It's grilling season, and consequently I'll be appearing on Weekend Today tomorrow morning—Saturday—in the eight o'clock hour with some affordable wine recommendations for everything grilled. Malbec with burgers, albariño with grilled fish, zin with ribs, and one of my favorite dry rosés that I've tried recently—the 2009 Mulderbosch Rosé ($11), from South Africa—with grilled chicken breasts. If I don't run out of time (always a risk, since three and a half minutes goes fast), I'll wrap it up with a tangerine-and-peachy, lightly sparkling, lightly sweet 2008 Michele Chiarlo Moscato d'Asti ($14) to serve with grilled peaches. Should be fun, so tune in.
I was thinking through what I'd tasted, and read, and heard about, and so on through the course of 2009, and it seemed like a good idea to recap a few highlights as possible gift ideas. After all, there's still time left—and even if the holiday season passes, why not give a few more gifts to people? The wine business—in fact, the entire U.S. economy—will thank you!
10. Evan Williams Three-Ounce Flask ($13.50) Long flight? The cagey folks at Evan Williams are there to keep you from having to drink rotgut from a cart; this stainless steel flask holds only three ounces, which makes it OK for airport security. You could fill it with, just on a whim, the latest release of Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon ($26), the lightly spicy, supple 2000 vintage. As usual, it's a great deal in a single-barrel Bourbon.
9. Wine from Italy's Lazio region I had the interesting pleasure of running a tasting recently of wines from Lazio, the region that surrounds Rome and is bordered by Umbria and Tuscany to the north. Lazio tends to get overlooked, because the vast majority of the wine it produces is utterly forgettable white Frascati that flows in a vast river into the glasses of Rome's countless trattorias. But there's a hidden realm of ambitious small producers in the region, making some fantastic wine. I'm particularly fond of the in-your-face fragrant 2008 Cantina Sant'Andrea Oppidum ($24, try contacting the importer), a dry Muscat that smells like a fistful of flowers and tastes of citrus fruit with a nut-skin edge, as well as the dark cherry-and-silk 2005 Damiano Ciolli Cirsium ($40, ditto), made from the local Cesanese grape variety. Cool wines. Unfortunately, both a bit hard to find.
8. Easier to find: The 2007 Twenty Bench Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($19, find this wine). This is a stupidly good deal in Napa Cab, so much so that when I used it in a blind tasting on the CBS Early Show the other morning, it bested a 2006 Bordeaux from a second-growth property (admittedly a bit unfair, as '06 Bordeaux aren't exactly user-friendly at the moment).
7. Even easier to find: The 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($16, find this wine) I don't know what sort of deal Jim & Bob Varner cut with the infernal forces to be able to keep producing such a good Chardonnay for such a modest price, but whatever it was, wine drinkers owe them some thanks.
6. The One wine glasses ($50 for four) Andrea Immer, Master Sommelier & general wine-authority-about-town, designed these glasses with the specific thought in mind that (a) you would only need one red and one white glass, and (b) you could dishwash the darn things without breaking them. I've tested them out; they work. Nice glassware is a good thing. Alternatively, you could buy someone the Riedel stems that I've always used as my go-to all-purpose glasses, the Riedel Vinum Chianti/Zinfandel glass (model 6416/15, about $40 for two). I know, doing this defeats the whole point of Riedel glasses, but hey, I'm a journalist, not a millionaire.
5. For Pinot Noir fanatics, winemaker Ross Cobb is making some of the best Sonoma Coast Pinot I came across all year. I didn't get a chance to write about them in the magazine, because they're small production and fairly expensive, but they're truly impressive wines. My favorite was his 2007 Cobb Coastlands Vineyard ($68), which had lovely floral and balsam aromas, gorgeous wild berry fruit with a hint of white pepper, an orange peel note to the acidity, and a taut, streamlined structure. Just terrific stuff. You have to sign up on the website to receive an allocation, but from what I can tell it's not sold out yet.
3. What the heck. While I'm at it, why not give someone a gift from the Food & Wine Wine Club.
2. The Macallan 57 Year Old ($15,000) OK, it's a little pricey. But I did get a chance to taste this stuff, and, whether it's worth fifteen grand or not, I can definitely say that it's truly gorgeous whisky. It isn't remotely dried out (a common problem with extremely old whiskies), gives off whiffs of caramel, sweet spice, tobacco and peat, and tastes of orange rind, spice drop, rancio, and dried fruits; it's tremendously complex and also lovely, with a rich viscosity. Plus, it's bottled in a fancy-pants Lalique decanter, of which there are exactly 400 total for the world. But, if you don't feel like trading your child's college fund for a bottle of hooch, you could instead pick up the nifty new half-bottle size Macallan 18 ($80), which is exactly the same Macallan 18 as in the traditional 750ml bottle (extremely good, in other words) but smaller. Really great stocking stuffer.
1. Champagne The Champenoise are having a tough time this season, people are holding onto their shekels & not shelling out for the pricey tête-de-cuvées they once did, but hey—as far as I know, no one is ever unhappy to be given Champagne. Why would they be? It's festive, it tastes great, it's fun, and even if you're one of the weird anti-fizz minority and don't like the stuff, it's eminently regiftable. There's plenty of good Champagne out there, but I'm particularly partial at the moment to the chalky, aromatic NV Henriot Blanc Souverain (about $50, find this wine), a graceful—and findable—blanc de blancs bottling not to be confused with the similarly named (and also quite good) Henriot Brut Souverain.
I think the advent of September, and, thankfully, a breath or two of cool breeze in NYC, has gotten me thinking about Champagne. (Of course, simply waking up in the morning can make me think about Champagne.) In any case, lately when I think about Champagne, I tend to think about Peter Liem's extraordinarily informative website, champagneguide.net. It is the most in-depth compendium of Champagne info that I've ever run into, largely thanks to the fact that Liem knows more about the history, character, vineyards, soils, terroirs, and producers of this region than anyone else I can think of (save perhaps Tom Stevenson). Membership isn't cheap—$89 a year for a subscription—but when you consider that that's about the price of a single bottle of Bollinger Rosé, it starts to seem more and more like a wise investment.
You can get a free sample of the site's content here. If you have a Champagne lover you're thinking of holiday gifts for, a membership wouldn't be a bad idea at all. And while you're at it, you might check out Liem's entertaining and informative blog, Besotted Ramblings, as well.
I was on the Today show this morning (check out the clip here), recommending a few summer's-almost-over-don't-miss-them beers and wines to Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. It was, as usual, a slightly crazy affair, but a lot of fun.
Beer-wise, I suggested people track down New Belgium's Skinny Dip, a light beer (114 calories) that doesn't taste like a light beer—i.e., doesn't taste like watery dreck. I'm not quite sure how the New Belgium brewers manage that, but if you're inclined toward light beers, you could do far, far worse. I also mentioned Hoegaarden, a classic Belgian witbier, faintly flavored with coriander and orange peel. The cloudiness (which is natural) seemed to worry KLG and Hoda, but in the end they seemed to like it; personally, I think the stuff's a no-brainer on a hot summer day.
In terms of wine, my recommendations included the 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($13, find this wine), an unoaked Central Coast Chardonnay with crisp tree-fruit notes and impressive intensity; the 2008 Crios de Susanna Balbo Malbec ($15, find this wine), which for the price provides a lot of smoky blackberry fruit and works well as either a summer-grilling or winter-warming wine; and 2008 Saracco Moscato d'Asti ($15, find this wine), which is perfect for summer desserts—lightly sparkling, low in alcohol, with pretty tangerine and floral notes.
I also got to walk down a set of stairs next to George Foreman, who was on the show, too, and looking mighty dapper in a striped, off-white suit. I have to say he drew more attention than I did.
I am a spinach-pie fanatic. Doesn't matter if it's the Greek phyllo variety or the folded-dough Middle Eastern sort; there is no food more perfect in my mind. And just recently, I had a spinach-pie-and-wine pairing epiphany that makes the ultimate even better.
My neighborhood Middle Eastern place, Zaytoons, is BYOB and happily just down the road the from another local fave, Smith & Vine, my go-to wine shop for stuff from excellent small producers world-over. Last week, over the aforementioned spinach pie, my boyfriend Michael surprised me with a bottle of fizzy rosé called Moussamoussettes from one of my favorite Loire producers, Agnès et René Mosse. I'd never seen this wine before, probably because they don't make much of it and it's nearly impossible to find, but it was incredible, with juicy strawberry flavor and an intriguing fennel note. Sparkling wines tend to go really well with salty foods, and this was excellent with the feta-filled spinach pie; the fruitiness was great with the spices, like za'atar, as well.
I sadly won't be able to get my hands on a bottle of Moussamoussettes every time I eat spinach pie, but there are plenty of other sparkling rosés that will go equally as well. Here are a few to try:
2006 Llopart Rosé Cava (about $17, find this wine) This rather rich cava from Spain is excellent year after year. This vintage has a pretty floral aroma and an unmistakable burst of cherry fruit.
NV Riondo Raboso Pink Prosecco (about $10, find this wine) Pale pink with some herbal notes, this delicately frizzante prosecco from Italy's Veneto region is a steal.
NV Domaine Chandon Rosé ($22, find this wine) This juicy rosé from one of California's top sparkling wine producers is loaded with ripe red-berry fruit.
I had a good time appearing on Today this morning, recommending wines for their "Made in America" Friday whip segment. (On the whip they run through four or so variations on a topic in a speedy way.) In this case "made in America" meant not made in California—which was a great chance to highlight some of the other great wine regions in the country. I brought along:
• The NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs ($12), a nice, creamy and fairly full-bodied sparkler from Washington State
• The 2008 A to Z Wineworks Rosé ($12), a fragrant dry rosé from Oregon made with (oddly enough) Sangiovese grapes
• A terrific, crisp, Kabinett-style Riesling from the Finger Lakes, the 2007 Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard Dry Riesling ($17), which will also age beautifully if given the chance
• And one of my favorite Texan wines, the 2006 Flat Creek Estate SuperTexan ($19), a juicy, robust Sangiovese blend that I first ran into while touring around the Hill Country with my father, doing some barbecue research.
Plus, I got to see Al Roker sing part of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from on top of a crane, which was definitely the sort of experience you don't get every day.
Every spring, I wait for that transcendent moment when everything comes together and the season hits its most refreshing, jubilant, birds a-chirping note and there's no looking back to the bleak days of winter. That moment finally arrived last night over a couple of pizzas on the patio of Franny's in Brooklyn. I was with my dear friend John, we could see the Big Dipper, the pies were expertly wood-fired and I discovered the absolutely most perfect pizza wine ever in a glass of Bonarda from Italy's Lombardia region. The 2007 Castello di Luzzano Oltrepò Pavese ($16, find this wine) is deep red and lightly frizzante with lively cherry fruit and a kick of juicy mandarin orange flavor that was incredible with the tangy tomato sauce on our buffalo mozzarella pizza. Served chilled, it's similar to a Lambrusco but not as dark and frothy, just bright and clean. And to think this is only the beginning of patio-Bonarda-star-gazing weather. —Megan Krigbaum
I know that I definitely haven't finished my shopping, so I'm figuring I must have company out there in the rest of the world, too. Here are some terrific wines and other items (books, chocolates, etc.) that caught my eye recently:
I tasted a plethora of New Zealand Pinots on my recent trip there, but many of them are upcoming releases. I'll blog about those later; in the meantime, the 2006 Peregrine Pinot Noir (about $40, find this wine) is classic Central Otago Pinot, with a sort of blue floral scent (oh, you know what I mean...right?), juicy raspberry fruit, and a brambly, smoky finish. It's big enough to pour with some nice New Zealand grass-fed lamb.
For the crazy funkmeister wine fanatics in your acquaintance, a bottle of the 2000 Chateau Musar Red (about $40, too; find this wine) is just the ticket. It's got that classic Musar aroma of bicycle tire and sweet red cherry, with the same sweet red cherry fruit continuing in the flavor, along with wild strawberries and lightly twiggy tannins (by which I mean not-unpleasantly prickly in a dry twig sort of way). It's a big, dark Musar, representative of the vintage, which Serge Hochar says "was a year of Cabernet." Hochar also says, "If my wines had no V.A., I would stop making Chateau Musar. End of story." So be warned!
Since toasts are inevitable this time of year, Champagne is inevitable as well, and given its inevitability, you might as well pour something really good. Lately I'm liking the Ruinart Brut Rose NV ($75, find this wine). Not cheap, but it's a terrific rosé, dense with flavor even as its graceful structure gives it a kind of Grace Kelly beauty, in a wine way.
In a non-wine vein, chocolate-genius Drew Shotts of Garrison Chocolates has a nifty and very tasty six-piece box of chocolates ($10) with fillings infused with Pama Pomegranate Liqueur. Too late, most likely, for Christmas, but not too late to order a box for yourself. You deserve one, since you're probably exhausted with all this present-buying craziness.
Lastly, I left one book off of my post about wine-book gifts, which is Ben Wallace's compelling page-turner dissection of one of the bigger wine scandals to happen in, oh, the past century or so. The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine rolls scads of money, super-valuable (or not so!) counterfeit wines, some very high-profile collectors, shady business dealings, and a few read-it-to-believe-it debaucheries involving bottle after bottle of ultra-rare wine together into one big juicy narrative. I've never read a wine book that was as much of a page-turner; it's also smart and well written, which doesn't hurt.
And that's it. I'm out of here until after New Year's.