Libations yule love this holiday season
Whether you view the festive season as a joyous time for family, friends, and celebration or as an overly commercialized, stress-filled, orgy of consumerism (or maybe a bit of both), it does offer those in either camp (yet another) reason to indulge. It also presents the opportunity for alco-scribes, such as moi, to flip though the past year’s tasting notes to see what buried treasures might be worth recommending to those looking to warm their winter-chilled bones.
So..on Dasher, on Dancer, on…well, you get it.
Wonderful Winter Wines
On the twelfth day of Christmas the vineyards gave to me…wine. The obligatory bubbly and Chablis/Muscadet for the obligatory oysters aside, winter wines – red and white – need to be big and cuddly. Some ripe, plump California Chardonnay would kick things off nicely.
Consider the 2015 La Crema Chardonnay in either the Monterey or Sonoma Coast versions. Both are full and lush, with the Monterey version showing fragrant caramel corn, browned butter, hazelnut, and tropical fruit aromatics and ripe pineapple, buttered nuts, and sweet vanilla flavours. The Sonoma Coast doles out whiffs of pear, honeysuckle, and clove that reappear on the palate in a supple, silky combination of flavour and feel.
Travelling the same general road in terms of style, complexity, and tropical lusciousness, also consider the succulent Robert Mondavi Winery 2014 Chardonnay Reserve from the cool Carneros region (coconut, tropical fruit, Asian spices, and toasted nuts; very complex), the Tom Gore Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay (pear, vanilla, baked apple, and clove; rich but elegant) and the powerful-yet-balanced and sleek J. Lohr Estates 2015 Riverstone Chardonnay (a super buy for a classy Cali Chard). Also, though from South Africa (a bit of a jaunt form California, admittedly), the Fleur du Cap 2015 Chardonnay offers terrific bang-for-the-buck for those who may not be rich, but are looking for a wine that certainly offers richness.
These Chardonnays would work well with a traditional turkey feast, a better option would be a mid-weight, flavour-packed red. Look no further than the La Crema 2015 Pinot Noir from California’s Sonoma Coast region. Enticing cedar/sandalwood, cherry, tobacco leaf, and cinnamon aromas lead into a silky smooth, raspberry-tinged palate that finishes with subtle baking spice nuances.
Other blood-warming American reds have recently passed my palate. These include (in no particular order), the great value J. Lohr Estates Seven Oaks 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon that’s packed with ripe black fruit all wrapped in a full-bodied, velvety, cassis-infused flavour cloak. Sticking with American Cabs (why not?), say hello to the Wines Of Substance 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. With fruit sourced from three outstanding Washington state vineyards, this wine combines New World forward fruit with Old World sophistication and style. Black liquorice, currant, dried herbs, and mineral on the nose. Plush, chewy, plumy fruit is restrained by some mildly gritty tannin and a lively acidic backbone. Having roast beast instead of turkey? This is your guy (or gal, as it were).
Heading south, keep an eye out for the outstanding Chilean offerings from Viña Valdivieso, including it’s super-premium Caballo Loco. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Carménère, it’s currently in its 16th incantation. The story behind it is almost as engaging as the wine itself. Fire up your search engine of choice and check it out. Also check out some of these gems from “across the pond.”
Those in the know, know that Portugal is a great source for wines that punch above their weight class in terms of value for money. A new addition to the market that fits this bill perfectly is the Silk & Spice 2016 Red Blend. Fermented from a blend of four different grape varieties sourced from three different regions, it offers up suggestions of plum, blackcurrant, dried herbs and mineral on the nose. In the mouth, it’s rich and ripe, but there’s a core of balanced tannin and acidity that will ensure a good holiday dinner match.
A short jaunt west brings us into Spain and the the legendary Rioja region – personified by the legendary house of Osborne and its personable PR & Communication Director Rocío Osborne – who was in town to lead some lucky folks through a tasting of the firm’s top Montecillo Gran Reserva Selección Especial dating back to 1975. You’ll probably have a tough time uncovering some of that treasure, but you will be able to find some of the winery’s Montecillo 2010 Reserva and 2013 Crianza offerings. Classically-styled Rioja reds, they are both robust enough to accompany a holiday feast and supple enough to be enjoyed on their own or with lighter tapas and cheese courses.
Robust would be the operative word when it comes to a trio of offerings from Italy’s Cottini group of wineries, including Monte Zovo and Villa Annaberta. Both of these Veneto-based concerns produce a Valpolicella Ripasso, with the Monte Zovo Sa’ Solin 2014 Valpolicella Ripasso being a bit bolder and in-your-face then the slightly more elegant and sophisticated Villa Annaberta 2014 Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore. Can’t make up your mind? Buy them both. Or save the money you’d spend on each and spring for a bottle of the Villa Annaberta 2012 Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG. The perfect fireside wine, it’s full, intense and packed with dense, chewy dark berry and dried plum.
Beautiful Bold Beers
While wine is fine, some find more cheer in beer. However, some beers will no doubt appeal to both the beer and wine crowd, In particular, Sofie from Chicago’s Goose Island Brewhouse.
Bernard Priest-Blais, Head Brewer at Goose Island offers this comment:
“Our sparkling Belgian Style Saison is a blend of freshly fermented beer and beer that has been wine barrel-aged with an abundance of hand-zested orange peel and Brettanomyces yeast. Spicy white pepper notes contrast a citrusy tartness and a light, refreshing, vanilla finish will excite those fond of Champagne. Originally brewed by Belgian farmers to attract and compensate the best farm hands, we were inspired to brew an exceptional ale as inviting as those original Belgian Farmhouse ales. Light and effervescent, we named it for our founder’s granddaughter Sofie. This beer is excellent fresh as well as after a few months in the cellar allowing the Brettanomyces character to develop.”
And, to keep up the wine analogy, why not swap out the standard wine and cheese thing with a beer and cheese tasting. One of Canada’s top cheese experts, Afrim Pristine tells how below.
Afrim Pristine on Why Beer and Cheese is a good match:
Afrim Pristine of Toronto’s Cheese Boutique is one of Canada’s leading fromage experts. Here he gives advice on matching beer and cheese.
Beer is incredibly versatile and pairs nicely with cheese mainly because of the carbonation. There are a range of flavours and tastes that can pair with cheese from the most mild to the funkiest of flavours. I’ve highlighted my top 3 basic principles when pairing cheese and beer.
- Align intensity. Make sure that bold cheeses are paired with bold beers, and pair delicate cheeses with delicate beers. A misalignment in intensity will result in the cheese or beer dominating the palate, at the expense of the other. But if the intensities are aligned, the flavours and characteristics in both the beer and cheese will have the opportunity to shine.
- Bridge flavours. Look for a flavour that is present in both the cheese and the beer…they need to have something in common to bond over! Look for flavour and characteristics in beer that can also describe the cheese. Think peppery, woody, grassy, earthy, floral, herbaceous, nutty, smoky, tart, funky, fruity, toffee, caramel, citrus and spicy.
- Cut tastes and textures. For a dynamic pairing, you need an element of contrast. This is the why beer and cheese are a match made in heaven. The carbonation in beer naturally cuts through the richness and creaminess in cheese’s texture. Beer also can have bitterness, sweetness or acidity that can cut through the salt and fat of cheese.
Below are three styles of cheeses that pair well with Goose Island Sofie:
- Aromatic, creamy brie
- Lush, fresh goat cheese
- Semi-firm cow’s milk cheese
Supremely Special Spirits
Of course, what would the holidays be without some spirits to lift your spirits. There’s a ton of stuff happening in the whisky world…but you’ll have to wait for the February/March 2018 issue of Quench for my full report. That being said, some new Scottish Speyside malts hit the market after I had submitted the story.
Glen Grant 12-Year-Old and Glen Grant 18-Year-Old have landed in Canada.The Glen Grant 12-Year-Old recently bagged the Double Gold for Best 12-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch in the 2017 San Francisco Wine and Spirits Competition.
The 12-Year-Old sports aromas redolent of pear drop, citrus, vanilla, toasted grains, black cherry and mild smoke, with refined, elegant, and complex flavours of malt, nougat, and subtle spice. The 18-Year-Old…well, try it and let me know!
Though brown spirits seem to be getting all the attention as of late, the number of boutique gins available these days have been steadily – if quietly – increasing.
Bombay Spirit Co., Ltd’s Star of Bombay represents the ultra-premium end of the ultra-popular Bombay gin lineup. Slowly infused with 12 botanicals and distilled using a lengthy process, this is a fragrant, complex gin that really deserves to be served on its own. However, this doesn’t mean it won’t work wonders in a variety of cocktails, including a 50/50 Martini. Introduced to me at a unique event in Toronto where Chef Michael Kaplan from New York City-based Two Forks restaurant guided us through a demo of Star of Bombay-infused dishes, while Bombay Sapphire Master Mixologist Gary Hayward helped us craft complementary Star of Bombay cocktails, including the aforementioned 50/50 Martini.
Combine 1.5 parts Star of Bombay with an equal portion of Martini Dry Vermouth and a couple dashes of orange bitters. Stir together over ice, strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with an orange peel.
For a gin that really captures the spirit of the season, look for the Christmas Gin from Alberta’s Eau Claire Distillery. A seasonal offering, this gin is infused with that classic holiday duo of Frankincense and Myrrh. Unlike most London-style gins that feature a prominent juniper note, the Christmas Gin shows more earthy elements, with citrus, herbal, resin notes on the nose with flavours that run along the lines of dark berry, amaro, citrus, and herbs. A hint of refreshing bitterness on the finish.
With cocktails and dinner done, it’s time for a relaxing digestif.
While Germany isn’t typically associated with brandy, the Asbach Uralt Aged 3 Years is worth considering. Rich plum, sultana, dried apricot, and fruitcake aromas usher in flavours of candied orange, nutmeg, plum, and caramel. A hint of vanilla appears on the smooth, long tail end.
Also from Germany – but flavoured with herbs from 43 countries – the classic Underberg Natural Herbal Bitter is a perfect postprandial. A complex, fresh aroma of anise, honey, menthol, lemon balm, and a host of other intriguing smells lead up to flavours of soothing liquorice root, spice and herbs with a slightly bitter anise finish.
Nice & Non-Alcoholic
Finally, how is the designated driver (or those wishing to get a jump on the “I won’t drink as much/ever again” New Year’s resolution to get through all this without cracking? Enter Seedlip Non-Alcoholic Spirits. Yep, you heard that right, distillates with zero alcohol. Blended and bottled in England, the copper pot “spirits” are alcohol-free, sugar-free, sweetener-free, artificial flavour-free, calorie-free and (obviously) guilt-free.
So how do these buzz-free numbers taste? Well, the Garden 108 version (Leaf. Herb. Pod) shows vegetal top notes, with grassy spearmint, rosemary, pea pod, and vegetable nuances. The Spice 94 (my preferred) shows sandalwood, cedar, and citrus aromas. Although they lack the weight and viscosity of “real” spirits, they are nonetheless complex and quite refreshing on their own, but they really shine when mixed with a quality tonic like those from Fever Tree.
So whether wet or dry, tis the season, so let the yule fuel flow.