I’m a people pleaser. I love for guests at my events to have a good time while tasting and learning about wine.
It brings me great joy to see wine drinkers have an “ah-ha” moment of discovery, especially when trying something different. That’s usually the case, but with my birthday just around the corner, I’ve decided to be a bit selfish and talk about what I’m drinking.
Like most people, my taste changes depending on the time of year, type of situation, my mood and how much money I have to “invest” in educating my palate. As it is my birthday month, I’ll be starting with a sparkling wine. I know I’ve preached that sparkling should not be relegated to only times of celebration, but it will certainly be included in my celebration.
Not discounting all other forms of sparkling wine (Cava, Sekt, Prosecco, Cap Classique, Crement, etc.), I’m still first and foremost a Champagne fan. It has more to do with the texture and productions style versus perceived superior quality of said region. As the yeast ages in the bottle, it breaks down spilling mannoproteins into the wine that offer a certain sexy mouth-feel. This yeast autolysis also instills a yeasty, biscuit or even brioche element into the wine.
These two factors have seduced me into being a Champagne groupie from my very first sip. Although it technically is not allowed to be identified as “Champagne,” some producers from the Champagne appellation make traditional-method sparkling here in the states. It’s worth seeking out these wines, as you can get a very similar stylistic bubbly sometimes at a much more attractive price point.
Selecting a still white wine presents more of a challenge for me. I reject the belief that most white wines taste the same, but truthfully they can be incredibly similar and easy to confuse. An example of this similarity, and the wines I will be serving, are Albariño and Muscadet AOC (the Melon de Bourgogne variety).
Melon de Bourgogne, as one would expect, can be traced back to Burgundy but was selectively removed, finding a new home in the western Loire valley in the Pays Nantais. Although it is a victim of overproduction, in recent years this variety has made a comeback thanks to lower cropping and more respectful treatment in the winery. Attributing the marine quality of these wines to the variety or the appellation is difficult, as there is little planted outside this area of France for comparison. Nonetheless, this ancient variety has an amazing versatility with food and, with good reason, has gained a cult following among wine geeks.
Albariño, on the other hand has been slowly expanding its global footprint. Once found only in Portugal, under the name Alvarinho, and in northwestern Spain, we now see successful domestic examples along our West Coast (California and Oregon) and New York State. When not overmanipulated, this variety remains true to its Iberian roots, maintaining a briny minerality in spite of vineyard location. Generally slightly more aromatic than Muscadet, the best examples also display some floral and blossom components. Either will add a welcomed elevation to your spring seafood festivities.
Although many wines fall into the “light red” category, none speak to me like Pinot Noir. This remains one of the most expressive grapes when displaying terroir and the decisions made along the wine-making process.
With the popularity of Pinot Noir skyrocketing over the past few decades, every country seems to have jumped on the bandwagon to produce wines from this variety. There are many expressions of Pinot Noir, and if you ask five producers which style is the best, you will probably get six different answers.
As a generalization, areas with more uninterrupted sunlight tend to be riper in fruit, higher in alcohol with more extraction. Cooler and moderate climates have restrained fruit aromas and display more earthy nuances. The truth remains that good Pinot Noir is fantastic, and bad Pinot Noir is horrendous. For this reason, a little research before you buy (producer, area and even vintage) can go a long way toward preventing that dreaded buyer’s regret.
For those big red lovers out there, statistics show that you are buying Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, red blends and Malbec but have shied away from one of my favorites, Syrah. Granted, there was good reason for this falloff in interest. The more well-known Australian Shiraz became more quantity versus quality driven. The lesser-known French Syrah was mostly recognized through Southern Rhone versions as part of the GSM blends (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre). Unfortunately, quality-minded producers of Australia and the elegant, restrained examples of Northern Rhone seemed all but forgotten. Fret not, even though the domestic market neglected them for the past decade or so, they are still out there. Although a bit pricy at times, these wines deliver an experience, one that I plan to savor during my celebrations.
So there you have the wine agenda for my birthday weekend. Although your tastes might be different, I think you can find a few selections to increase your beverage enjoyment.
If the aforementioned seems like an excessive amount of wine for a weekend, know that I will have help and that this remains a judgment-free column.
Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, 2015 vintage
North coast, California, $34.99
This traditional method, 100 percent Chardonnay hails from the 2015 vintage. The nose has aromas of orchard fruit (pear and apple), some tropical fruit, fruit blossom and toasted bread. The palate is dry, medium-plus acidity, tongue caressing mousse and flavors of tropical citrus (tangerine). Pair this with your midlife crisis, unrealized dreams or as an aperitif with charcuterie.
Le Clos de la Butte Muscadet Côtes de Grald Lieu sur lie, 2014
Loire, France, $12.99
The sur lie aging can be detected first on the nose with a slight cheesy aroma, hidden behind layers of brined citrus fruits. On the palate, one first notices the viscous mouth-feel, again a trait of the prolonged lees contact. The dry palate mirrors the nose with citrus and a marine/mineral-laden finish. This would pair well with creamy cheeses, heavier seafood (lobster) or crab cake with béarnaise.
Klinker Brick Albariño, 2017
Lodi, California, $16.99
The nose is overtly aromatic with tropical (apricot, honeydew) and ripe orchard fruit. The palate has a bright acidity, medium-plus body and flavors of apricot, peach and tropical citrus. The saline undertones give way to a lingering wet stone/mineral finish. Pair with pan-seared scallops, grilled shrimp, grilled oysters or a well-deserved day by the pool.
Latour Mercurey, 2016
Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France, $24.99
Found south of the Côte d’ Or, Mercurey is located in the Côte Chalonnaise. This 100 percent Pinot Noir has a nose of freshly picked ripe red fruit (strawberry), coco powder and an earthy dried-tea-leaf aroma. The pure, clean element of the fruit is a testament to the stainless steel rather than oak. The palate is dry with medium-plus mouth-watering acidity, medium body and medium-minus tannins that emerge on the finish. Pair with wild mushroom dishes, thyme-infused poultry dishes and a Bill Bryson book.
Siegel Special Reserve Pinot Noir, 2015
Leyda Valley, Chile, $19.99
The nose has a toasted-barrel aroma that settles down after some aeration. There are aromas of ripe/baked red fruits (cherry, strawberry), baking spice (clove, anise) and smoky oak. The palate has a medium acidity, medium body and medium-minus, fine-grained tannins. There are flavors of stewed red fruit, licorice and a slightly herbal aspect. The finish shows evident warming alcohol. Pair with baked ham, teriyaki chicken or while finishing your child’s school project on Sunday night, when they’ve known about it for a week.
Saint Cosme Côte Rotie, 2015
Rhone Valley, France, $67.99
One of the famous Northern Rhone appellations, this Syrah is usually co-fermented with a small amount of Viognier. The dark ruby color is a testament to the color extraction and color fixing ability of Viognier. The nose is seductive with a purple floral perfumed note (violet), blackberry, pencil graphite and baking spice. The palate is dry with firm structured tannins (as expected for this developing wine), medium-plus acidity, medium body and well-integrated alcohol. The palate flavors mimic the nose with the addition of some cooked pork fat in the background. One would be greatly rewarded with an additional seven to 10 years of aging, but decant/aerate for a few hours if you cannot wait. Pair with grilled meat, duck in a blackberry sauce, venison tenderloin or with utter silence.
Tensley Syrah, 2015
Santa Barbara, California, $26.99
The appearance is an opaque ruby. The overt nose boasts of blackberry, plum, cassis, sweet baking spice, floral (lavender). The palate has medium acidity, medium-plus body, fine-grained tannins and warming alcohol. There are flavors of sweet spice, baked dark fruit (blackberry, blueberry), peppercorn and an earthy herbal nuance. This wine would appreciate an accompaniment of leg of lamb, grilled game meats or roasted pork sausage.