Tips from the Cellars of the North Pole

by Jim Clarke
Dimitri Drjuchin
November 2006

When I started thinking about wines for the holidays this year, I decided to consult some experts – not wine experts, but holiday experts. I had to pull some strings, but eventually I got through to a very busy North Pole. The elves are putting in a lot of overtime at the moment, but the reindeer had time to talk – sure, they have to keep in shape for the big run on Christmas Eve, but of all the North Pole’s residents, they seemed to be the least stressed.

And as it happens, they’re very keen on wine. Prancer, for example, hosts a lot of holiday parties, and says she looks to bubbly to add that festive note. However, given the scope of her parties, she also needs wines that won’t break the bank, and was thrilled when some relations down in Michigan had turned her to that state’s wines, which she says can be great values. Should you be invited to one of her parties this year, look out for the L. Mawby Blanc de Blanc NV. Made exclusively from Chardonnay, it’s light and smooth, with touches of ginger, brioche, and apple. Prancer said it makes a great start for her dinner parties and works very well with her hors doeuvres.

Dancer, freed from the needs of entertaining, had more traditional tastes; once he saw I was serious in my inquiries, he revealed a secret hoard of red and white Burgundy, hidden away as well as Superman’s Ice fortress (which, he hints, isn’t far away). He was prepared to hold forth on the subtleties of terroir ad nauseam, but I finally pinned him down and got him to recommend a single wine. He showed that he’s still got a sense of humor about wine by putting forward a white wine that shares his name, the Vincent Dancer “Les Grands Charrons” Meursault 2004. He says he likes Meursaults like this one that have all the spice and nutty aromas typical to the area without getting fat and buttery – less baked fruit aromas and more minerality.

Dasher didn’t say as much, but I got the sense he was a little exasperated by his friend and colleague’s obsession with France. He was more interested in New World wines, and told me that his choice for a winter white was the Tensley Camp 4 Vineyard Blanc 2004, a Grenache Blanc and Roussanne blend. He praised its full body and rich tropical fruit aromas, but added that it also had the acidity and some mineral notes which reindeer like Dancer might say is lacking in California’s white wines. I suggested he serve it to Dancer blind sometime to see if it would fool him, but Dasher tells me that blind tasting is not a reindeer game.

I began to wonder if, because of the North Pole’s cold weather, all the reindeers would favor rich, full-bodied wines, but Vixen put that fear to rest. She’s a Riesling fan, and feels that the grape’s lack of mass-market popularity makes it a great value for the money. Vixen recently got turned on to Riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes, and says she really enjoys the Heron Hill Dry Riesling 2004 for its balance of mineral, spice, and apricot notes. I think I touched a nerve when I mentioned that a lighter-bodied white hardly seemed like a fit with the North Pole’s weather; did I think they lived in caves up there? She icily assured me that they have central heating and all our modern conveniences, and she can drink chilled whites and eat ice cream all year round if she wants to.

It turns out Comet and Cupid are both bachelors on the make, so their feelings on wine centered on its effectiveness in romancing the does, even during the holiday season. They both added that Vixen was a cruel tease and could go home, eat her ice cream and get fat, for all they cared, but Cupid seemed secretly interested to hear that she liked crisp white wines; after all, he thought a good Soave best represented him and his way with the ladies. His fave right now is the Pieropan Soave Calvarino 2003; he tells me it’s a bit fuller bodied, but crisp, with lots of peach and floral aromas. He likes the fact that it’s dry, but feels rich on the palate. Comet’s idea of a date wine for the holidays means splashing out on Champagne – and a rosé, if he’s pushing the romance. Veuve Clicquot’s new non-vintage Brut Rosé has become a go-to pick for him on local winelists; it stays with the Champagne house’s classic, full-bodied style, and he likes that it isn’t too fruity – there’s some cherry and strawberry, but they’re balanced by brioche, floral and almond notes on the palate. He says he tries to get the waiter to let the cork fly when he opens the bottle, so it shoots through the air like a…comet.

Donner (or Donder) and Blitzen are fans of Mediterranean wines. Despite their Germanic names, they developed a taste for the wines of warmer climes during vacations spent in Spain and Italy, respectively. Donner says he’s entertaining a lot of family from out of town this year, so he’s excited about a good value Spanish red he found: the Bodegas Viñas Zamoranas Viño de la Tierra de Castilla y León Tresantos Roble 2003. He likes its mix of chocolate, blackberry, and cedar aromas, and says the long name impresses his cousins, even though its very simple: Bodegas Viñas Zamoranas is the producer, Viño de la Tierra de Castilla y León is the region, and Tresantos Roble the name of this particular wine – the latter word indicating the wine was aged in oak barrels.

Blitzen, on the other hand, brought back a case of something more high-end, not for entertaining, but to give as gifts (although he confessed he planned to keep a few bottles for himself). He’s intrigued by the appassimento process of making Amarone – drying out the grapes before fermentation to concentrate the flavors and sugars – and has a case or two of the Fratelli Speri Amarone della Valpolicella 2000 that he brought back from his latest Italian sojourn. He looks forward to seeing how it ages; right now he concedes that it’s still a bit closed, but says it already shows beautiful aromas of figs, black cherry, graphite, and floral notes. It’s full and rich, and perfect for a hearty winter meal. For that matter, he says he may open a bottle after the long Christmas Eve flight and simply enjoy it by itself or with a bit of cheese.

Rudolph seemed a bit defensive when I asked him about wine; apparently the red nose has led to lots of jokes about his drinking. Nevertheless, he does seem to favor high-alcohol reds; he told me he loved the full-bodied, spicy fruit character of the Rosenblum Cellars Lyon’s Reserve Zinfandel 2004. Its 16.2% alcohol, glycerol-rich mouthfeel keeps it smooth and velvety, with black cherry, raspberry, coffee, and chocolate notes and even a slatey touch of earth.

And the Big Man? Santa was too busy to talk with me, but the word on the street is that he keeps strictly to milk and cookies during the yearly delivery flight. However, he favors something a bit stronger when he gets back to the North Pole: Tawny Port. Before I offended her, Vixen told me that Mrs. Claus already sent her on a secret errand to pick up a bottle of the Smith Woodhouse 10 Year Tawny Port for the occasion. With its mix of dried fruit, caramel, and butterscotch aromas, it should make a good end to his evening, and a good match to any left-over cookies.

The Wines (prices are approximate):

Sparkling:
L. Mawby Blanc de Blanc NV ($18)
Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé NV ($45)

White:
Heron Hill Dry Riesling 2004 ($12)
Pieropan Soave Calvarino 2003 ($24)
Tensley Camp 4 Vineyard Blanc 2004 ($28)
Vincent Dancer “Les Grands Charrons” Meursault 2004 ($43)

Red:
Bodegas Viñas Zamoranas Viño de la Tierra de Castilla y León Tresantos Roble 2003 ($13)
Rosenblum Cellars Lyon’s Reserve Zinfandel 2004 ($40)
Fratelli Speri Amarone della Valpolicella 2000 ($63)

Dessert:
Smith Woodhouse 10 Year Tawny Port ($24)