Sparkling: Veuve-Clicquot Ponsardin ‘La Grande Dame’ 1998, Champagne, France ($120)
The ubiquity of the big Champagne houses often makes me feel like there’s little to write about there – chances are you’ve tasted their wines at some point and have some idea what Veuve-Clicquot’s full-bodied, opulent style is all about. Sure, there are new developments, but they’re mostly lifestyle-related promotions. I guess I’m a bit of a purist – it’s about the the wine, and funky chairs or unusual packaging be damned (or at least held at a skeptical distance). Vintage Champagne, though, inserts itself into the annual wine-coverage cycle that the rest of the wine world enjoys, especially when a wine like the 1998 “La Grande Dame” comes into its own. 1998 has proven to be a generous vintage, with some of the intensity of 1996 but ready to serve much sooner. That generosity plays into the Clicquot house style, and the 1998 enthusiastically reveals great baked pear, almond croissant, and quince up front. On the palate it unleashes a touch of toast and minerality to complement those fruit tones, and stays powerful and beautifully focused through into the finish.
Serve with: Lobster or risotto (Todd Gray’s Risotto of Summer Tomatoes with Bacon-Wrapped Monkfish)
More Champagne: Bubbly Terroir
White: Meulenhof ‘Erdener Treppchen’ Riesling Kabinett 2007, Mosel, Germany ($18)
For Germany, 2007 seems a bit super-charged: the kabinett wines drink like spätleses, the spätlese intrude into auslese territory. For many producers, August rains pushed back the harvest dates, introducing a bit of extra ripeness and opulence. That being said, this Meulenhof takes on that bump of richness without losing any of its sprightliness. Peach and melon aromas are touched by a hint of floral and mineral character, and evolve on the palate into more exotic fruits. It’s light, and finishes clean, but has a pleasing, pearl-like roundness to its texture.
Serve with: Trout, spicy Asian dishes (Cliff Wharton’s Red Thai Curry Shrimp w/Golden Pineapple and Jasmine Rice)
More Riesling: Finger Lakes
Red: Chateau Taillefer 2001, Pomerol, France ($40)
This chateau – at 30 acres, one of Pomerol’s largest – lies at the southern edge of the appellation, and uses a fairly typical blend, heavy on the Merlot (75%) with Cabernet Franc making up the difference. It’s a good compromise wine for Bordeaux fans who are entertaining Napa-phile visitors. It’s got the requisite fullness and dark fruit character to satisfy the later, while the host won’t be giving up on Bordelaise smoky graphite and floral touches – and won’t be swamped by high alcohol. At seven years old, the tannins, like the nose, have opened up, and are smooth and not overly drying.
Serve with: Lamb (Daniel Boulud’s Stuffed Saddle of Lamb)
More Reds: Wine with Lamb
Dessert: Primitivo Quiles ‘1948 Fondillon Solera,’ Alicante, Spain ($65)
This is a bit of an oddity. Primitivo Quiles goes way back to 1780, and is dedicated to the Monastrell grape, known elsewhere as Mourvedre...and not as a dessert wine. In Alicante, though, a technique familiar to sherry drinkers turns this grape toward unusual ends. Unlike in sherry, there is no fortification; instead the grapes are harvested late to get that extra bit of alcohol. Then the newest vintage is put into the top of the solera, a “ladder” of barrels that feed down into the stored wines of all the previous vintages. The aging of the oldest wine – in this case, 1948 – is moderated by this ongoing addition, so that the wine is kept alive while still developing mature tertiary flavors from aging. In this way raisin, dried cranberry, fig, and date aromas meet up with toffee, walnut, and caramel notes. While initially sweet on the attack, the finish is long and dry, with a light tannic touch.
Serve with: Dried fruits (Reed Hearon’s Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Raisin Pie)
More From Spain: Wine & Cheese
Beer: Bøgedal Bryghus ‘No. 101’ Pale Ale, Vejle, Denmark
Denmark is home to a booming micro-brew scene, and Bøgedal Bryghus represents it at its most artisanal. The brewery uses no pumps, and through the brewing process everything is moved only by gravity; the feeling is that pumps would damage the beer as it moves through the brewery. While beer recipes are repeated, each batch is allowed to develop in its own way, without temperature controls or filtration. The No. 101 is an amber shade of pale ale, full-bodied, with toffee, apricot, honey and wheat aromas. It’s extremely elegant, and while it seems sweet initially, it turns dry on the mid-palate and finishes smooth.
Serve with: Turkey and game birds (Dean Fearing’s Roast Turkey with Chili-Pecan Sauce)
More Beer: Brasserie Caracole