ratings of big and powerful wines. Higher ratings mean higher prices and greater sales – and more wineries jumped on the upfront style. So it’s no wonder that fuller bodied wines seem to dominate what we drink most.

What are these wines?  Most are red, but there are a couple of whites (particularly Chardonnay and Viognier, although we’re talking red today). If you like it full and bold here’s what to look for, with one caveat – one size does not fit all.  Each of the following cover the spectrum of weight and body.  Consider these a place to start.

Cabernet Sauvignon: In my post, “A Taste of Cabernet” I wrote, “Cabernet is a conundrum – big, bold and powerful as well as elegant, refined and beautiful.”  Cabernet has it all – structure, weight and depth to go along with its finesse and age-worthiness.  It fills your mouth with bursts of dark fruit and plum, tobacco and leather, cedar and mint – all kinds of layered flavors.  California, Chile and Australia lead with the fuller bodied styles dominated by fruit and drinkability. Bordeaux wines can also be considered full bodied for sure, but to me where they fall is much more dependent on the specific area of Bordeaux and the nature of the blend in the bottle.

Syrah/Shiraz:  Syrah from the Northern Rhone – Cote Rotie (the “Roasted Slope”), Hermitage and St. Joseph, and the Aussie Shiraz are midnight dark and intense with blackberry, currant and smoke. The tannins are softer than Cab.  I love Syrah/Shiraz with lamb and beef.  More Syrah is coming out of California too.

Petite Sirah: Not the same as the above, it’s its own grape and it is a chewer!  It’s on the shelves on it’s own from California and is frequently blended into Zinfandel to add punch to that wine. Inky black and bold.

Zinfandel:  Much Zin is really more medium bodied, but there are bolder styles driven by the blacker fruits, as opposed to red, and higher alcohol, as well as those with some Petite Sirah in the blend.  The “old vine” estate and single vineyard Zins are typically fuller bodied.

Merlot: Yes, Merlot is usually fuller bodied.  But it tends to get overlooked by its softness, its less tannic structure.  To appreciate Merlot’s full bodied appeal have a cheddar cheeseburger.

Malbec: Malbec has come into its own in Argentina.  It’s softer than Cab and to me has more of an edge to it than Merlot.  It’s affordable and approachable – a good choice to have on hand at home as your go-to glass of red.

To get into all the potential full bodied reds and the iterations of blends and indigenous grape varieties would turn this post into a tome!  One thing to take away – if the wine is 14.5% alcohol or higher you can be pretty sure that it will be a full bodied sip.

But know that the truth is in what YOU taste, and in what you expect out of the wine and the time you’re enjoying it.  I don’t like rules about wine.  I like guides that leave up to me to decide what I like or don’t like.  And the fun is in exploring it all.

Not a bad way to sip.