Written by John Kerr of Metro Wines
Because of my profession, I taste over 400 wines a month. Those who see me at the back of the shop with eight to ten bottles lined up before me often tell me that I have the best job in the world. The truth is that this is the best and worst part of the business.
To pull this off, I have a large lunch, pound down glasses of water before tastings and after each wine, and then pause for two hours between each round.
Thirty bottles a day is my limit, no exceptions. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Once I pass that point, my taste buds give up. But that’s okay, since the rest of my day is pretty shot anyway.
But from this ordeal comes a broad knowledge of the new vintage in the wine regions around the world. I’ll know how my favorite winemakers fared this year. And I’ll discover who is skilled or lucky enough to have produced a solid wine despite adverse conditions. These gems among the rubble tend to be the ones I most admire but are often difficult to promote. People who focus only on the vintage miss these beauties. But those willing to listen often get a bargain.
From these tastings emerge the wines we offer each year. But within this culled list there are always a few wines that are extraordinary. The ones that truly stand out. These are the exceptional wines that cause you to stop, sit up in your chair, and make you glad that you’re alive.
This month, I’m presenting some of the wines that did this for me in 2017. Everybody’s palate is different, but I think you’ll probably agree on many of these. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who chose these wines. You’ll find several of them on wine lists around town.
So, if you’re wondering what people in the profession are drinking through the holidays—this, at least, is my list.
Domaine Renardat Fache Cerdon Cremant
My first choice is a sparkling French wine from a region no one’s heard of and made in a style most people shun from grapes no one knows. And yet this wine sells out every year in New York City and other areas where this wine is recognized. The good news for us in Western North Carolina is that, because the wine is not well-known here, there is still some around for the holidays.
Bugey is one of the tiniest and most obscure wine areas in France. The vineyards are little patches tucked into the steep slopes of the Swiss Alps. The sparkling rosé is a blend of Gamay and Poulsard. (Both grapes are cousins of Pinot Noir, giving you the delicate elegance that comes from this family of wines.) It has the sweetness level of demi-sec or mildly sweet. The slight sweetness means it is low in alcohol. That allows you to pour a little bit more to celebrate the moment and still be able to enjoy a glass of another wine with your meal. The rosé is fruitier than most Champagne. But this very unusual sparkler is a treat. You’ll discover a delicate wine that is refreshing and bright, with charming raspberry and cherry flavors. And all this is followed by a light mineral finish.
We’ll pour this wine as an aperitif to begin our holiday celebration. And you can also serve it with dessert along with your favorite cherry pie.
Domaine Drouhin “Arthur” Chardonnay
The famous Drouhin family produces the workhorse wines of Burgundy. All are solid, and they regularly produce one or two exceptional French wines each year. But it is their little-known Oregon wines that truly shine.
My favorite Chardonnay nearly every year is their Oregon Chardonnay, named Arthur after one of the family’s sons. Arthur lives in the world between California and French Chardonnay with fresh, ripe fruit, but the texture and acidity found in the best white Burgundies. Expect candied lemon peel, white flowers, and a touch of honey and vanilla wrapped in a remarkable balance of texture, weight, and acidity. Enjoy now, or buy a few bottles to enjoy over the next five years.
It’s now part of our traditional offerings on our Thanksgiving table. Make sure to give it about 45 minutes of air to ensure you enjoy the full experience. We serve it with our first course of salad or soup.
Guiseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella and red blends
I mention this wine with some trepidation because it is often hard to get, and I don’t want to frustrate those of you who want to track down a bottle. But Quintarelli wines are too exceptional not to mention. People from all walks of life have told me that a Quintarelli wine was the best bottle they ever had. One of our staff saved a bottle for years to share with his future bride the night of his wedding proposal.
Quintarelli is a wine made in the Amarone style. A blend of Italian and sometimes French grapes is dried until it resembles soft raisins. This removes 25 to 50 percent of the water and concentrates the flavors. If done wrong, you get a sappy taste. But if done right, you get one of the deepest, richest wines made anywhere. The intense, complex flavors are complemented by a pleasant bitterness in the finish. Quintarelli is considered by many as the best of the best, and its cult following is the reason it can be hard to find.
We’ll serve this wine with the heartiest fare of the season. Consider mushroom risotto or a traditional preparation of lamb, boar, or roast beef.
Klein Constantia Vin de Constance
Now it’s time for dessert. My last selection has a glorious history in the wine world, but still is little-known to the public. Dating back to 1685, it regularly pops up in wine lore. Most notably, it was Jane Austen’s favorite wine, and Napoleon drank a bottle each day while in exile.
Constance is a dessert wine produced from Muscat de Frontignan grapes that are harvested late, after they have shriveled on the vine. This process concentrates the sugar. The wine is rich and unctuous, but with enough acid to balance it out. You’ll taste an abundance of apricot, mango, and quince, with a hint of ginger, blood orange, and green tea. All this is nestled into a beautiful, viscous texture, along with a terse astringency.
We’ll serve this slightly chilled and sip it slowly as our only dessert. You can also serve it as an accompaniment to desserts such as crème brûlée, or to rich cheeses such as Roquefort and Stilton.
Hopefully, this wine lineup will add to the upcoming season’s celebration and make your holiday feast even more memorable.
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