We are approaching the holiday season when gift giving and sharing meals with family and friends is on everyone’s agenda. The most common questions I receive regarding wine advice is: What wine should I serve with my Chinese banquet meal? What wine should I bring to my boss’ dinner party or give her or him as a gift? What is a wine I can offer a friend just discovering wine?
For a Chinese banquet: make sure you have available both a red and white from the very beginning of the meal – a crisp young Chablis works well with all types of seafood and lighter dishes and a vibrant Pinot Noir from New Zealand can pair with everything from honey-roasted pork (char siu) to Peking duck.
A wine to give your boss: Bordeaux would be too common and Champagne too obvious so I would choose a wine that has the high-quality reputation of both but is more subtle – Vega Sicilia Unico from Ribera del Duero, Spain. I love the 1964 or 1968 vintages if you can afford it or find it in the market; but younger 1986 or the 1991 are both excellent options. A less expensive option is Unico’s ‘younger brother’, a wine called Valbuena 5. The number 5 signifies the number of years it is aged before it is released. The 2005 vintage is sensational as is the 2006.
A wine for a friend’s holiday dinner: I would take a 1996 Fattoria Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino, a classic Tuscan red made from Sangiovese, which is drinking beautifully now. This Brunello di Montalcino with 23 years of age will enable it to pair well with a variety of dishes, roast goose, soy-glazed chicken to stir-fried beef.
A wine to impress a date: I would opt for an ‘insider’s wine’ to show my date that I know something about wine; opt for a German Pinot Noir. One of the very best Pinot Noir producers in Germany is J.B. Becker who makes a beautifully perfumed, elegant Wallufer Walkenberg Spatburgunder Auslese Trocken from Rheingau.
A wine for a friend discovering wine: Find a bottle of Meursault from a top producer like Domaine des Comte Lafon or Domaine Coche-Dury; for more affordable options, try Meursualt from reliable negociants like Joseph Drouhin or Louis Latour. They will re-think what white wine is all about after tasting these beautiful wines with intensity, energy and amazing length.
A wine to start the New Year: There is nothing comparable to the sweet biscuity, persistent flavors of a great vintage Champagne that has grown in depth and complexity with time in bottle. I am a huge fan of the 1976, 1985 and 1996 vintages for enjoying now but the most recent great vintage, 2008 is also widely available.
For wine gifts, try to match the right wine with the person’s palate preference. While it is impossible to know the exact preference, below is a guideline on what works best for five different types of wine lovers.
1. Lover of classics: This wine lover may have ventured out at some point to try South Australian Shiraz, Napa Cabernet, Super Tuscans or Spanish Riojas, but she/he keeps coming back to the classic, left bank Bordeaux. There is a such a wide variety of choice – from the tannic, structured reds of Saint-Estephe to the perfumed, softer wines of Margaux appellation. The safest best would be to stay in the heart of the appellation of Pauillac, the home to three first growth Bordeaux (Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild). If the Rothschilds have bet on this appellation to make the highest quality Bordeaux since the 19th century, then you can rest assured that the wines will not disappoint. Lafite may be the obvious choice but I would go for 1990 Latour, a sensational wine with a price tag to match. For the budget conscious, opt for any of the excellent second growths such as Chateau Pichon Baron, Chateau Pichon Lalande or Chateau Leoville Las Cases.
2. The adventurous: There are many new wine regions trending among the sommelier circles right now including wines from the Jura, central Spain, Sicily, Israel and central and eastern Europe. But the wine that continues to keep the buzz in smart restaurants in Manhattan and London are Greek whites. Their crisp, lightly aromatic and uniquely minerally profile has wine lovers asking for more. Try Domaine Sigalas Santorini Assyrtico or Chateau Musar from Lebanon, a fabulous wine that is an intriguing blend of Cinsaut and Cabernet Sauvignon.
3. The serious academic: It remains a mystery how warm climate Hunter Valley is able to ripen Semillon in a way that produces one of the greatest white wines from Australia. This white variety that is native to Bordeaux is usually blended and oak aged but in Hunter Valley, it is a solo grape that is harvested early when the variety is still exuding herbal flavors rather than fruit. Mysteriously, this pale, light bodied white develops depth and intense floral, petrol and nutty flavors and ages for many decades, actually improving in bottle! I would highly recommend the Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon – to enjoy it at its peak, make sure the wine is at least 10 years old.
4. Bold flavor lover: The region to scour for bold, exciting flavors is in South America. Argentinian Malbecs are as bold as they come, with deep purple-black color and intense ripe blackberry and violet flavors and gutsy tannins. Catena is one of the most reliable and high quality producers and their Catena Appellation Lunlunta Malbec or any of their high altitude Malbecs are great value for money.
5. Seeker of elegant wines with finesse: There is one place that all finesse seekers congregate to – Burgundy. Here the delicate Pinot Noir grape shows us how detail and lightness combine to create ethereal wines that dance on your tongue. I recommend the Domaine Marquis d’Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Ducs which epitomizes elegance in a bottle.