Not Your Usual Holiday Meal Wine Pairings

24 November 2015

Christmas TreeThis season, banal lists of the best wines to pair with your holiday feast clog the internet. Riesling and Pinot Noir rank among the usual favorites, and indeed, fine Riesling and carefully crafted Pinot will work beautifully with your turkey and stuffing. But fine Riesling and carefully crafted Pinot don’t tend to come cheap. The most exciting Rieslings imported from Germany, Austria and the Alsace usually cost more than $20 a bottle, and excellent Pinot Noir from almost anywhere costs the same (or more) because the variety is one of the wine world’s finickiest.

And let’s be honest. If you’re buying wine for a Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah meal, you’re likely buying it for relatives who may or may not especially care what’s in their glasses. Even if you have the means, it seems a shame to pour expensive wine for Aunt Susie who just wants to get buzzed to dull the feelings of resentment and anxiety that surface at every party at which Grandma is present.

On the other hand, it’s considered impolite, alas, to drink expensive wine while simultaneously serving your guests the cheap stuff. Holiday parties therefore require something inexpensive but delicious. You can find inexpensive Riesling and Pinot Noir, to be sure, but you’re likely to be disappointed on both counts.

If you’re willing to deviate a bit from the beaten track, you can find all sorts of exciting, reasonably priced options to serve with that turkey, ham, goose or turkey-shaped tofu mold. Bring the list below to your wine shop, and you’ll surely find at least one example of each sparkling, white and red recommendation.



Dr. Loosen Sparkling RieslingRiesling Sekt: Cheap Sekt from Germany can be made from who knows what from who knows where, but Riesling Sekt is 100% German Riesling. Dr. Loosen makes a delightful example with just a hint of sweetness, but any Riesling Sekt you find in the U.S. is likely to work well.

Cava: The least expensive versions of this ubiquitous Spanish sparkler can have unappealingly large bubbles. Stick to Cava in the $13 to $16 per bottle price range, and/or Cava including an international grape such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir in the blend. If in doubt, ask a wine store employee for the Cava in your price range with the smallest bubbles.

Prosecco: This northern Italian bubbly is hardly a secret, and so much of it is bland and one-note. There are notable exceptions, however. Seek out Proseccos with the word “Valdobbiadene” or “Conegliano” on the label — they tend to have the most character.

Kir Royale: For this cocktail composed of sparkling wine and crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), it’s traditional to use Crémant de Bourgogne from Burgundy. But really, just about any dry (brut) sparkling wine will do, because the cassis covers over a lot of imperfections, including big bubbles and lack of complexity. I like a ratio of about 1/6 crème de cassis to sparkling wine, but add more if the guest has a sweet tooth or if the bubbly is particularly cheap.



Simonnet-Febvre Saint-BrisDry Furmint: I was lucky enough to find a couple of bottles of this exotic and spicy Hungarian white wine at a new shop down the block. This grape features most prominently in Tokaji, one of the world’s greatest dessert wines, on par with Sauternes. Hungarian winemakers have now started to realize the great potential of dry Furmint as well, but unfortunately, they can be hard to find. If you do spot one, snap it up: It’s likely to be a sensational value for the money.

Saint-Bris: I’ve only had one example of this unusual Sauvignon Blanc from Burgundy, a region known almost exclusively for Chardonnay, but it was one of the best values for the money I’ve tasted. Elegant, floral, tart and great with food. Who would ever expect to find such bang for the buck in Burgundy, of all places?

Rhône-style white blends: Whether from the Rhône Valley or elsewhere, white Rhône blends have an appealing richness matched with food-friendly acidity that make them ideal for a hearty turkey dinner. Look for wines including Marsanne and/or Roussane in the blend.

Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige: Pinot Grigio is the grape all wine geeks love to hate. It tastes almost invariably insipid and wan, and pairs well only with Wonder Bread-mayonnaise sandwiches. The great exception to this rule is Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, a high-altitude region north of Venice on Italy’s border with Austria. These Pinot Grigios are anything but boring. Expect ripe fruit and impressively focus. Pinot Grigios from Friuli can also be interesting, but at all costs, avoid those from the Veneto.

Argentine Chardonnay: Expensive Californian and French Chardonnays are outstanding, if you can afford them. Argentina also makes some standout Chardonnays, but because Malbec is the grape everyone thinks of, Argentine Chardonnay can be a stellar value.



Argentine Malbec or Pinot Noir: There are a lot of cheap Malbecs on the market, and you can go that route, but if you invest a little more and keep to the $12 to $15 range, your palate will reap great rewards. Even Aunt Susie is worth the upgrade. I’ve also noticed a smattering of Patagonian Pinot Noirs on American shelves, and these can be a very fine value for the money, too. Look for Pinot from Neuquén or Río Negro.

Lapostolle's Single-Vineyard Carmeneres

Lapostolle’s Single-Vineyard Carmenères

Carmenère: Chile’s signature grape, a formerly obscure Bordeaux variety nearly extinct in its birth home, can produce supple and richly fruity reds of great character. Again, you can find cheap examples, but if you keep to the $12 to $18 range, you’ll quite likely strike gold. Ever more single-vineyard examples showcase the beauty of Chilean terroir.

Beaujolais: Beaujolais Nouveau used to be a fun, simple and inexpensive red released around this time of year that made for an ideal Thanksgiving choice. Now it’s a marketing juggernaut, and I’ve seen prices reach dangerously close to $20 a bottle, which is lunacy for such a wine. Opt instead for a heftier Beaujolais-Villages, or better yet, a Cru Beaujolais from one of 10 specific villages in the area. My favorite for the money is Morgon.

Nero d’Avola: This red grape encountered most frequently in Sicilian wines tends to have big cherry fruit and rustic spice without overpowering tannins. That makes it a fine choice for a hearty poultry-focused feast. Again, you can find examples for $9 or $10, and you might even get lucky with such a bottle, but keeping between $12 and $15 is safer.

Grenache: A cheerful grape variety, Grenache (Garnacha in Spain) produces fruity, soft reds that don’t tend to be especially tannic. I’ve got a couple of old-vine Garnachas from near Toledo that I’m itching to open on Thanksgiving.

St. Laurent from Austria: If you can find some bottles of this sexy red from Austria, you win the prize. Not nearly enough bottles of this dark, velvety descendant of Pinot Noir make it to the U.S. Any of these would be a delight, but the only one I’ve managed to purchase myself is Sattler’s.


Saint-Emilion Grands Crus ClassesDAMN THE TORPEDOES

If you feel like splurging on your holiday guests but don’t want to serve the obvious, opt for white Pessac-Léognan, redolent of rich tropical fruit, and Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé, a sumptuous Merlot-driven wine full of rich cherry fruit and mocha. A Grower Champagne or a top-quality Franciacorta would make for an ideal aperitif.


If your wine shop doesn’t have at least some examples of the wines listed above, well, you need to find a new wine shop. I wish you much merriment this season, and holidays filled with delicious and wallet-friendly drinking!

Book Review – Wine Folly: The Essential Guide To Wine

26 September 2015

Wine Folly CoverWith all the wine books floating around out there, you need to make a compelling case to write a new one. Madeleine Puckette and Justin Hammack do just that with Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine, released on September 22. I met the engaging Puckette at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in New York, and impressed with her presentation, I was eager to see how her book turned out. I’m happy to say that I can recommend it, especially to someone interested in wine but not especially knowledgeable about it.

What makes this book different from other heftier wine reference guides is its use of clear and easy-to-decipher graphics in order to convey information about everything from flavors to glassware. I especially liked the flavor wheels accompanying each of the descriptions of 55 various single-varietal wines and blends. Organized into categories such as “Herbal/Floral,” “Oak” and “Tertiary,” these wheels clearly organized the numerous flavors one might encounter in a particular wine. Those who sometimes struggle with picking out and describing flavors and aromas (and that’s most of us) will surely find it useful to sit down with a glass and the corresponding wheel to get hints about what we might be tasting.

Besides covering wine varieties and 12 wine-producing countries, Wine Folly includes sections on Wine Basics, Tasting Wine, Handling Wine and Food and Wine Pairing. Of these, the section on “How to Taste” is especially strong, including detailed descriptions of how to glean information from a wine’s appearance, what to look for in an aroma (including an excellent page on identifying wine faults) and how to differentiate among acidity, tannins and alcohol. I also appreciated the sections on Serving Wine and Wine Temperature — there are more than a few restaurants I can think of which would benefit from a review of these pages.

Wine Folly SyrahThe two-page spreads devoted to the different wine varieties also contain useful information. The Syrah page (right), for example, lists the main countries where the grape grows, accompanied by a graphic indicating what percentage is planted where. A “Profile” graphic shows the amount of fruit, body, tannin, acidity and alcohol you find in an average Syrah, and another graphic shows the dominant flavors. And a “Regional Differences” section alerts readers that Syrahs from regions such as California and Spain tend to be “Full-bodied with fruit-foward flavors of blackberry, blueberry, sweet tobacco smoke, chocolate baking spices, and vanilla,” whereas Syrahs from places such as Chile and the Rhône Valley tend to be “Medium- to full-bodied wines with savory flavors of plum, olive, boysenberry, leather, green peppercorn, bacon fat and cocoa powder.” If you know what sort of red wine you like — ripe and rich or taut and earthy — such comparative descriptions can be immensely helpful when deciding whether to choose a Syrah from Argentina or Australia.

Certain parts of the book struck me as problematic, however. Some of the pages devoted to wine-producing countries contained useful information, such as the Chile profile, which explains, counterintuitively, that wine regions there differentiate themselves east-to-west, according to their proximity to the sea and the Andes, more so than north-to-south. Other country pages offered little that you couldn’t deduce from walking into a well stocked wine shop. Argentina’s page, for example, explains that the country is known for “a bold and fruity style of Malbec” and that the top grapes are Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda, Syrah, Torrontés and Pinot Noir. The flavor descriptions of each variety tended to be too general to be helpful. Malbec’s flavor, for example, “ranges in taste from juicy tart raspberry flavors to rich blueberry and sweet tobacco, depending on the vintage, quality and oak program.” The relative merits of the various wine growing areas in Argentina are unaddressed aside from a brief mention of the benefits of high-elevation subregions. I’m left still wondering what to look for when faced with a shelf of Argentine wine in a shop.

Then there were the parts of the book I simply disagreed with, such as the assertion that “All red wines can be aerated,” i.e. decanted. If you aerate or decant an old, fragile wine, you’ll almost certainly lose whatever fruit and acids might be left. I still smart at the memory of a foolish waiter at a Chicago BYOB restaurant breaking the cork on a 1986 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, pushing the remaining cork piece into the bottle and then decanting it through a coffee filter. When I saw what he was doing at the waiter station, I stopped him in his tracks, but the damage to the half of the wine he decanted was done. It fell flat, lacking the liveliness of the portion remaining in the bottle. I never decant a wine without tasting it first. Otherwise who knows what flavors you might lose in the process?

Wine Folly Tasting PageA book of this brevity can’t cover everything, certainly, but I did regret certain omissions. In the dessert wine section, Hungary’s Tokaji, one of the world’s greatest wines by any measure, was notably absent, as was any mention of its main grape variety, the noble and fiery Furmint, which now also appears in striking dry varietal wines. It also seemed a shame to not include the ancient winemaking center of Greece, which has experienced a wine renaissance in the last decade, producing all manner of exciting wines from unusual indigenous grape varieties.

The book’s brevity and occasional omissions are much less of a problem if you are willing to use it in conjunction with the Wine Folly website. Links on the side of almost every page direct readers where to find more information about a subject. I prefer not to have to make that extra step to find information — it’s much easier for me to pull my Oxford Companion to Wine or World Atlas of Wine off the shelf than turn on my computer or phone to look up a website while already looking at a book.

Criticisms aside, as a stand-alone volume, Wine Folly still works. Someone just getting into wine who wants a systematic, unintimidating, easy-to-understand and visually appealing wine book would surely benefit from Wine Folly. It has a clear organizational structure, and its attractive graphics boil down and simplify a lot of information. Anyone looking for a first wine book should seriously consider this work. And even though I’ve been writing about wine for more than four years, I suspect I’ll refer to those handy flavor wheels from time to time myself!

Note: My copy of the book was provided free of charge.

Ice Bucket Challenge (With Sparkling Wine, Of Course)

26 August 2014

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Last weekend two people challenged me to this ice bucket ordeal, in which one either donates to the ALS Association (or another charity) or dumps a bucket full of ice water over one’s head.

I elected to donate to the Wounded Warrior Project, which assists veterans injured on the battlefield once they return home. It’s one of the worthiest causes I know.

You can see my video here, in which I put an ice bucket to proper, civilized use.

Drinking Wine Because It’s Fun?

7 September 2013
Sometimes drinking the unusual and the obscure gets a little scary.

Sometimes drinking the unusual and the obscure gets a little scary.

Writing a blog about unusual wines, spirits and cocktails is great fun. I have a venue in which to share my opinions, I attend delightful events like the Wine Bloggers Conference, I get free samples from time to time, and every great once in a while, I’ll receive an invitation to visit some romantic place to learn about the wines or spirits produced there. I take great joy in these experiences, and I’m not planning on giving them up any time soon.

Writing a blog about unusual wines, spirits and cocktails has had a number of unintended consequences, however. The focus on the unusual eliminates all sorts of delicious things. Much to my bewilderment and consternation, I found myself turning down free samples of wine from a top Burgundy producer, because Burgundy’s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays don’t exactly count as obscure. The resourceful marketing representative understood the situation, and offered to send me free samples of some Indian wine instead. I have nothing against wine from India, but let’s be honest here — something unfortunate has happened to a person who turns down free samples of fine Burgundy in exchange for bottles from subcontinental parts unknown.

My wine rack has also become problematic. It used to represent a sort of buffet from which I could pick and choose any bottle at any time. Now there are strict divisions. On three of the shelves are bottles I want to eventually write blog posts about, and on one of the shelves (actually, only half a shelf at this point) are bottles I can open at leisure. Basically, if I want to open a bottle from my collection, I better be prepared to also open my notebook.

And this is the unexpected thing that happens when you turn a vice into a job. That vice slowly and surely starts to feel a lot less like a fun indulgence and a lot more like work. I did it with my 9 to 5 job as well. I used to take great pleasure in exploring as many different places as possible on my vacations, visiting perhaps five different cities on a 12-day trip. It boggles my mind how much like work that now seems. Instead, I look forward to staying in a cottage for a week, avoiding fancy restaurants and concierges and valets. Just reading my book and hiking and cooking and cuddling.

I realize that this is not the sort of situation that engenders a flood of sympathy. These “problems” are not problems. Coptic Christians have problems. Gay Russians have problems. Syrians have problems. What I have is an extremely fortunate and extremely unusual situation. I did what you’re supposed to do — work at what you love. But what people tend to leave out of that story is that what you love then becomes work.

I still haven’t quite figured out how to reconcile that issue, but this week, I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to a cottage in Wisconsin, I’m going to leave my internet connection behind, and I’m going to leave any thoughts of a planned itinerary behind as well. What I am bringing with me is a Central Coast Pinot Noir, a California Cabernet, a Washington State Merlot and a number of wines already discussed on this blog. Drinking wine and not taking notes? Now that’s starting to sound like a vacation!

See you in a week. Cheers!

Tasting With Tony

27 July 2013
The author and Anthony Terlato (right) at Tangley Oaks

The author and Anthony Terlato (right) at Tangley Oaks

Some people envy wine writers because of all the delicious wines they get to taste, and I certainly love that part of the job. But just as much, if not more, I love the people who I meet along the way. People who love wine, I find, tend to love life, and spending time with them is invariably a pleasure.

I recently made my way to Tangley Oaks, a Tudor-style mansion that serves as the headquarters of Terlato Wines, a major importer and winemaker. According to its website, one in ten bottles of wine over $14 in the U.S. is marketed by Terlato. This company became so influential due in large part to the efforts of Anthony Terlato, who Wine Enthusiast named “Man of the Year” in 2003, noting that he changed the way Americans drink.

And so he did, importing one of the very first Pinot Grigios on the market (Santa Margherita) and introducing American wine drinkers to the joys of Sicilian wines. Now also an owner of wineries, Terlato never compromises on quality, choosing to raise prices when necessary rather than market an inferior product. This philosophy helped increase the sophistication of the American wine palate, which in turn lead to the generally wine-savvy culture we enjoy today.

It was fascinating to meet such an important figure in American wine history, but what made tasting this tasting such a delight was the obvious enthusiasm Terlato had for these wines. Here is a person who has tasted thousands upon thousands of fine wines over the course of his career, and yet each wine we tried excited him. “This is a beautiful wine,” he would say, or “This I love, love, love.” Other bottles brought up memories of the winemakers: “M____ is brilliant, but he’s a brat — he’s an adult delinquent!”

As delicious as the wines we tasted were (more on them in a future post), it was the company that made this tasting truly memorable. The afternoon with Anthony Terlato reminded me of why I love wine in the first place. However many you drink over the years, quality wines don’t become boring. The evocative aromas and flavors of a well-crafted wine somehow never lose the power to stir the emotions.

WBC Warm Up

30 May 2013

Wine Blogger Down!The Wine Blogger Conference (WBC) approaches! This year’s event takes place in Penticton, a lakeside town in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, one of Canada’s premier wine regions. If you’ve ever encountered a Canadian wine, it’s likely to have been a sweet ice wine, but they’re not just making dessert wines up there. Apparently, the terroir is well suited to a host of different varieties, many of which make perfectly tasty dry table wines.

I’m thrilled to be able to explore this odd corner of the wine world, along with Washington State’s unheralded Lake Chelan AVA. These two regions have unusual and obscure written all over them, and I have no doubt that all sorts of gems are waiting to be unearthed.

After my recent spin through Germany, I think it wise to slow down for a few days in order to recuperate. I usually post on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but I’m going to pause for the next week to prepare my palate and liver for the onslaught to come. Until Penticton!

Potentially Confusing Wine Terms

23 January 2013

Wine, like many fields, has its own vocabulary. For some, that’s part of its appeal, and for others, it can feel intimidating. I must admit I use winespeak on this blog not infrequently, with the goal of adding precision to my descriptions. But some of these terms, as my mother recently alerted me, can’t even be found in a typical dictionary.

I thought, therefore, that it would be handy to have a quick glossary of some potentially confusing terms you’re likely to encounter when reading about wine:

Acids: As in citrus fruit, acids can give wine a juicy, mouth-watering quality, and they’re usually very important for making a wine food-friendly. I find they can take on different shapes and colors, like pointy limey acids, or round orangey acids, or bright lemony acids.

Brut/Extra Dry: Ages ago, some marketing genius in deepest France decided it would be smart to use these terms counterintuitively. A brut Champagne (or other sparkling wine) will be dry, and an extra brut Champagne will be even drier. An extra dry Champagne, however, will be on the sweeter side. It’s France — they like to keep us barbarian Americans on our toes.

Cuvée: This word is thrown around willy-nilly these days, and it’s sometimes used just as a synonym for “wine” when wine writers don’t want to use “wine” too often in a single sentence about wine. It usually refers to some specific subset of a wine, perhaps indicating different blends, for example.

Noble Rot: I suppose even a true marketing genius would have trouble making the botrytis fungus sexy. Noble rot can be quite desirable because it creates little holes in the grape skins, drying out and even shriveling the grapes a bit. This concentrates the sugars and flavors in the remaining juice, resulting in (ideally) marvelously deep, rich, sweet and lively wines. Sauternes and Tokai Aszú are two classic examples.

Tannins: In contrast to mouth-watering acids, tannins tend to dry the mouth. If you drink a wine and it sucks the moisture off your tongue, or (in extreme cases) feels like a mouthful of cotton, those are the tannins at work. Wines aged in stainless steel typically have fewer tannins than wines aged in wood, though the amount of tannins tends to be determined more by the grape variety and how much the winery used the stems, skins and seeds in the winemaking process. In any case, tannins help add structure and balance, and help keep a wine intact as it ages in the bottle.

Terroir: More and more, wine drinkers are seeking out cuvées– er, wines, which are expressive of their terroir. This French term doesn’t just refer to the qualities of the soil in which a vineyard is planted. It encompasses the entire microclimate of the vineyard, from soil to sunlight to rainfall to temperatures. Basically, terroir can be anything that gives a wine a sense of place. A single-vineyard wine should theoretically be most expressive of its terroir, as compared to a wine made from grapes grown across an entire region. It matters less whether a wine is a varietal or a blend of different varieties.

Variety/Varietal: Speaking of which, let’s talk about “varietal” versus “varieties.” I admit I confused these terms myself until relatively recently, and you’ll see them used incorrectly in all sorts of prestigious publications. Editors take note! A variety refers to the type of grape, such as Merlot, Chardonnay, or everyone’s favorite, Öküzgözü. A varietal wine is a wine made entirely (or almost entirely) from a single variety, and it should probably express the characteristics of that variety. Although “varietal” is technically an adjective, it’s also common these days to refer to a varietal wine as simply “a varietal.”

My goodness, well that’s enough vocabulary for me. Does anyone happen to have a glass of tannic terroir-focused extra-dry varietal something or other?

What The Heck Is Going On Here?

8 December 2012

Although many of my posts touch on the reasons why I gravitate towards the unusual and the obscure, I realize I’ve never distilled (if you will) the purpose of this blog in a single, concise post. So:

Why am I making such a fuss over the unusual and the obscure? I touched on the most practical reason in this post: Value. As wine writer Lettie Teague noted in a recent column for The Wall Street Journal, “The obscure and the uncurated will almost always cost less than the well known and well placed. If you don’t know what a wine is, you’re unlikely to pay a high price for it.”

I am constantly in search of good wine values, and most of the wines I describe on this site pack a lot of flavor for the price. Like most people, I’m on a budget, and usually I want tasty wines that cost $15 or less. But it can be daunting to weed through the huge array of inexpensive unusual wines. It’s my goal to single out the wines that are not merely unusual, but unusual and delicious. Because it can be difficult to find a specific wine if you’re not shopping in exactly the same stores I am, I try to highlight entire regions and wine varieties to watch out for whenever possible.

As important as price is to me, there is another reason much dearer to my heart: Sticking up for the little guy. By definition, most of the wines and spirits I write about are made by small producers without big marketing budgets. For just about all these winemakers and distillers, I suspect their work is a labor of love, and I like to think that’s something you can taste. Most of us would surely much rather drink something made with real heart than something concocted in a lab, but too often, we’re afraid to leave our comfort zones and try something new. Drink fearlessly, my friends! You’ll discover some incredible stuff, and you’ll be helping small businesses.

You’ll also strike a blow against flavor homogenization, helping ensure that the vast world of wine and spirits available to us today continues to be gloriously, wonderfully diverse. And what fun it is, at least for me, to learn about all these fascinating little nooks and crannies which are making tasty wines and spirits. Taste and smell are two of our most powerful senses, and every now and then, a drink transports me right back to its home, or even back in time. Bottles of something unusual and obscure almost always come with a great story.

Some of you may also be wondering: Why wines and spirits? Most blogs focus on either just wine or just spirits/cocktails. That keeps things nice and tidy, but that’s not how most people I know drink. To be sure, there are some of us who only drink one type of alcohol, but if you’re like me, sometimes you want some wine, sometimes you want a cocktail, and sometimes you want a beer. (I don’t write about beer, because, well, I had to draw the line somewhere.) I see no reason to deny ourselves the pleasure of mixing it up, and I want this blog to be somewhere you can go whenever you’re in the mood to taste something new and different.

So as you’re doing your shopping, consider picking up something unusual and obscure to bring to that holiday party or give your friends as a Christmas present. (My top gift picks are listed here.) Seek out a bottle of cheer with a story, crafted with love, rather than just another bottle of booze made in a factory.

An Odd Bacchus Gift Guide

1 December 2012

If you, like me, have only just begin to contemplate making your holiday shopping list — let alone actually buy anything — do not despair. If your circle of family and friends, like mine, contains quite a few drinkers, all you need to do is make one trip to your favorite local wine/spirits shop, with this list in hand.

I’ve suggested mostly regions or categories of wines and spirits, rather than specific brands, so that you’ll have a better chance of finding them. The links go to fascinating, beautifully composed blog posts with additional information:


(In no particular order)

1. If you’re buying a gift for someone who really knows their wine, someone you would like to impress, a Grower Champagne is an ideal choice. Produced (theoretically) by the people who grew the grapes in specific vineyards, this Champagne will likelier reflect its terroir more than a Champagne made by a négociant, which buys grapes from an array of vineyards in the Champagne region. A Grower Champagne will be indicated by “RM” (Récoltant Manipulant) on the label, usually in very small type, as opposed to “NM”, which stands for Négociant Manipulant.

2. One of the best white-wine values out there is Savennières, a Chenin Blanc produced in the Loire Valley. Haven’t heard of it? That’s one of the reasons it’s such an excellent value.

3. Another excellent white choice would be a wine from Pessac-Léognan, a sub-region of Graves, which is a sub-region of Bordeaux. “Pessac-Léognan” may not roll right off the tongue, but its luscious tropical flavors and voluptuous texture will thrill the palate. This was probably my favorite white I drank this year.

4. A less-expensive but still-delightful gift would be a Furmint from Hungary. I just had a very fine example a couple of nights ago at Big Jones, with up-front pear flavors followed by a spicy, almost fiery finish. It works beautifully with a range of foods, and typically doesn’t cost all that much. If you have a bigger budget, go for some Tokaji Aszu, the justly renowned Hungarian dessert wine (the more “Puttonyos,” the more concentrated the flavor).

5. One of my favorite odd red wines of the year was St. Laurent (pronounced “Sahnkt Lorent”) from Austria. This variety tends to make rather sexy wine, with dark red fruit, velvety tannins and a touch of earth.

6. Good wines from famed Tuscany tend to be rather expensive, but Morellino di Scansano has yet to be discovered. These Sangiovese-based wines from a corner of the nearby Maremma region tend to be better values than their Tuscan cousins. The one I tried had deep, enticing fruit and some real finesse.

7. I’ve had great experience with Massaya, a well-regarded winery in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Its wines made quite an impression on me, both red and white. If your wine shop carries vintages by Massaya, don’t pass them up.

8. For the spirit drinker, you can hardly go wrong with Ron Zacapa, a fine rum from Guatemala. Smooth and complex, this rum is made for sipping, not mixing with Coke. Go for as old a rum as you can afford.

9. If you don’t find Ron Zacapa, look for Flor de Caña instead. This Nicaraguan rum also impressed me with its refined character and rich flavors.

10. For the mixologist who has everything, seek out Crème Yvette. This floral, violet-based spirit  went out of fashion in the 1960s, and when it stopped being manufactured in 1969, it looked to be lost forever. But production was restarted in 2009, and once again, we can mix proper Aviations and Blue Moons. Not inexpensive at about $50, but sure to impress.

Happy Shopping!


4 October 2012

I’m spending a glorious week away from computers and cell phones in idyllic Door County, Wisconsin. It couldn’t come soon enough!

I’ll be back posting about various oddball spirits and unusual wines shortly. And who knows? Maybe I’ll find something fun like this Death’s Door Gin I discovered last year!

In the meantime, drink something amazing, and tell me about it in the comments below or via e-mail: contact@oddbacchus.com.










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