With the holidays and New Year upon us many friends and relatives will be serving wines at wonderful holiday occasions. Many will be waiting for the holidays to serve the best in the house. Perhaps it is time to review some wine basics. Wine is a food and the biggest and best wines, both red and white, are served and enjoyed best with food. If the good stuff is not being served at the banquet table grab some pick-ons. Cheese, crackers and snacks will aid you in enjoyment of good wine. The wine should be served in a glass at least twice as large as the pour. This is to help you to facilitate the tasting of the wine. Wine needs air and has been stuck in a bottle for years, so let it enjoy being out and swirl the wine about and let it get as much contact with air as possible. All wines will benefit from this activity but old big red wines will do so at a greater degree than most (sparkling wines are an exception). The wine is said to need to “open Up”. Wine will taste much better, be fuller and richer after you get as much air as possible exposed to that wine.
The next activity is to understand that in good wines there are many flavor nuances associated with the wine. Flavor comes from about 85% olfactory stimulation so after you expose the wine to as much air as possible then stick your nose down into the glass and smell the wine. You should get several layers of different smells and you can go to the American Wine Society website at www.aws.org and download an Aroma Wheel that will help you identify the many types of aromas that can exist in good wines. It is just kind of fun to do. Once you have identified some of the aromas associated with these wines then it is time to taste the wine. Understand that your tongue has many areas that are designed to identify different flavors. So there is a spot on your tongue for sweet and sour and acid and lemon and on and on. The most effective technique is take some air in with you and slurp up the wine with the air like the dentist’s office and swirl it in your mouth so your entire tongue comes in contact with the wine. Now you have a shot at finding the small delicate differences that make up good wines as compared with the limited or lack of aroma and the one dimensional flavors associated with the jug or mass produced wine. It doesn’t mean those wines are bad. Some are imminently drinkable, but they just are limited in character, taste and smell and not very interesting. When someone pulls out $30 – $50 or greater for a bottle of wine, I feel you owe your host a chance to appreciate the gift you have just been given and comment to them something associated with the appreciation of such a gift. Don’t get me wrong; you will know it is good even if you knock it down like a jello shot. However, something that good deserves to be savored and enjoyed properly.
Some holiday wine ideas include sparkling wines. This is a great way to begin to enjoy a holiday celebration! Some outstanding choices include Proseco. This wonderful Italian sparkler is a great way to start any meal, but it is wonderful around the holiday season. They can range between $10 and $30 a bottle and they are wonderful. It is light in alcohol and is subtle and pleasant A Spanish Cava is another inexpensive sparkling wine that can be wonderful! Look for the Cavas that are made “Champagne Method”. You can find high quality Cavas made in the champagne method (double fermentation in the bottle) that are quite inexpensive and delicious. The Spanish winemakers are exceptional and they make their wine the same way they do in the Champagne region of France!
Ray’s favorite Chardonnays include Kendall-Jackson 2013 Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay (California); $17, 91 points. This is a tasty and accessibly priced Chardonnay. It packs in lots of fruit flavor, vibrant acidity, rich texture and layers of oaky spice while showing a rare sense of seamlessness. Very Californian and compelling.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2012 DCV Estate Block 10 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $30, 90 points. The winery once made 30,000 cases of Chardonnay. With this release, it micro-sized that number down to 1,250, focusing on 30 vine rows to make a better wine. Mission accomplished—this medium-bodied wine offers a creamy texture, with concentrated fig and pear flavors around a mineral-laden finish.
Duckhorn 2012 Chardonnay (Napa Valley); $35, 90 points. For the debut of the winery’s Chardonnay, fruit is sourced largely from Oak Knoll, Carneros and Rutherford to craft an aromatically lemony wine that gives way to fuller tidings of caramel and vanilla on the palate. The finish offers balanced and refreshing acidity.
Ray’s favorite Cabernets: 2009 Hess Collection Allomi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($28, 14.4%). Hess’ mainline Cabernet, grown near the base of Howell Mountain, has the bones of a great old-fashioned Napa Cabernet. Aged in mostly older American oak, from the clay loam and alluvial soils of eastern Napa, it’s nuanced and floral, with a dusky violet side to its black fruit and a cinnamon-candy bite. Keep an eye for the 2010.
2009 Covey Run Quail Series Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($9, 13.5%). It’s great to see this well-known Washington name in fine form under the hand of winemaker Kate Michaud. Value-minded Cabernet? Here’s how it’s done – a proper autumnal dried-leaf aspect to black currant and olive flavors. It fully delivers on its varietal soul without dubbing down its flavors.
Bless you and your family during this wonderful holiday season and enjoy some of these great wines ! Please enjoy them properly! You will be glad you did!
I will be teaching some great wine classes this spring through the Milford Adult Education at Cetris in Milford. Sign up early; they sell out quickly!
Ray Spaziani is the Chapter Director of the New Haven Chapter of the American Wine Society. He teaches wine appreciation classes at Gateway Community College and the Milford Board of Education as well as Moltose wine and beer making suppliers, and is a member of the International Tasting Panel of Amenti Del Vino and Wine Maker Magazine. He is an award winning home wine maker. Email Ray with your wine questions and wine events at email@example.com.