Sunday, February 9, 2014

Not Your Usual Wines for Valentine’s Day

By Liza B. Zimmerman

Bubbles are wonderful all year long so there’s no need to just enjoy them on Valentine’s Day. However, if you do want to go the traditional route, I have some suggestions. The best values, for both sparkling wines and Champagnes, often come from the lesser-known areas and producers. One of my favorites has long been Gruet, a family-owned winery—with roots in Champagne—in New Mexico (yes, indeed they make some great wines there. I am partial to the Blancs de Noir, but also like the Blanc de Blancs. Both generally retail for less than $20 a bottle. 

If you want to go with real Champagne, Nicolas Feuillate is one of my favorites. It is one of the youngest and newest houses in Champagne. What humans have done for years by hand, riddling the Champagne bottles to rotate them gently to rotate the yeast, is being done by geropalate—big cage-like machines—to the cost benefit of the end consumer. A little romance may go out the window, but if you can enjoy beautiful Champagne for less money it is just fine in my book. Also if you want to go French, without a Champagne budget, don’t forget that many other French regions—think Alsace and the Loire—make some amazing sparkling wines. Albrecht’s crisp Cremant d’Alsace is a favorite of mine.

New Wines for the Year Ahead
Valentine’s Day might also be an excuse to clean your palate for the year ahead. May I suggest some fresh and high-acid wines? Grüner Veltliners from Austria have long been a sommelier’s favorite because they go with so many foods and particularly complement spice. Gobelsburger is one of my favorites. I think I had it almost every night for dinner when I did wine education on a cruise ship and ate in Nobu’s restaurant as often as I could. It is divine with raw fish. 

Warm, earthy wines might also be ideal to drink in front of a fireplace on, or even before, Valentine’s Day. I can’t think of a region that has more appealing dusty funk than Chinon in the Loire Valley. With bright fruit and great acidity Domaine Baudry has long been a favorite. Neighboring appellation Samur-Champigny in the Loire region may also be harder to find but is worth seeking out. 

Warm, Accessible Wine
Perhaps no one does everyday wine as well as the Italians. Would you want your grandfather drinking anything but the best at the local bar? While many every-day Sangioveses are great to have on hand, the Piedmontese’s daily table wines Dolcetto and Barbera are hard to beat for food-friendliness and warmth in a glass. Chiarlo makes some pretty astounding and well-priced Barberas and Ricossa’s Barberas are also a treat. Douro Valley blends, from Port grapes produced in the same region, are also amazing and powerful. Niepoort’s Duoro Twisted wines, both red and white, are stellar and well-priced examples of these blends. 

For those who want the big, intense reds Syrahs and Bordeaux blends are my go-to wines. Walla Walla, in Eastern Washington, is producing some astounding versions of both. Buty is a favorite producer of mine and Pepper Bridge is also great. Sonoma Coast Syrahs are intense, rich and structured, much bigger and more intense than their brethren in the Rhône or Eastern Washington. The South Africans are also making some amazing blends—De Toren Fusion V and Kanankop’s Paul Sauer Bordeaux blend are among two of the best. 

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others. 

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM. 

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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