Features Twelve Days of Wine
Twelve Days of Christmas
December 2008

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”

With the first day of Christmas comes the partridge in the pear tree and by day 12, you’ve got quite a pile. Lords, maids, turtle doves and pipers…it’s like a Renaissance Fair! Clearly my true love is a very generous person. The holiday season is a wonderful time, but I’m thinking twelve days of gifts is a bit much. So, what to do with the old song’s (and the season’s) bounty? Pair it with wine, of course!

A Partridge in A Pear Tree
The partridge, for example—there’s nothing like roasted game bird, right?—perhaps with a good, medium-bodied red. Old-school Riojas seem to be making a resurgence of late, so maybe a bottle of the Señorío de Peciña Crianza Rioja 2000. Medium-bodied, with red fruit notes of cherry, red currant, and raspberry, along with touches of vanilla and dill from some American oak; it should do quite nicely.

Two Turtle Doves
The doves—well, maybe I can discreetly sell them to a magician, orr better yet, release them at some sort of peace celebration. In that case, I’ll need to pop the cork on some festive Champagne, but something I can afford to buy for a lot of people. That’s tough given the escalation in Champagne prices, but I’ve seen lots of the Henriot Brut Souverain around at decent prices of late, and it’s quite good: drier, with light biscuit and citrus notes, plus some pear and vanilla. It’s also pretty elegant and smooth.

Three French Hens
I won’t be so kind with the French hens. The clucking is driving me crazy for one thing, and they also taste really good. I’ll start with a classic coq au vin—perfect with some red Burgundy. There are a lot of great 2005s and 2006s to choose from right now, and some of the lesser known villages are making some really great values. Domaine Faiveley, for example, while they’re based in the prestigious village of Nuits-St.-Georges and have holdings up and down the Côtes d’Or, they also have vineyards farther south in the Côte Chalonnaise. Their 2005 Mercurey ‘Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet’ is medium-bodied, with great floral, raspberry, and red plum notes, plus a little note of spice. It’s got just the right tannins and structure to match with these birds; let the clucking cease and dinner begin.

Four Calling Birds
On the other hand, these calling birds are pretty quiet, despite their name. The name was originally “colly birds.” “Colly” came from a word for coal, and the birds are black. I think it would be best to just release them discreetly—don’t want to offend the gift-giver—and go have a beer, specifically, North Coast Brewing’s ‘Le Merle.’  It’s medium-bodied, with great lemon, pineapple, and mango notes, as well as a floral hoppiness on the finish. It’s a saison, which means it’s originally intended for summer, but it’s got enough weight and power to taste good any time of year. And “Le Merle” means blackbird in French, so I can safely say that I enjoyed the “colly birds.”

Five Golden Rings
I’m certainly grateful for the gold rings—ka-ching!—though I don’t know how I’ll ever wear them all. I can’t match that in generosity without winning the lottery, but maybe a wine with some sort of cute connection would work. Let’s see…five rings… Olympics… China?.... No…I mean, sure, they’re making more and more wine there, but… maybe something more classical…Greece! The Mitravelas Estate in Nemea, the northern part of the Peleponnese, makes some great reds, avoiding the acidity problems and stewy tomato character that plague some Greek wines. Their 2004 Agiorghitiko is fairly full, but well-focused, with red and dark fruit notes, some roast coffee, pepper, and cocoa touches, and smooth tannins.

Six Geese-A-Laying
I complained about how noisy the hens are, but I forgot that the geese are worse! On the other hand, the eggs could keep me going for a long time. I’ll need something crisp to go with all those omelettes, maybe a Grüner Veltliner. Austria’s most famous indigenous variety comes in a range of styles, but a lighter, crisper one like the Nikolaihof ‘Hefeabzug’ 2007 is perfect here.  Some of these lighter wines have the grape’s white pepper character, acidity, and little else, but not this one. Prolonged lees aging (which is what “hefeabzug” means) gives it a lot of textural interest and brings some brioche notes to complement the grape’s spice, lemon, and floral aromas.

Seven Swans-A-Swimming
The swans are another flock of birds that I don’t know what to do with. You can eat them, but that would put the Renaissance Fair atmosphere over the top; swan’s been more-or-less off the menu since medieval times. They’re very beautiful, so maybe I could use them as models for a wine glass or something. Oh wait, Riedel’s already done it. The Swan decanter is hand-blown from 24% lead crystal, with a rounded base and a very long, delicate neck. It does a good job aerating young wines and takes up little room on the table.

Eight Maids-A-Milking
The maids a-milking are easy: think of how much cheese I’ll be able to make! I’ll start with some Muenster so I can recreate a pairing I enjoyed when I last visited Alsace: Muenster cheese and Gewurztraminer. The region’s more opulent style of Gewurz works the best; the Barmès-Buecher Hengst Grand Cru 2004 is Rubenesque, but still elegant and well-balanced. It’s got the classic rose petal aromas, of course, but there are also notes of honey, apricot, cherry stones, and even a touch of coriander. Its finish is lengthy and smooth.

Nine Ladies Dancing
I know I’ve harped on the medieval or Renaissance character of these gifts, but the “ladies dancing” are actually quite anachronistic. After all, they’re dancing West Coast Swing, not a stately pavane. I prefer a good lindy hop myself, but at least I feel fairly confident presenting them with a West Coast wine when they take a break. Something refreshing presumably, something like the Robert Hall Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from Paso Robles. With lime, green apple, and mango notes, it avoids the tropical excesses of many California Sauvignons, staying fresh and light instead.

Ten Lords-A-Leaping
I don’t know what to say about the lords a-leaping. I was expecting young, spritely lords, not the stodgy, older, “British House of Lords” type, which is what I got. That being said, they can leap remarkably well, but when they’re finished, they revert to type and want nothing more than a large glass of Port and a cigar. So, I’ve made sure to have a case of the Quinta de Roriz 2004 on hand whenever they get going. It’s a single vineyard and vintage, so it’s got the exclusivity that they enjoy, but it’s also affordable and drinks well despite its youth. It’s quite dark in color, with lots of berry aromas (boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry), plus notes of licorice and dark chocolate. Full-bodied, its sweetness is well-balanced, so it doesn’t become overpowering.

Eleven Pipers Piping
I thought that lots of Rioja and cider would keep eleven pipers calm, but I seem to have been wrong. They’re acting up and I think I will have to appeal to their Gaelic roots and break out the Scotch. The Aberlour 12-Year-Old Sherry Finish, a single malt from the Speyside region, has a classic full, rounded character, with caramel and dried fruit notes, touches of tobacco and malt, and, of course, a spot of sherry. It’s quite smooth, especially given its richness. I hoped it would calm down the pipers, but from the noises I’m hearing, they’re enjoying it perhaps a bit too boisterously.

Twelve Drummers Drumming
The drummers are more mellow: think of a drum circle outside a Grateful Dead concert, if you want an idea what these twelve guys are up to. So, something relaxed and groovy seems in order, but with an exotic, funky touch…how about Tequila? The Chamucos Reposado Especial has some of the roundness and vanilla from oak-aging, but doesn’t obscure the agave flavors and the fruit and peppery touches that it brings. That makes it equally handy in a margarita or neat as a sipping tequila. It should keep the drummers mellow, as long as the pipers don’t get them riled up.

Good luck to you this holiday season. Whether you’re soothing pipers or rowdy relatives, or pairing a sumptuous feast, these recommendations are an eclectic bounty of drinking options. Enjoy!