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Holiday Themes

Posted by guest, Dec 17, 2008.

Okay, winos.  I am going to try in earnest to be short and sweet, like a good dessert wine, because I know we are all busy planning our holiday engagements.  However, if you have read an installment or two of my previous posts then you know I tend to ramble on.  So, today I want to wish you all a very healthy and happy holiday season with good (wine) drinking.  And implore you to consider proposing theme drinking when you are planning on raising a glass or two with family and friends this holiday.  Theme drinking when it comes to wine is nothing new.  You set guidelines to the wines you will drink on a particular evening.  Not only is it adventuresome to try and find the wines, but it is also educational and will hopefully expand your palate along the way.  For example….

I hosted a Christmas dinner party with my best Napa friends. I won’t bore you with how I came up with the program for this dinner party, but, in short, it was a detailed look at our names and how the letters translated into numbers.  I always wanted a phone number like Transylvania 6-5000, but in this instance I was able to come up with something equally exciting, vintage 2002.  It made sense, 2002 was a difficult vintage worldwide, but in Napa and Sonoma we were pretty safe with regards to quality.  And living in said wine country, wines from this vintage should be readily available to us, or at least in our own private cellars.  So, the menu was set and my guests were required to bring a wine or two from this vintage.  Here’s how it played out.  Six drinkers, eight bottles of wine.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs. A staple in my sparkling wine drinking (from any vintage).  Arguably the best Methode Champenoise made in America and it paired well with Lemon and Rosemary marinated Goat Cheese, Mustard and Gruyere Crisps and Butter and Parmigiano Fennel.

Aubert Chardonnay, Ritchie Vineyard.  Heavy lemon cream and honeydew.  A transition wine, or an aperitif wine, while we moved to the table for a Roasted Carrot and Beet Salad with Arugula and Blood Oranges coupled with a Leek and Celery Root shot of Soup.  The Aubert was a weighty white wine that would have competed with the soup and salad; so, I am glad we transitioned and opened a Fernand & Laurent Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet Grandes Ruchottes 1er Cru that had the perfect amount of oxidation and the perfect amount of acidity to counter roasted root vegetables.

Before the main course of roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna we needed to continue transitioning.  Five red wines sat before us and it was good to taste the wines with and without the food interaction, especially since 2002 in Napa (and Australia) were very ripe, extracted wines; not your every-hour sippers.  Even the Spottswoode Cabernet seemed a little out of style for the reference point Cabernet Estate in St. Helena.  However much intense fruit there was present in this wine, it was still balanced and elegant.  If you are one who bases quality on evenings such as this, with regards to how much wine remains in the bottle at the end of the night, this was the clear winner.  Other reds included a Gemstone Cabernet (with its typical rich, black fruit accentuated with hints of toast over a textured finish); Larkmead Solari Cabernet (more reserved and elegant than the Gemstone; although still a bit tight and needing food to help open its core of cassis and bitter sweet chocolate tannins); Two Hands Shiraz, Samantha’s Garden Clare Valley (what a bruiser, even decanting did little to offset the floral power and oak influence in this wine); it was an intense wine with a lot of excitement factor, it reminded me of the Oscar-Meyer quality of Cayuse’s Bionic Frog. The final red was a Barbour whose elegant herb and tobacco leaf structure was a welcomed surprise from the powerful, intense and concentrated tablemates.  All good showings and I was ever impressed with my friends for finding the joy in drinking wines that we often read about.

The meal finished out of (vintage) character with a Passito from Villagrande in Sicily (Malvasia delle Lipari).  The color of this wine was an amazing amber and (although a summer sipper from my days in Sicily) was paired with an eggnog Crème Brulee, finished with a Nutella Grenache Ice Cream Sandwich.

The night was long and delicious and with the exchange of some presents by the tree and some carols played on the piano, it was a total success.  And I wish you all the same holiday wine-drinking happiness and success in the New Year.  Please share your thoughts about drinking this holiday season (already experienced or pre-planned) and see you all on the other side of the New Year.

Dan Petroski is Assistant Winemaker at Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley. Dan has an MBA from New York University and worked as an Ad Exec in New York for several years, before switching it up and trading his suit for a move out west.


Reply by John Andrews, Dec 17, 2008.

Dan, what I want to know is how do I get invited to one of these parties? ;-)

Reply by Adam Levin, Dec 18, 2008.

Sounds like a great evening.

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Dec 18, 2008.

Bravo, Dan! I'm sure I'll get up to some holiday wine over the next few weeks, but I doubt any of it will reach these heights. I will make one resolution. I'm going to try the Schramsberg (finally) on New Year's.

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