Casual wine drinkers, aficionados, and beginners alike: Each month we expose you to new things, educating and diversifying your palate with a lineup of our monthly wine picks. We've had a lot to balance in making our December wine recommendations, namely which incredible bottles to choose from our winery travels in Spain and Portugal, how best to satiate the palate of cold or white wine drinkers, and -- of course -- the best with which to celebrate the New Year. Enjoy!
NV Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon La Cueille (Bugey, France)
Why we chose it: This beautifully colored, deep pink and red sparkling wine from the Bugey region of eastern France serves as our house bubbles year round. It's crowd pleasing qualities combined with its great holiday color make it the perfect sparkler to serve in December (or just after midnight on the first of January). The nose throws up a medley of raspberries and cream, pomegranate (the juice, like cracking into a fresh pomegranate), and cranberry that continues through the palate and into the fresh aftertaste (like drinking a good cranberry juice). There's also tart raspberry sweetness in the palate. We love how this wine manages to be delectably sweet without being sugary, making it something that (should) please drinkers of drier and sweeter bubbles alike.
What to look for: Just do yourself a favor and ask your local wine merchant to track this bottle down for you. We don't suspect it's terribly hard to find.
2015 Cillar de Silos Rosado (Ribera del Duero, Spain)
Why we chose it: This is a fun and delicious rosado (rosé) of 100% Tempranillo from a region far better known for its reds. We tried it with dinner at La Favorita in Burgos, Spain. Strawberry, almond, and a little raspberry come out in the nose that strikingly lacks the strawberry and cream elements common in a lot of rosé. This is a fresh wine with big almost notes on the palate, extraordinarily easy drinking with a particularly pleasant aftertaste. Try pairing with a white fish.
What to look for: We're looking for bottles that will please those who generally prefer white wine (looking at the glass of Chardonnay in my grandmother's hand here) in a season that was made for red. The goal here isn't necessarily to find this specific bottle, but rather to seek out heartier rosé that works well with food. Looks are often predictive here... crazy as it sounds, try comparing various bottles of rosé to determine which look darker in color. In the simplest terms, those will often fit the "heartier, works well with food" bill.
2006 Fernando Remírez de Ganuza Reserva (Rioja, Spain)
Why we chose it: The color is turning beautifully aged on this 2006 Rioja, moving from that vibrant purpled red to a more distinguished leathery garnet. A little earthy, dried cherry and a touch of ripened banana bread in the nose are accompanied by powerful menthol notes that carry through the palate. Quite soft in the mouth as many of the tannins have moved along with a little age.
What to look for: I admit that I was less than exultant about the merits of Spain's wine aging classification (i.e. Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva) when I wrote about them in my Spanish Wine 101 piece (which you should read and reference often). However... December is a great time for older bottles for three reasons. First, the aging of red wine can tend to bring out notes like "distinguished leathery garnet", "smoldering fire" (not in this wine, but in another we recently tried), and "menthol". Don't some of those sound like winter? Second, the end of the year is a good time to remember that wine doesn't age well forever, so drink up! And thirdly, older wine can sometimes carry a higher price tag, while holiday meals likewise offer a good excuse to treat yourself!
2011 Glen Manor Vin Rouge (Virginia, USA)
Why we chose it: The Vin Rouge is very dark in the glass with great legs running down the side. There's a big raspberry and blackberry punch on the first whiff. Great blended berries in the palate are put together really nicely and smoothly. 2011 was a famously tough growing year in Virginia, so it is a tribute to the wonderfully talented winemaker to have produced such a wine with such depth that year. It's drinking very nicely, actually we think we're drinking it at the perfect point in its life. The aftertaste is wonderful, without any trace of a tannic bite. Try drinking with lamb.
What to look for: Bordeaux style blends invite a feast because they are bigger, heartier, and food friendly (that's red wine not actually made in Bordeaux, made from grapes not actually grown in Bordeaux, yet blended in a similar style of the Bordeaux blends of some combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot). Look for these Bordeaux style (again, emphasis on style) from around the world. Virginia's are great, but you'll find others elsewhere marketed labeled with designations like Meritage, Heritage, and Claret (because, again, they aren't actually from Bordeaux and therefor cannot advertise as such).
2003 Quinta do Noval Colheita Tawny Porto (Porto, Portugal)
Why we chose it: Port, as you may know, is the famous fortified wine from Porto, Portugal. Generally a heavier dessert wine, it's perfect for serving after dinner in the winter, in our estimation from around Thanksgiving through early Spring (though don't get us wrong, it's not like linen pants, Port is good year round). Ports generally keep pretty well once the bottle is opened, so don't worry about re-corking and taking it out again next week. In any case, consider a bottle from Quinta do Noval. We recently sampled the Quinta do Noval Colheita 2003 Tawny Porto that featured notes of scorched caramel, creme brûlée, and brown sugar. It tastes like winter, with a little bit of maple on the palate.
What to look for: We admit to lifting this from our recent Best wine pairings for Thanksgiving dinner post, but -- we argue -- for very good reason. Port shines this time of year, but its sweeter nature makes it unlikely something you'll finish on your own. Enter the friends and family with whom you might share the holidays, for they are here to help! If those notes of "scorched caramel, creme brûlée, and brown sugar" strike your fancy, you're going to seek out a "Tawny" port at the wine shop. If you prefer fruit, seek out a "Ruby" port. Rubies tend to be a bit more common in mass market wine buying settings (i.e. the grocery store), but no self-respecting wine shop is going to be without bottles of their favorite Tawny.