Sparkling: Piper-Heidsieck ‘Rosé Sauvage’ Champagne NV, France ($40)
How can a Champagne be a both a spritely, frothy pink color and “sauvage” (literally “savage” in English) at the same time? It may sound like a French poodle dressed in black leather studs, but it’s actually quite enjoyable in the glass. In this case “sauvage” means there is no dosage in the finished wine, so it’s as dry as can be. Most rosé Champagnes (and non-rosés, for that matter) are Brut, and many push the upper limits of sweetness for that broadly defined category. But as with many still wines, the contrast of fruit aromas – in this case, notes of red currant, strawberry, cherry, and red plum – with the dryness of the wine on the palate creates a lot of the interest in the Champagne. Light-bodied, it’s also quite smooth, avoiding the harshness that plagues some other very dry sparkling wines.
Serve with: eggs with bacon or mushrooms (Gordon Hamersley’s Frisée Salad with Lardons and Poached Egg)
More Champagne: Rosé Bubbly
White: Château de l’Hospital 2006, Graves, Bordeaux, France ($35)
Another scary label, what with the words “Graves” and “Hospital” so prominently displayed. Graves is one of the only major dry white wine regions in Bordeaux (though they also make reds as well); the Château, situated in the heart of the appellation, has turned around in the past ten years under the direction and ownership of Jean-Paul Lafragette, who unfortunately sold the Château this summer due to legal troubles. Hopefully the new owners will continue on the same track (wine-wise, at least). The 2006 has a great mix of tart fruits like grapefruit and lime alongside mineral, grass, and beeswax notes. It’s medium-bodied, with fresh acidity and good length.
Serve with: salads with fish (Sergio Sigala’s Grilled French Turbot with Fennel, Blood Orange, Nicoise Olive Salad, and Fresh Marjoram)
More Semillon: Australia and South Africa
Red: Graham Beck ‘The Joshua’ 2002, South Africa ($25)
Most of the larger, multi-region wine producers of South Africa are corporate entities; while they do make a wide range of wines, Graham Beck remains a family owned and operated company. They began three generations ago in the inland Robertson region; The Joshua is a product of their newer properties in the Franschoek and Stellenbosch, the heart of South Africa’s wine country. In this case, the Viognier, which constitutes 7% of the blend, comes from Franschoek, while the Syrah is all Stellenbosch fruit. This northern Rhone-style blend creates classic results: dark fruit, earth, spice and pepper, and floral touches of lavender and violet. It’s not the full-bodied, over-the-top richness and exuberance of Australian Shiraz, instead this wine’s about focus, complexity, and length.
Serve with: lamb (Anette Grecchi-Gray’s Berbere Braised Lamb Shank)
More South African Reds: Pinotage
Dessert: Château Pajzos Tokaji Aszü 1993, Tokaj, Hungary ($65)
I don’t know why this is still available. ’93 was Tokaji’s first really exceptional vintage after the end of Communism; foreign investment had had three or four years to spruce up technology in the wineries and clean up work in the vineyards, and many of the wines were truly excellent. So they should have been snapped up and drank by now, or be aging quietly in some savvy collector’s cellar. Be that as it may, some of the 1993 wines are still in the market, and at good prices. The 1999 and 2000 wines, many of which are currently on the market, are also exceptional, but check this out to get a sense of how well Tokaji ages. The apricot, honey, and fig notes have deepened, floral notes have transformed into a more burnished spiciness, and the texture has become both more intense and more even, with the cleansing acidity of the finish integrated and smooth, unwrapping gradually instead of appearing as a separate element of the wine on its own.
Serve with: blue cheeses (Chris Schlesinger’s Grilled Peaches with Blue Cheese and Balsamic)
More Hungarian Wines: Tokaji
Beer: North Coast Brewing Co. ‘Old Stock Ale’ 2006, Fort Bragg, California ($4)
Convinced you should cellar your Tokaji? Well, how about your beer, then? The vintage on the Old Stock Ale is there not so you can compare the quality of the vintage, but so you can keep track of how long you’ve been keeping it around – and I don’t mean it’s a “drink by” date. This barleywine style will age and develop for at least ten years, quite possibly longer. It’s still quite drinkable young, with notes of fig, quince, caramel, and toffee upfront, with spicier notes of nutmeg and brown sugar gradually unfolding in the glass. It’s firm and focused, with sweetness held in check by some hoppy bitterness. With time, sweetness and bitterness should both become more integrated and even, effectively fading from view and therefore making room for more play in the flavors and texture. At these prices, you can afford to invest in some for drinking now, and some to open in years to come.
Serve with: rich spice cakes (Nicole Kaplan’s Apple Spice Cake with Cheddar Bacon Crumble and Maple Pecan Ice Cream)
More Beer: Rochefort