”How Time Flies!”
Fall has arrived and once again the holidays are on the horizon with entertaining for business and family to be planned. As a sommelier, it’s this time of year more than any other that I’m asked to recommend wines to pair with dinners, parties and for gift giving.
There are always the tried and true choices, those wines that are sure bets and well known to all.
You know the names…Kendall Jackson, Robert Mondavi, Honig, Caymus, Meiomi, Moet & Chandon and many, many others. I like these wines, I trust the quality and I recommend them often. They’re like that favorite novel that you love to go back and re-read from time to time. It’s a familiar story that gives consistent pleasure.
In my profession I have the opportunity to taste a variety of wines, usually twenty five or thirty a week, in the quest to find which ones we will offer to our customers. I find most are good, some are not and a few are exceptional.
- every so often, along comes something unexpected. It might be a new wine, a different grape varietal, an unconventional blend of grapes or a region I haven’t previously encountered with different flavor profiles, exotic aromas, new textures or a refreshing variation on a familiar style of wine.
It takes me by surprise and gives me a totally new experience or perspective.
Most of these wines are made at small facilities with fairly limited production. Sometimes it’s an imported wine that originates in a region where the wine is a traditional specialty with a rich history, but not well known here in the states. Often these are wines you may never have heard of and perhaps have ridiculously unpronounceable names. (Getariako Txakolina comes to mind…great to drink, difficult to say. ) Other times the wine comes from an independent winery with an owner or winemaker that is passionate about promoting an unusual grape variety or blend and taking an approach to explore something untried. These are wines made to fascinate and intrigue the drinker, crafted by someone that is not making wine simply for mass consumption and the status quo.
Such vintners are challenging convention and tradition, taking risks and trusting that they will find the adventurous buyer that will roll the dice and choose their wine.
For me, they’re the hidden jewels that keep my enthusiasm and interest engaged in constantly exploring wine. It’s like traveling to undiscovered places and making new friends with exotic accents simply by popping a cork and raising your glass. Here are a few of my favorites I’ve found along the way.
Enjoy the journey!
Field Recordings FRANC-Cabernet Franc
Paso Robles, California
Andrew Jones, the winemaker, started as a nursery fieldsman by trade. Over time he’s cultivated (pun intended) relationships with vineyard owners that have provided access to many exceptional vineyards. It’s a relationship that has resulted in Jones producing some of my favorite new wines. FRANC is an unconventional Cabernet Franc with floral aromas, ripe cherry and a bit of smokiness in the nose. Rich black cherry and blueberry notes, elegant tannins and an underlying minerality create a complex palate.
It’s my go-to when paired with smoked meats or BBQ.
Lang & Reed Wine Company-Chenin Blanc
Talmage Bench Vineyard-Mendocino, California
John Skupny, the owner/winemaker is an old friend of mine from my Kansas City days before I relocated to Tulsa. He moved to California to pursue his passion for wine in general and two grape varietals in particular…Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc.
He works in partnership with his son, Reed, who is the principal winemaker for white wines. His Chenin Blanc is rich and complex with the characteristic honeysuckle and honeycomb aromas, loaded with balanced citrus, apple and peach flavors that finish with a perfect proportion of acidity.
Descendientes de J.Palacios-Petalos- Mencia and Alicante Bouschet Blend
Alvaro Palacios comes from an influential family of Spanish producers in Rioja, but broke with tradition to go his own way and make the wines his passion dictates. He is recognized as leading a revolution in the Spanish wine industry. Petalos is made from 60 year-old vines and farmed biodynamically. It’s an intense wine with complexity and depth that expresses red plum, black cherry, licorice, smoke and spice flavors.
Teutonic Wine Company- Foiled Cucumber Gewürztraminer
Wasson Vineyard-Willamette Valley, Oregon
This winery, founded by Barnaby and Olga Tuttle, was a leap of faith. In 2005 they planted 2000 vines on fallow farmland that belonged to a friend. Despite the prevailing wine culture that focuses on a French Burgundian approach in Oregon wine country, they wanted to create wines in the German/Alsatian tradition. The total production of all their wines is only 6000 cases. The Foiled Cucumber is 100% Gewurtztraminer in a Germanic style, which expresses clean acidity, light body and lush honeydew melon and nuanced spice flavors. (If you’re a fan of the movie “This is Spinal Tap”, you will get the foiled cucumber reference.)
Rancho Arroyo Grande Vineyard-Arroyo Grande, California
Owner/Winemaker Curt Schalchlin is a man that balances between old world wine tradition and modern innovation. His two wineries-San Liege and Groundwork reflect his commitment to introducing drinkers to his interpretation of French Rhone Valley grape varietals in blended wines from San Liege and single varietal wines from Groundwork.
Counoise is traditionally used as a secondary blending grape, but in Curt’s hands becomes a star among my favorite light bodied reds. It’s delicious, lush cherry and tart rhubarb flavors are balanced with firm acid, but soft textured tannins. Throw a chill on this one and enjoy alone or with food.
Hillersden-Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
This winery is a small family operation focused exclusively on single varietal, estate grown and made wines. The operation sits high in the hills above the Upper Wairau Valley.
This sparkling Sauvignon Blanc is only the second of its kind I have seen in my years in the profession and it’s a jewel. I love the balanced acidity and clean mouth feel that brackets the delicious tropical fruit and citrus flavors of the Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a refreshing variation on traditional sparklers and perfect for the holidays!
Quady-Essensia Orange Muscat
Andrew Quady and his wife Laurel are another example of a single focus and passion resulting in a successful specialty winery. Since 1975 Quady only makes sweet dessert wines based on the Muscat grape. Essencia is made from the rare Orange Muscat grape varietal, known in Italy as Moscato Fior d’Arancio. Rich, intense honeyed pear, orange peel and candied-pecan flavors are dessert sweet, but balanced by an appropriate degree of acidity.
Lolonis Family Vineyard-Redwood Valley, California
Kenny Likitprakong, owner of Hobo Wine Co. and Folk Machine is a gambler.
He found a small parcel of an obscure grape variety call Valdiguie that had been neglected and overgrown for years. He gained access to it and decided to see what would happen if he nurtured the vines like the finest Cabernet Sauvignon, all for a grape that almost no one makes wine with or even plants commercially anymore.
- result is pure fun! Imagine a vibrant fuscia color with bright flavors of cherry, cranberry and spice laced with tart acidity…that’s Valdiguie. This is the wine you want for your holiday turkey…trust me.