Sparkling: Krug 1996, Champagne, France ($350)
Watching the economy’s troubles for the past few months may not put you in the mood for wines with big price tags like this, but with the New Year upon us, I’m hoping this will be an optimistic New Years choice. May 2009 bring brighter, happier news (or perhaps, if necessary, let’s pop the cork on something extravagant as a last hurrah before we tighten the belt and start counting every penny…). 1996 certainly brought great news to the Champagne region with really variable weather during the growing reason that resulted in both high acidity—a must for long-lived, elegant, fresh bubbly—and great ripeness, which is perfect for a full-bodied style like Krug’s. In Spring, when this was released, it had loads of bright, tart fruit notes like passionfruit and tangerine. Now it’s settled down a bit, and the fruit aromas have softened toward quince and citrus much more integrated into its other, non-fruity toast, honey, and leesy notes. There are also some great floral and spice notes bookending everything, with the latter really taking hold on the very long finish. While vintage Champagnes often vary from a house’s classic style (as exemplified by their non-vintage bubbly), the richness, full body, and power of the 1996 are unmistakably Krug.
Serve with: sushi (Koji Terano’s Flounder Carpaccio with Black Truffle Vinaigrette)
More Champagne: Salon & Delamotte
White: Hatzidakis ‘Nikteri’ Assyrtiko 2006, Santorini, Greece ($25)
Many of Greece’s white wines, whether made with native or international varieties, tend to be light and aromatic. Great drinking in the summer, but perhaps a bit lacking in substance when the weather calls for a heartier white—no surprise, given the nation’s mild climate. But the Nikteri, from the sunny, crescent-shaped volcanic island of Santorini, is an exception. The grapes, 100% Assyrtiko, a prominent indigenous variety, are harvested later than normal, lending some extra weight and creaminess to the texture without sacrificing crisp acidity on the finish. Floral and grapefruit notes dominate the nose, but peach, lemon, and a light marzipan note appear on the palate. Substantial, but still refreshing.
Serve with: white fish (Norman Van Aken’s Soy and Sesame Grilled Grouper with Tropical Fruit Salad)
More from Greece: Moschofilero Rosé
Red: Red: Cafaro Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Napa Valley, California ($30)
Joe Cafaro has been making wine in Napa Valley for a long time: first for wineries like Dalle Valle, Chappellet, and Acacia, and then after 1986, at his own winery. But this is the first vintage made solely with grapes from his own vineyard. In 1996 he planted the Cafaro Family Vineyard in the Stag’s Leap District with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. 2003 is the year that the Cafaro Vineyard became the winery’s sole source of fruit, and the Cabernet shows Cafaro’s trademark balance and focus. There are dark blackberry and cassis notes, a smoky touch of cedar, a bit of pencil lead minerality, and just a touch of roasted coffee, with the earthier notes dominating the nose and fruit revealing itself later. It’s full, but not soft or lush; instead it goes for concentration and muscle…the muscle of a gymnast, however, not a linebacker.
Serve with: lamb (Geoff Gardner’s Lamb Estoufade)
More from California: Miner Family
Dessert: Domaine Weinbach Schlossberg Grand Cru Riesling VT ‘Trie Spéciale’ 2004 Alsace, France ($120/375ml)
Vendange Tardive (VT) wines are a variable lot. They don’t rely on any “tricks” like fortification or botrytis to maintain the wine’s balance of acidity and flavor alongside the sweetness, so the winemaker needs the right vineyard and the right growing conditions to mature the grapes just so. The Schlossberg vineyard, a larger Grand Cru site stretched between Kayserberg and Kientzheim, often has the right stuff to pull this off with great southern exposure and drainage. This Riesling captures the balance a good VT can have: dessert sweet, sure, but not rich and weighty. Rather, it’s about elegance and texture, unspinning notes of apricot, peach, lemon, and a touch of honey. There’s an undertone of minerality as well, and great length.
Serve with: fruit tarts, preferably stone fruits (Lisa Scruggs’ Angelfood Cake with Peach Chutney)
More Dessert Wines: French sweet wines
Beer: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Tadcaster, England ($3/22 oz.)
This is one of those “good for you” stouts, or at least it was initially conceived as such, recommended for lactating mothers. Stouts were often thought of as nutritional in the 19th century (Think of the “Guinness is good for you” advertising memorabilia you see in many Irish-style pubs.) and this one uses oatmeal in the recipe: grandmotherly, robust healthiness. Nonetheless, the style died out shortly before World War I, and remained extinct until Sam Smith resurrected it in 1980. The beer is dark, with molasses, toffee, and yes, oatmeal aromas; notes of cocoa powder and a light hoppiness appear on the palate. The finish is dry, but still soft and smooth – there’s no hoppy bite.
Serve with: blue cheese (Alexandra Guarnaschelli’s Braised Short Ribs with Marjoram and Blue Cheese)
More Beer: Irish Stouts