By Jim Clarke
December 2006

These are all wines (or beers or spirits) that I have recently enjoyed and which somehow-or-another stood out from the pack. Some were new to me, some were new vintages of wines I was previously familiar with, and others are quaffs that I have revisited and possibly even developed a new appreciation for.

SPARKLING: Larmandier-Bernier “Terre de Vertus” NV Champagne, France

100% Chardonnay, this bubbly works the lighter side of Champagne, with chalk, mineral and light biscuity notes along with lemon peel and floral elements. It’s racy, smooth, and dry (it’s bottled with no dosage whatsoever, so it couldn’t be drier). It makes a perfect aperitif Champagne, and smoothly transitions into the first course.

Serve with: Oysters

WHITE: Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2006, Marlborough, New Zealand

2006 hasn’t struck me as the best vintage for Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blancs; a lot of the wines I sampled at a recent tasting were too green and underripe, and lacked that characteristic grapefruit/passionfruit exuberance. However, as with any vintage generalization, there are always exceptions. The Wairau Reserve was a definite standout, with a good mix of grass, mineral, and fruit aromas that made for complexity and respectable length; this wine would have caught my attention even if its peers had been up to snuff.

Serve with: Chilean sea bass

RED: Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2004, Walker Bay, South Africa

When I tasted this back in Spring I enjoyed it, but I didn’t go wild. Now, several months later, it’s opened up and is firing on all cylinders: medium-bodied, with lots of raspberry and plum, spice, forest floor, and mushroom notes. It’s got gentle tannins, and well-balanced acidity. Previously the 2005 made a stronger impression on me; I’ll be curious to see if it, too, opens up into something even greater.

Serve with: Mushrooms

DESSERT: Bedell Cellars Late Harvest Riesling 2005

The label doesn’t tell the whole story here: it’s not just late harvest (The grapes are frozen, creating an “artificial” icewine.) and it’s not just Riesling (There’s 20% Gewurztraminer in the blend.). Both factors help explain the wine’s intensity and aromatic character; there’s a mix of tropical and stone fruit aromas such as mango, pineapple, peach, and tangerine, plus some honey and floral touches. It’s sweet, but not overly rich, and finishes cleanly.

Serve with: Biscotti

BEER: Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout

Ever since I first tasted it back in college, Imperial Stout has been one of the beers that I most look forward to each winter. Originally developed for the Russian Imperial court, it’s a richer, sweeter beer than the more-familiar Irish stouts. Brooklyn Brewery’s rendition is classic, with chocolate, smoke, and espresso flavors created through the careful blending of roasted malts. It’s also over 10% alcohol, and while it’s beautifully balanced, it does pack a punch – another contrast with Irish stouts, which are, despite their reputation to the contrary, fairly low in alcohol.

Serve with: Uh, chocolate

SPIRIT: Marolo Grappa di Barolo NV

Actually, while I’m excited about their non-vintage Barolo Grappa, Marolo has also released a gift pack of four unusual, aged Barolo Grappas for the holidays. The non-vintage is rich and smooth, well-removed from the firewater grappa you might get at the end of the meal in some anonymous Italian trattoria. Aromas include lavender, black cherry, and vanilla. The aged Grappas embellish this theme, each in their own way, with notes of spice, smoke, almond, and even white chocolate. And while they’re smooth, they’re still Grappa, so they’re sure to warm you up inside even during the dead of winter.

Serve with: Espresso



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