Sparkling: Schloss Gobelsburg Sekt NV, Kamptal, Austria
Chardonnay makes light crisp wines, but can also get very full and powerful. It also makes great sparkling wines. Grüner Veltliner can also appear in a variety of styles…and it, too, makes a good sparkler. Schloss Gobelsburg’s Sekt (the correct name for German or Austrian sparkling wines) lets Grüner do most of the talking, rounding it out with small amounts of Riesling and Pinot Noir. It’s aged three years on the lees like a classic Champagne, and shows it with classic leesy, toasty notes, while Grüner’s characteristic white pepper and floral notes also make an appearance. Medium-bodied, it’s pretty elegant stuff, with a smooth mousse and good concentration.
Serve with: broth-based soups (Peter Vasquez’s Thai Crab and Coconut Soup)
More from Austria: Bubbly Terroir
White: Scali Blanc 2005, Paarl, South Africa
South Africa, like California, may focus on the single varietal wine, but there’s a lot to be said for blends (just ask many of France’s most famous regions, like Bordeaux and Chateauneuf-du-Pape). That’s true for whites and reds both, and the Scali Blanc is one of several white blends I’ve had from South Africa recently that show lots of complexity and flavor. There’s nothing traditional about this combo, though, with 70% Chenin Blanc filled out by Chardonnay and Viognier. The Chenin seems to bring the acidity and fruit, while Chardonnay gives it weight and a great, firm texture, and Viognier adds some lift, with delicious floral aromatics on the nose especially. There’s notes of honey, mango, and flint, and the finish wraps up with lots of the latter, plus some citrus and spice.
Serve with: Monkfish (Bradley Ogden’s Grilled Monkfish with Mussels and Wilted Spinach)
More from South Africa: Semillon
Red: Forja del Salnes Goliardo Caiño 2006, Rias Baixas, Spain
Rias Baixas’s coastal Albariño vineyards have provided me with many go-to whites for me for a long time, and now we’re starting to see some distinctive reds from the region. Caiño is the grape – Caiño Tinto, I should note, as there is a Blanco, too. Given the maritime influence of the Atlantic here, this is a medium-bodied red, nothing too full, but it’s got great density and focus. The fruit notes include black raspberry and plum, but it’s the slatey minerality, cedar, and lavender touches that really make it exciting. Dry, and only moderately tannic, it’s quite fresh with being flighty or overly juicy.
Serve with: Pork Loin (Mark Peel’s Roast Loin of Pork with braised red cabbage and port wine sauce)
More Rias Baixas: Albariño
Dessert: Vaona Recioto della Valpolicella ‘Peagne’ 2003, Veneto, Italy
The Recioto method of drying out the grapes before fermentation is one of the only ways of taking ripe fruit – not overripe, like in a late-harvest wine – and getting the concentration of sugar, flavors, and acidity you need for a good dessert wine without the addition of something else like botrytis or fortification. The "Peagne" is named after the traditional racks used to dry the grapes, and the wine is made from the three most common Valpolicella varieties: Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella (plus 10% of a much more obscure variety, Dindarella). The wine is dark and dense, with prune, raisin, date, and mulberry notes; it's very smooth and quite rich and sweet. However, it keeps its balance and finishes clean and long.
Serve with: Berry Tarts (Michael Mina’s Strawberry Tart with Vanilla Sauce)
More Italian Wine: The Veneto
Beer: Birrificio Italiano ‘Scires,’ Lurago Marinone, Italy
Birrifico Italiano, founded in 1996, claims to be Italy’s first microbrewery. Their location in Lombardy certainly puts them in the heart of things, and they haven’t been afraid to experiment. The "Scires," for example, might at first seem to replicate the Kriek style of Belgian lambic. While they do have some things in common, like cherries, mixing old and young sour beer, and wild yeasts, other parts of the fermentation are less familiar (like using both bottom-fermenting (ale) and top-fermenting (lager) yeasts). The technique makes for a beer with a clear black cherry core that doesn’t sacrifice complexity for fruitiness. There’s some earth, malt, and leather notes as well, and even a touch of raspberry. Fairly weighty, it finishes dry and smooth.
Serve with: Venison (Mohammad Islam’s Seared Cervena Venison Loin with California Cherry Compote)
More Beer: Birrificio del Ducato