Sparkling: Henri Giraud ‘François Hemart’ Brut NV, Champagne, France ($90)
Henri Giraud is not an easy Champagne to find. Their output is modest in volume, and it wasn’t until importer Ákos Forczek came along that the family bothered to sell it to anyone aside from some private customers within France. Nevertheless, keep your eyes open, because this Champagne should cost more than its rareness suggests. Extremely full and plush, it shows great almond, tropical fruit, and Meyer lemon aromas, along with the toast and brioche notes that come from the double hit of fermentation and then lees-aging in oak barrels. That the fruit isn’t overwhelmed by all that speaks to the quality of their vineyards in the Grand Cru village Äy.
Serve with: rich foie gras Michael Taus’s Grilled Foie Gras with Lobster Toast & Pineapple Vinaigrette
More Champagne: Agrapart and Larmandier-Bernier
White: Messmer Feinherb Riesling 2006, Pfalz, Germany ($28)
We often talk about the subtle balance of sweetness and acidity in German Rieslings, but I think that few really get it as right as we would like, especially when young. The sugar comes on first, and we only feel the acidity on the finish; it’s like two different wines. Ideally the two will meld together as the wine ages, but sometimes not, and for that matter, why wait? The subtle sweetness of the Messmer owes part of its success to being a “Feinherb” – a less sweet style – but it’s the elegance and interplay of peach, citrus, and minerally notes that really makes the sugars and acids so happily cooperative.
Serve with: smoked trout Ben Ford’s Smoke Trout Salad
More dry Riesling: Pairing Alsace Wines
Red: La Vieille Julienne Côtes du Rhône 2005, Rhône Valley, France ($25)
Côtes du Rhônes got a lot of press a few years ago, and while a number of affordable, reliable wines did seem to appear on wineshop shelves, there weren’t many that surprised you with their quality. This one does. Grown from old vine plots of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre just north of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, it’s full-bodied and has the requisite dark fruit and spice notes, but a smoothness on the palate takes it to another level.
Serve with: roast chicken, duck, or other poultry Terrance Brennan’s Roast Pheasant with Madeira sauce
Dessert: Boeri ‘Ribota’ Moscato d’Asti 2006, Piedmont, Italy ($14)
The soft fruit and light alcohol of Moscato d’Asti achieves what many dessert wines don’t even attempt. Whereas most aim for richness and weight, Moscato offers refreshment: peachy aromas, lemon touches, and a clean finish, all buoyed by a light effervescence. A lot of Moscatos do that much, but the Boeri does it all with a silky elegance that makes it a classier indulgence than most.
Serve with: light citrus desserts or fruit tarts Tim Butler’s Meyer Lemon ‘Torta’
More sweet stuff: Affordable Dessert Wines
Beer: Cantillon Kriek 2007, Brussels, Belgium ($15)
I recently wrote about lambics, but focused on the un-fruited, “pure” style made from blending several years together – sour beers with wine-like acidity. Many producers use that base to create a “Kriek” by adding whole cherries to the vat; the beer’s acidity balances out the sweetness of the fruit. That’s the idea, anyway; the Cantillon is one of a handful that hit the nail on the head. While the sour and maraschino cherry notes are clear, they’re integrated into dry notes of leather and earth that are part of the lambic’s nature. Its finesse is delicious, and sweetness is kept to a pleasing murmur.
Serve with: duck with a fruit sauce Tony Chittum’s Duck with Chicory, Cherries, and Green Peppercorns
More Beer: Gueuze