FMN – December 2022 – Drinking at Your Drop In

This time of year, I always seem to find myself coerced into “performing” at a few holiday parties.  Please don’t misunderstand, I love pouring and drinking while I loquaciously pontificate about whatever juice found its way into my glass. It remains, however, somewhat stressful as I always want to make sure people are enjoying whatever I painstakingly selected for their beverage lineup on said evening. What can I say; I’m a pleaser.

Having a veritable captive audience, to use at my leisure as proverbial wine test subjects, remains the absolute joy of these events. I must confess my elation for getting people to stray off their routine beverage choices may be somewhat unusual but I’m all about alcohol diversity. For this reason, I’d like to share with you some wine choices for your upcoming drop-ins and work-place holiday gatherings.

As many of you know, I love sparkling for almost any occasion, even with opening the bottle being the occasion. For the beginning of the evening, I like to go with something light, fresh and bursting with flavor. Also, most successfully made sparkling has an acidity level that will not only help pair with a myriad of foods, but also cleanses the palate from whatever said guest was feasting on at their previous party. This style of wine sets the mood of the evening, letting everyone know that this will be a fun event rather than some stodgy wine guy heaving out multi-syllabic wine words that no one understands.

A holiday drop in is not really successful without a variety of bite sized morsels for your guests to feast upon. I still believe that Spanish wines perform splendidly for depth and breadth of food pairing abilities. For these occasions, I like to choose something that most people would not purchase blindly on their own, thus exposing them to a potential beverage discovery. Mencia wines, in my humble opinion, are some of the most interesting Spanish varietal wines that you probably never had the pleasure of sipping. They check the appropriate boxes of being food friendly, not overtly astringent, and moderate in alcohol levels. The Mencia grape itself is a rarity outside the Bierzo region of Spain, which also adds to the appeal.

Another technique I implement to get people to drink “laterally” is take a grape variety that most are familiar with and showcase it from an unusual country or region. Such is the case with the Syrah / Shiraz grape from South Africa. The wine growing regions that have proximity to the coast, like Stellenbosch, enjoy the moderating effect of the cold ocean breezes, thanks to the Antarctic Benguela current. Many of these reds display an elegance and freshness lacking in other warmer growing conditions, even those just over the Simonsberg Mountains to the north. Due to a number of political and economic issues over the years, South African wines have not been widely appreciated. This, however, is rapidly changing and it’s fun to drink ahead of the curve.

Finally, if you are dreading over the decision of what style, variety or color of wine to fill that gift bag (the one you put in their hands as you nudge them out the door), fret not as I am here to assist. Although it is almost impossible to pick one wine that will appease to all the diverse wine palates that will be crossing your threshold, you can mitigate the stress with a friendly, non-polarizing style of wine. I look for a wine that will go equally well with a meal or just a bad day at work. The wine should be well-balanced, have bright acidity, and display integrated (not stalky or overt) tannins.

If you can wrap all that in a package along with some name recognition, then you have a successful selection. In our case, a high-altitude grown Malbec from Argentina should do the trick. Although these wines have gained in popularity, it is still relatively easy to find good value and quality for their price points.

Just to show that I live in the actual and not just the theoretical, these wines were all just used this month for a holiday party. The gracious hosts not only provided great food with fun and engaged guests, but they also allowed me to run my mouth and pour wine for their event, an honored pleasure. I truly hope your holiday (and holiday parties) are filled with laughter, reflection, and of course, a lot of wine.

Suggested Wines

Almacita Brut Rosé N/V (Valle de Uco, Argentina) – $21 

The 100% Pinot Noir sparkling has aromas of cherry, cherry stem, strawberry and strawberry leaf. The palate is technically off-dry with 4 g/L residual sugar but well balanced by the fresh, mineral laden acidity. The six months on the lees with the slight residual sugar leaves a slight increase in viscosity. The mousse was texturally pleasing and not overtly aggressive, something that Charmat method sometimes may be guilty of. The finish lingers with pleasant crunchy, fresh red fruit. This is an absolute crowd pleaser and, at only 4000 case production, a real treat. This pairs well with charcuterie of cured meats, baked brie with fruit or even some red berries.

 Palacios Petalos de Bierzo ’19 (Bierzo, Spain) – $28 

One first notices the vibrant purple color, a testament to the wine cold soaking on the skins. The aromas are complex and overt with fruit (blackberry, elderberry and currant), herbs (mint and thyme), floral (violet) and spice (pepper). The palate is dry with elegant silky fruit, tart crunchy acid and a lighter than expected body. The flavors mirror the nose with the addition of minerality. The tannin structure is chalky, firm and felt on the cheeks but by no means overly mouth-drying. The finish is clean, silky and filled with the same chalky mineral tones. This wine has the versatility to pair with marinated shrimp all the way to dry-rubbed ribs.

Reyneke Syrah 2017 (Stellenbosch, South Africa) – $31 

This wine is a great rendition of a cooler climate Syrah, avoiding the high alcohol and jammy fruit that can easily occur with this grape.  The choice of minimizing the punch downs and pump overs during fermentation helps keep this wine from becoming over extracted but helps with the reductive potential Syrah can tend toward. Also, the use of French oak and larger casks helps to ensure the barrel notes remain only a supporting role. The nose has aromas of red fruit (cherry, cranberry), black fruit (blackberry, elderberry), floral (violet), spice (fennel, white peppercorn). The palate is dry, light and elegant with broad acidity and prevalent fine grained chalky tannins, felt mainly on tongue. The finish is lingering but elegant with fruit and spice wrapped around a mineral core. Pair with tenderloin and blackberry sauce, venison au poivre or as a contemplation wine by a winter’s fire.

Ernesto Catena Tahuan Malbec 2019 (Mendoza, Argentina) – $23 

Sourced from four different vineyard locations (Tunuyan, Vistaflores, La Consulta, and Altamira) this wine displays aromas of ripe black and red fruit (raspberry, blackberry, currant, plum), slight sweet baking spice (all spice), and freshly sharpened pencil. The palate is dry with the ripeness of fruit giving it a slight off-dry perception. There is tangy acidity, a medium body, and a fine grained, well-integrated silty tannin structure. The palate mirrors the nose with an added elderberry and cranberry compote note. The finish shows an uncoiling of the tannin, acid and fruit like unwrapping a present; with the silty texture lingering on the gums. There is a lot of elegance in this glass for this price point. Pair with grilled meats (flank steak and chimichurri, lamb with currant sauce), pan seared duck breast, and beef empanadas.