Beaujolais party wines
Party-planning pros tell you that one part of the formula for a successful event is to put more people into a room than it will comfortably accommodate. I’ve always applied a version of that sage advice to wine: put more bottles of wine in the ice tub and on the table than people will consume. It sends a visual message: let’s party.
And, with my wine suggestions, such a display of generosity doesn’t have to bust the budget.
Nothing brings smiles and a subliminal good-time message than greeting guests with a glass of sparkling wine. People in-the-know who want to stretch the dough, pour the affable and affordable nonvintage Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose’. Cremant is the French term for a sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region but using the traditional methods of Champagne to produce the wine.
The Albrechts have been making wine in Alsace for 18 generations. Their nonvintage Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose’ is pure pinot noir; its poached-salmon color is as delicate as the red-fruit aroma. Pleasing strawberry and citrus-like acidity make this sparkler easy to like, and its price–at the lower end of the $13 to $23 range–adds its own enjoyment. 86 points.
Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs offers a Champagne-style sparkling wine without the price tag. This is the sparkling wine for guests who find Champagne a tad too tart. Founded by the Champagne house G.H. Mumm, winemaker Ludovic Dervin was born and trained in the region. Mumm Napa’s Blanc de Blancs is 90 percent chardonnay and 10 percent pinot gris. While it’s made using Champagne’s traditional method, Napa’s warmer climate brings a richer and fuller fruit flavor of lemon and Honeycrisp apple. Pair it with slightly spicy tuna tartare, or with my personal favorite California sparkling-wine accompaniment: Szechuan chicken lettuce wraps. 89 points. Prices range from $15 to $25.
Stylish dinner parties hear the clarion call of Champagne. Your discerning guests will be pleased with the nonvintage Palmer & Co., Brut Reserve. Cellar master Xavier Berdin used Champagne’s three classic grapes in his blend of 50 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot meunier.
New to the American market, Palmer & Co., Champagne offers enticing aromas of freshly baked bread and honey, along with pear and citrus flavors. You can tell your guests that more than 50 percent of the grapes for Palmer & Co., Brut Reserve Champagne come from grand cru and premier cru vineyards, and it is aged for four years on its lees (spent yeast cells), which is four times the legal requirement for nonvintage Champagne. Pour it with hors d’oeuvres, or a scallop appetizer. All this attention to refinement earns 91 points. Prices range from $49 to $59.
I can’t recall a better budget white wine than the 2015 Bodegas Shaya Verdejo Old Vines.
I confess I was skeptical as soon as I saw the deer on the label: another “animal wine,” as we in the trade call this successful marketing ploy (put an animal on the label and women will buy the bottle). Backing my skepticism was its origin: Rueda, a Spanish appellation that produces a lot of nondescript white wine from the verdejo grape.
So, you can imagine my surprise when pleasant floral and white-fruit vapors of the 2015 Bodegas Shaya Verdejo Old Vines floated from my glass as I ate a bowl of spaghetti with pieces of fresh Alaskan shrimp coated with a white wine and garlic sauce. Without any alcohol or oak interference, the subtle mix of unsalted cashews and apple flavors bound with acidity flattered my pasta creation. 90 points. And at $9.50 to $14, you can generously stock your ice tub with multiple bottles.
With its quaffable fruit flavors, and catchy name and label design, the white 2015 Donnafugata SurSur will match the upbeat mood of any informal party. SurSur is a reformulation of the Arabic “sur sur,” meaning cricket. The picturesque label—commissioned by a local artist—features a girl’s foot running through grass and flowers. You can imagine crickets chirping in your ear.
Made from the little-known Sicilian grillo grape, the wine sings its own song. A breezy lemon, lime and sea-salt scent leads to a very tasty, lemonade-like fresh flavor and acidity. It was delightful with sautéed shrimp drizzled with soy sauce, and later in the evening, a wedge of Loire Valley soft goat’s cheese. 90 points. Prices are in the good-value range of $16 to $22.
Hosts of upscale dinner parties will be delighted with the elegant 2014 Joseph Drouhin Meursault. Drouhin is synonymous with quality and the 2014 white Burgundies are first-rate.
In this outstanding vintage, winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss crafted an Easter lily- and gravel-scented wine with opulent white fruit; Meursault’s classic mineral, stony backbone provides a splendid, fruit-flavored finish. Pour the 2014 Joseph Drouhin Meursault with dishes ranging from striped bass with braised fennel to loin of pork or veal chops with sautéed mushrooms. 92 points. Do some research before buying, as prices list from $46 to $67.
Few wines cast as joyful an air as Beaujolais Nouveau. The 2016 vintage arrived on November 17th, and retail stores have cases stacked near the checkout counter heralding its release.
The 2016 vintage gave Beaujolais producers a lot to smile about. The less-than-two month old 2016 Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau ($7 to $10) showed more body and flavor than I anticipated at the Georges Duboeuf party at Bouley Botanical restaurant in Manhattan. Then, a few days later, at Gloo restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village, I enjoyed the 2016 Domaine Chatelus Beaujolais Nouveau ($10 to $12) at the annual Ordre du Campagnons du Beaujolais party. Rating: A big grin for both.
But remember this embryonic and playful wine begins to fade with the arrival of the New Year. The real Beaujolais arrives in the spring.
The obscure Frappato wine is usually my first choice when having lunch on the outdoor terrace of Rome’s Cul de Sac wine bar-restaurant, one street from Piazza Navona. Even in Italy, Frappato is not well-known. At my last visit at Cul de Sac, my lunch neighbor/quasi lunch companion (terrace tables are no more that 6 inches apart) was an architect from Milan. He never heard of Frappato. We traded tastes: my Frappato for his Barbera. After drinking it, he took a picture of my bottle with the hope he would find it in Milan.
Liveliness, lightness and delicious ripe, red-fruit flavors are three characteristics that I love about Sicily’s Frappato wine. I found that, and more, in the 2015 Planeta Frappato: Brilliant, candy-cane red hue, bursting with cherry, strawberry and cinnamon aromas, the wine’s energetic, light body exploded with strawberry, cranberry and cherry flavors that mingled with tingling acidity and minerality. I enjoyed it with veal and pork Agnolotti at Manhattan’s Del Posto restaurant. 88 points. The 2015 Planeta Frappato is arriving in our market shortly. Expect to pay about $20.
Pomerol is the smallest and most expensive wine appellation in Bordeaux. At its apex, are the two most expensive wines in Bordeaux: Chateaux Petrus and Le Pin. As John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan was purported to have said, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” But for the curious, a single bottle from either chateau of the 2015 vintage, which will be delivered to our market in 2018, is being offered at $2,700.
So, it came as a very pleasant surprise to find the flavorful, affordable 2011 Chateau La Pointe Pomerol. A French insurance company purchased Chateau La Pointe in 2007, then hired Hubert de Bouard, the owner of the highly rated Chateau Angelus in the adjoining village of St. Emilion as its consulting winemaker.
You can taste de Bouard’s proclivity for very ripe fruit and new oak barrel aging in the blackberry and black-cherry aromas and flavors of the 2011 Chateau La Pointe’s 85 percent merlot and 15 percent cabernet franc blend. The wine’s underbelly of vanilla is from aging it for one year in 100-percent new French oak barrels (double the pre-de Bouard recipe). Its plushness will be familiar to drinkers of New World wines, and will partner with your favorite red meats. 88 Points. Retail is $45.
Now it’s time to party!
Photos: John Foy