WRITTEN BY PHILLIP SILVERSTONE
I had my regular lineup of sparkling wines over the season of goodwill to all wineries and, as I enjoyed my usual suspects, I sauntered into virgin territory for my taste buds and popped open a bottle of Evolution Sparkling Wine ($24.99). It’s not the most exciting label I’ve ever seen but who drinks labels on Dec. 31 — we drink to the occasion. And this wine is quite unique as it packs as many grape varieties into its blend as New York packs revelers into Times Square: Muller-Thurgau, Riesling, Semillón, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner.
This sparkler is made in the Champagne method, so it’s a class act and the winery suggests that we pair it with chicken nuggets or chicken cordon bleu, with fish sticks or cedar plank salmon, with double-cheese nachos or double cream Brie. In other words its made to be enjoyed anytime and anywhere and I can confess that this nifty quaffer floated my boat very calmly with its hint of summer fruit flavors, a drizzling of the creaminess from the Chardonnay and a very fresh and lively finish.
On to Chardonnay
I’m constantly refusing to sample Chardonnay because I’m bored to tears with its predictable, “let’s please the party crowd” stylings. But I decided to open the sample of Hanna 2012 Chardonnay ($24.99) that arrived on my doorstep, especially since the winery’s picking process sounds quite clandestine and covert. They report that the grapes were hand harvested at night using tractors fitted with lights. The cold fruit was picked into half-ton bins and hauled the short distance to the winery in the morning. It almost sounds illegal and sinister but it isn’t. It simply means that the winery goes to a lot of trouble to capture the grapes’ freshness and carefully manage its fragility. The price tag reflects this nocturnal labor of love and call me a romantic, call me a sucker for some compelling public relations, but I honestly believed that the nectar in my glass was many notches above anything produced from the Chardonnay grape that has passed my lips in many a month.
There is a welcome richness to this wine, which fills your mouth with my constant companion, Granny Smith (of apple fame) and other treats. The rich flavor comes from the generous number of months the wine spent resting in French oak barrels.
Here’s a look at three others:
Markham Vineyards Cellar 1879 Blend ($26.99) is an interesting concept. Markham selects different vintages and grape varietals to produce this blend each year. So, it’s not the type of wine you dismiss by saying you’ve already tried it. If you enjoy the structure and the style of the wine, then it’s similar to enjoying the cooking of a particular chef, and each season sampling his or her new menu. The current blend on the shelf is from the 2012 vintage and includes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Petite SIrah and Zinfandel. Wow! The flavor is precisely what you would expect from these big-hitting grape varieties. A smokey, chocolatey, spicy, ripe fruit cacophony of deliciousness.
2013 Ravenswood Besieged Red Blend is made in Sonoma County, California. I besiege you (an intended pun) to find this wine. Why? Well (1) because it’s brilliant and (2) because it’s $15.99. The wine was created by one of the greatest winemakers on the planet, Joel Peterson, to warm the cockles of our winter hearts. And so his blend of Petite Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Alicante Bouschet and Mourvèdre grapes are just what the doctor ordered for these morose, bleak, fiendishly unfriendly months. The dark cherry flavors are ideal partners for winter stews and beefy entrees. It’s one of the most satisfying red wines I’ve tasted since last year’s dour season and I for one will be snuggling up with a bottle or three over the next few months feeling very content indeed.
Abbazia di Novacella Grüner Veltliner 2013 ($19) comes from Italy’s Alto Adige area in northern Italy, a region that is pretty close to Austria and often, as history has proven once or twice, too close for comfort. So it’s not unremarkable to have this grape variety, so common in Austrian wines, making an appearance in an Italian bottle. This very famous winery is located in the last Augustinian Abbey in Italy, and dates back to 1142. I love the Grüner Veltliner grape. It has always been one of my favorites since I began my career, when the world was young, importing German and Austrian wines. The GV is typically dry, with a smidgen of white pepper and it can have some citrus flavors to it. And this Italian bottling has precisely these qualities that I adore in this varietal. No hesitation from me in suggesting you try this very uncommon and splendid Italian wine. Cheers!
Phillip Silverstone’s column appears each week in this publication. “Time Out With Phillip Silverstone” is a weekly two-hour podcast heard exclusively on TuneIn radio anytime and anywhere worldwide either on the free TuneIn app for all smart phones and tablets (Search: Phillip Silverstone) or online on Tunein at: http://bit.ly/1gY2Ht4. “Follow” the show for weekly updates. You can also LIKE Phillip on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Phillipsilverstone and follow him on Twitter: @wining