FMN – December 2023 – Wines With Holiday Nostalgia

This time of year has a very special meaning to me. For whatever reason, my memories of childhood seem to cumulate largely from occurrences around the Holiday Season. Now, as an adult, I have a greater understanding relating to the importance of gathering with family and close friends during this time of year. Likewise, I have gained insight into why my adult relatives augmented their celebrations with alcohol over the holidays. In keeping with my family tradition, I have packed temperance away prior to Thanksgiving with no plan to revisit this expletive until after the New Year.

Although the idea of a customized alcoholic Advent calendar seemed appealing, my allowable word count and attention span restricted this notion. Instead, I will be suggesting some beverage choices for your chosen Holiday celebration, based largely on wines that inexplicably evoke some sort of reminiscent memory from my nostalgic past.

If you visit my humble abode during this season, by invitation or otherwise, you will probably find a glass of sparkling shoved in your hand as you cross the threshold. Not only do I feel that sparkling helps to announce a celebration but certain elements contained within bring back memories from childhood. At some point in recent history both butter and carbs became bad for you. In my childhood, the antithesis was true.

Autolytic Notes in Sparkling Wine

The smell of a recently popped biscuit tube or fresh-baked bread cooling in grandma’s kitchen could bring even the most stoic keto eater to their orthorexic knees. That brioche, bread crust, biscuit note can be found in traditional method sparkling wines when spending extended time on the expired yeast (lees). As the yeast cells break down, they release components into the wine that add an interesting layer of complexity, but ironically remind me of a simpler time.

Chenin Blanc

The grape Chenin Blanc remains one of my favorite white grapes for not only its versatility in producing everything from lean dry wines, complex sparkling and even botrytis affected dessert “stickies”. The versions with some residual sugar remind me of honey and raw freshly harvested peanuts akin to my grandmother’s peanut butter and honey sandwiches.

The dry lean mineral-driven versions, however, are the ones that, with a single sniff, open the flood gates of reminiscence. Many of these Chenin wines have a limestone mineral, wet stone, petrichor note that reminds me of the post-downpour aromas from my childhood yard. This evokes feelings of a nature-related symbolic cleansing that is beautiful in both its innocence and purity. When without distraction, a sip of these wines and I can almost feel the tickle of the cool damp grass beneath my feet and it’s nothing less than intoxicatingly perfect.

Unusual Blends

I always strive to discover juice where the winemaker is not afraid to throw caution to the wind and create unusual blends. These wines remind me of myself as I was raised by my grandparents but spent time with both my father and his wife as well as my mother and her husband. Their varied ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds had a profound effect on my view of the world and where I believe my place resides within it. The combination of unusual components can produce a result greater than the sum of these parts. Often times, wine is not so different from people.

Cool Climate Syrah

The final wine escorting me on my trip down memory lane is Syrah. I’ve long had a love affair with this grape for a number of reasons but feel especially drawn to the cooler climate versions. Grown in areas at the limits of its ability to ripen produces wines that are ethereally sexy. They are not the big, bold, high alcohol wines you see prolifically produced from hotter climates but rather showcase their strength through elegance and restraint.

Those who know me are, at this point, raising a furrowed brow because I’ve never been accused of being elegant nor restrained. My freshman year in high school, I was under five foot and weighed almost one hundred sixty pounds. I truly thought “Husky” was a brand name and not a size. With the proper nurturing, encouragement, and struggle, like Syrah, my roots became stronger, my fruit more concentrated, and the final result more complex and refined. I’m quite certain some are choking on their wines with a chuckle. Admittedly, perhaps that’s a bit of hyperbole but, as a writer, I’ll call it poetic license.

In preparing for the Holidays, I hope you are able to look beyond the twinkling lights and retail sales to discover the true meaning of the season. This truth will vary for every individual but remember, it may require looking back before explicating your current state with clarity. As for my plans, at the risk of sounding anachronistic, I will be sipping my wine with the best of Burl Ives playing in the background.

Suggested Wines

Portlandia Brut Sparkling NV    Columbia Valley, Washington ($22)

Sourced from grapes in Washington’s Columbia Valley, this traditional method sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay. On the nose one first notes the biscuity, fresh baked bread notes giving evidence to its 24 months spent on the lees (expired yeast). There are aromas of juicy green apple, apple skin, and lemon zest. The palate has smooth mouth-caressing mousse and a vibrant palate-cleansing persistent acidity. The aromas carry through to the palate with the orchard fruit crunchier and the citrus components moving to the forefront. Pair this wine with cured fatty meats, creamy cheeses, schnitzel (or fried pork chops) with applesauce.

Arnaud Lambert Breze Midi Saumur 2022    Saumur, Loire Valley ($25)

This 100% Chenin Blanc has a nose of orchard fruit (golden delicious apple), citrus (pineapple, tangerine), floral (fruit blossom, honeysuckle), and wet stone (petrichor). The palate is dry with a mineral-laden crescendoing acid and a viscous mouthfeel due to the bâtonnage (lees stirring). There are flavors of brined citrus (pineapple, tangerine) and a limestone minerality. This wine could stand another 5 years in bottle but drinks lovely right now. Pair with raw mollusks (oysters, clams), a lobster roll or creamy goat cheese.

Redolent Wine Company Brother from Another Mother   Willamette and Columbia Valleys ($28)

This crazy unusual co-fermentation of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Nebbiolo, from both Oregon and Washington State has expressive elements of both amazing varieties. The sexy nose has aromas of red fruit (cherry, strawberry), floral (rose), earthy notes (Autumn leaf pile), and a sweet pitch (tar) element. The palate is dry, with a sturdy acid structure, medium minus body and well in check alcohol. The tannin structure is evident but very integrated and fine grained. I recommend 15 minutes in the fridge to put a slight chill on it. This really cool amalgam pairs well with mushroom and/or sage containing dishes, wild boar, or pan seared duck breast.

Wilkens Family Wines Crater View Vineyard Syrah 2019    Rogue Valley, Oregon ($75)

Thanks to winemaker Blair Trathen for this super-low production elegant version of Syrah. The nose boasts dark fruit compote (blackberry, blueberry, plum), floral note (violet), spice (allspice), and dried tea leaves. The dry palate has a structured tart acidic backbone and well-resolved fine-grained sandy tannins. This is the type of wine that I refer to as elegant and powerful at the same time. Full disclosure: the 2019 is sold out and they did not make this wine in 2020-21 due to poor vintages. The 2022 is currently in barrel and will go to bottle around April 2024 and for sale around August. With only 75 cases produced, I recommend going to the Abbey Road Farms website to get your name on the email list for release date. I’m pairing mine with pan seared duck breast and quiet reflection.