Sparkling: Gosset Grand Reserve Brut NV
Gosset has a winemaking pedigree going back to 1584 – in fact, it’s the oldest wine producer in the region, although Ruinart got a jump on them when it came to cultivating bubbles. Their Grande Reserve backs up the idea that a non-vintage Champagne should epitomize a Champagne house’s styles; full-bodied, with a smooth mousse, good length, and lots of complexity – floral, hazelnut, baked pear, toast and honey notes take turns entertaining the palate – its name should be as famous as its history is long.
Serve with: Creamy soups John Tesar’s Maine Lobster Bisque
More Champagne: Rosé
White: Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2006, Finger Lakes, New York
I keep hearing stories about how the Finger Lakes’ bad winters of 2003 and 2004 were particularly devastating for Gewurztraminer; at the same time, I’m finding more and more producers there who are doing something special and elegant with the grape – Hazlitt among them. Maybe pity for the surviving vines focused their attention, but whatever the case, the 2006 has great floral aromatics and tangerine notes, without the oily texture or bitter finish that mar some Gewurz. It’s round in the mouth, but still clean.
Serve with: Light curries Jack Yoss’ Thai Curry Soup with Marinated Shellfish
More New York Wines: Finger Lakes Reds
Red: Bucklin "Old Hill Ranch” Zinfandel 2005, Sonoma Valley, California
Old Hill Ranch was planted with grapes about 150 years ago; within twenty years it was getting raves for its Zinfandel. By 1940, though, the ranch passed out of the family and the vineyards fell into disarray. In the mid-80s new owner Otto Teller put it back on its feet and sold grapes to Joel Peterson at Ravenswood, who bottled it as a single-vineyard wine. Teller’s step-children took over and began making wine under the Bucklin label in 2000; five vintages later, the vineyard’s character is still coming through loud and clear: lots of dark fruit like blackberry and black plum, with a bit of vanilla and pepper. It’s full-bodied, of course, but with good focus and structure – none of that overwhelming flabbiness and alcohol that sometimes besmirches Zin’s reputation.
Serve with: Barbecue Mark Miller, Stephan Pyles and John Sedlar’s Coriander-Cured Beef Tamales with Barbecue-Onion Marmalade
More Zinfandel: Ravenswood
Dessert: Campbells Rare “Merchant Prince” Muscat NV, Rutherglen, Australia
Australia and California both made their share of fortified, rich, sweet wines in the 1800s; while Prohibition put the kibosh on that on this side of the Pacific, it remained an important part of Aussie tradition and Rutherglen is the country’s dessert wine flagship. Campbell’s “Merchant Prince” is 100% Muscat (Muscat a Petit Grains Rouge, specifically), fortified, aged, and blended – base wines in the blend can be as much as 60 years old. It brings together rich raisin, date, and prune notes with less fruity touches of caramel, toasted walnut, maple syrup, and mahogany. It’s seriously viscous and sweet, but the acidity and tannins keep the finish clean…and long.
Serve with: Coffee-flavored or caramel desserts Eric Bertoia’s Mocha Cake, Hazelnut Praline, and Coffee Ice Cream
More sweetness: French dessert wines
Beer: High and Mighty Brewing Co., “Two-Headed Beast,” Holyoke, Massachusetts
I sometimes find stout to be like Champagne; just as few wineries outside the classic French region can make bubblies that reach the same heights, a stout that isn’t Irish also faces an uphill battle. The usual problem is lots of roast malt flavors, but a thin watery texture. The Two-Headed Beast has little to worry about on this account, showing plenty of focus and depth in its texture, as well as superb length and a firm dry finish. It also blends those expected roast espresso, dark chocolate aromas with some fruit and spice touches of dates, prunes, and caraway.
Serve with: Oysters Allison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing’s Deconstructed Oysters Rockefeller
More Stout: Ireland
Spirit: Lamb’s Navy Rum
White spirits have ruled the marketplace for a number of years, so I suppose it’s only natural that rum producers have spent more time hyping their clear products, in hopes of luring vodka drinkers into the rum section of the liquor store (the rebirth of the mojito must have been a godsend in that regard). Lamb’s does make a white rum, sure, but when I close my eyes and think of the name, I see something darker (and not just because my eyes are closed). It’s actually a toffee and mahogany color – not as opaque as Myers or Gosling – and shows notes of caramel, molasses, dried figs, and a bit of white pepper. Medium-bodied, it’s not as rich as its aromas suggest, and goes well on the rocks or in cocktails with a touch of spice or ginger – it makes a refreshing (if not all that dark) Dark and Stormy, for example. Need to relax before bed? Close your eyes and count Lamb's.
More spirits: Secret Spirits