Sparkling: J Wine Co. Cuvée 20 Brut NV, Russian River Valley, California ($26)
In Champagne, most Champagne houses define their style with a non-vintage cuvée, but don’t make a vintage product unless a particular year really merits it. J does things a little backward: they’ve been making bubbly for 20 years, but this is actually the first time they’ve made a non-vintage wine. It makes a certain sense given that the Russian River Valley’s climate is a bit more reliable than that of Champagne, but in another twist, this non-vintage sparkler was created to celebrate J’s twenty years of existence. Celebrating an anniversary with a wine that is explicitly from a mix of different years seems somewhat perverse to me, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Made in a lighter, more fruit-driven style than many of the vintage wines, the Cuvée 20 has great lemon, green apple, and pear aromas, along with floral touches and a hint of brioche. It’s medium-bodied and smooth, and fairly refreshing, making it an excellent aperitif bubbly.
Serve with: smoked salmon (Scott Campbell’s Poached Eggs with House Smoked Salmon and Sauce Hollandaise)
Californian bubbly: Iron Horse
White: Noceto Michelotti ‘Strada del Sole’ Chardonnay 2007, Piedmont, Italy ($16)
Many Chardonnay producers around the world are making un-oaked versions of the grape, generally asserting that they are emulating the racy style of Chablis. However, few really achieve that region’s laser-like acidity and chalk notes—not enough Chablis do either, but that’s another story—and instead are bland and unexciting. A better role model might be the Macon, with its softer but still crisp wines, generally made with little or no oak. That’s clearly where the Strada del Sole is coming from (figuratively-speaking) with its apple, pear, and honey notes. Medium-bodied and fresh, it spends all its aging time in stainless steel, so it’s all fruit talking. Fortunately, its fruit has something to say.
Serve with: white fish (Dante Boccuzzi’s Red Snapper with Melon and Lobster Mushrooms)
More Italian whites: Piedmont Chardonnays
Red: R Wines ‘Amaze’ Mourvedre 2006, Contra Costa, California
This American outpost of an Australian company is taking on a grape that’s often neglected in both countries. The Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa was well off the radar when they discovered it with most of its old vine (118 years old, to be precise) grapes finding their way into anonymous jug wine blends. In 2006 this block of Mourvedre produced a wine with the grape’s classic spicy, meaty character along with notes of boysenberry, chocolate, and black raspberry liqueur. It’s pretty full-bodied, but well focused rather than lush, with moderate tannins and good length.
Serve with: roasted meats (Lidia Bastianich’s Venison Ossobuco with Spaetzle)
More from Mourvedre: Bandol & Beyond
Dessert: Kopke 20 Year Tawny Port, Portugal ($50)
Making tawny Ports requires a lot of wine reserves sitting around so you can blend them into a consistent, well-balanced product. Kopke is Port’s oldest brand, dating back to 1638, so that’s not much of a problem. In fact, they’re one of only a handful of Port houses that specialize in the style, producing the usual 10, 20, and 30-year-old Ports, with a number of great Colheitas going back to the 50s currently on the market as well (a rare bird, Colheita Ports are tawny Ports from a single vintage). I often find 20-Year-Old Tawnies to offer the best balance of fruit and aged characteristics, and Kopke’s holds true to that rule. Full and round, it retains dried fruit notes of fig and quince, complemented by butterscotch and maple touches in addition to nutty tones of roasted filberts and almonds. It’s on the sweet side, but the finish is clean and long.
Serve with: roasted nut desserts (Maura Kilpatrick’s Black Walnut Steamed Pudding with Fig Preserves)
More Port: The 2003 Vintage
Beer: Brasserie Franches-Montagnes Cuvée Alex Le Rouge Imperial Stout, Jura, Switzerland ($6/12oz.)
The “Brewery of the Free Mountains,” as their name translates from an old Swiss French dialect, is one of the leaders on the Swiss craft beer scene. Their Alex Le Rouge is a salute to another leader, known as “Alex the Red,” a co-founder of the Swiss “extreme beer” association. Imperial Stouts sometimes fall into the “extreme” category for their higher alcohol and sweet, almost dessert-like character. They were intended for the Russian Czar’s court: the alcohol helped them travel well, and the Russian court had a sweet tooth (Think of the outrageously sweet “doux” Champagnes, primarily made for the Russian market back in the 19th century.). This Imperial Stout is actually a bit lighter than most, and is brewed with tea, vanilla, and pepper—the pepper and tea tannins keep the sweetness in check. It also shows some dark fruit notes, figs and dates, for example, as well as touches of dark, roasted malt, and cocoa powder.
Serve with: bittersweet chocolate (Todd Gray’s Bittersweet Chocolate “Ravioli”)
More from the Alps: Jura, France