Paul Bara, Champagne, Grand Cru, Bouzy, 2000–$59.99
When you want to convey that nothing short of Champagne can possibly express the value and respect with which you regard your partner, we can vouch for this very special grower-Champagne made from 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay grapes from a Grand Cru village specializing in Pinot Noir. Richard Juhlin, the Champagne savant, describes Bara as a “legend in Champagne” and, along with two others, shares the distinction of the “most quality focused grower in Bouzy” (a Grand Cru village in Champagne). The wines are aged at least 4 years (and in this case, was aged for 10 years before release), giving him a rich, lush style. Nonetheless, his wines are characterized by tremendous energy and bright fruit. This is a gorgeous wine for a special occasion. We enjoy the wine so much that we almost always have it just on its own, though it can perform admirably as a starter with brie with an apricot chutney and almonds or with your main course of lobster, duck, or butternut squash risotto.
Graham Beck, Sparkling Rosé, Brut, 2008 South Africa–$15.99
One of our all-time favorites combining two great attributes– bubbly and pink! Like traditional Champagne, it is made from Chardonnay (55%) and Pinot Noir (45%) and, like Champagne, secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. It is a very pale, beautiful salmon color with aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry and that yeasty, rising bread dough scent typical of sparkling wines aged on their lees for longer periods, in this case, at least 16 months. If you choose the Graham Beck sparkling Rose´ to celebrate your evening, you will be in good company. In 1994, Nelson Mandela toasted his inauguration as President of South Africa with a glass. Years later, Barack and Michelle Obama raised a glass together in Chicago to celebrate Obama’s selection as the Democratic candidate for the 2008 presidential contest. It is very festive, and goes beautifully with chocolate. It is also remarkably affordable at $15.99.
Hillinger, Secco, Sparkling Rosé, NV, Austria–$17.99
Another combination of pink and bubbles, this one from Austria’s Neusiedlersee area in Burgenland (below Vienna). Made from 100% Pinot Noir, but rather than the traditional Methode Champenoise with secondary fermentation in the bottle, Hillinger’s Secco uses the Charmat method, with secondary fermentation occurring in large stainless steel tanks that are pressurized. Sparkling wines that use the charmat method prize freshness of flavors, and you will certainly find that in the Hillinger Secco. Ripe red berries on the nose and palate, but the finish is full of zest, very lively and super fresh. It is an energizing wine that will do well at the beginning of the evening, perhaps with a bit of sushi.
Pratello, Lieti Conversari, Manzoni Bianco, Garda (Italy), 2009– $22.99 (organic)
We had to include a white wine whose name translates to “happy,” or “pleasant conversation”! It helps that the wine is also delicious. The grape from which this wine comes, Manzoni Bianco, is a hybrid of Riesling and Pinot Blanc. It has the aromatic nose of Riesling—floral, some white peach and even honey, then on the finish, some nuttiness that I would associate more with Pinot Blanc. We visited Pratello in the late fall and that is where we “discovered” this wine. The winemaker, Vincenzo, shared the 2002 Lieti with us and it was a remarkable, actually stunning, wine. 2002 was a notoriously awful year in much of Europe (except Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire)—tons of rain, cool weather, hail. It’s one of those vintages that mostly one avoids. I was nonplussed, however, by the concentration of the 2002 Lieti Conversari. We were enjoying it in late fall 2010, and while it was rich and concentrated, it still had energy. If you like this wine, it has the potential to age. We have put some down to see how it develops. In the meantime, however, let it lubricate your evening so that you may engage in “lieti conversari” with your Valentine.
Domaine Bellegarde, Le Pierre Blanche, Jurancon Sec, 2008– $24.99 (Biodynamic)
It is 80% Petite Manseng, 20% Gros Manseng I’ve written about this wine before; if only I could find those notes. I have waxed on about this wine’s aromas and flavors of quince that make it the perfect foil for membrillo (fresh quince paste). We have used the membrillo with Manchego cheese and that combination is so close to perfect that it is silly; add the Bellegarde and it is on the asymptote of perfection. This is a massive white wine, full, lush, super-rich, but once again, that weight is carried on the finish by vibrant acidity. It is so alive for such a big white. It needs an aged cheese like an English Cheddar or it can accompany the main course, so long as you have something like pork, duck, goose, or lobster. Vegetarians, try this one with a vegetable Wellington, more delicious than a beef Wellington any day. Just use a puff pastry for richness, then fill with various roasted veg and some cheese (Manchego?). Alternatively, vegetarians could do a strudel with a combination of blue and Neufchatel cheese, with cauliflower and peas. You get the idea; something rich, creamy, decadent—this wine will pair up beautifully.
Steininger, Zweigelt, “Novemberlese,” Kamptal, 2008– $16.99
Elsewhere I have described this wine as “hedonistic,” and it is. It is all about pleasure and immediate satisfaction. Zweigelt is a hybrid of two Austrian red grapes, Saint Laurent and Blaufrankisch, and it combines the great qualities of both—juiciness, fruitiness, spiciness and rich, lush, fullness. It is called “Novemberlese” because the grapes are picked as late as possible, early November, and they are ripe and sweet. The wine made from these grapes reflects that richness and would love to be paired with aged cheeses (try a 3-year Gouda), a big main meal of meat (think sausages) or that lovely finish of chocolate!
Begali, Ripasso, Veneto, 2008–$21.99 (Organic)
We do love this wine. Made from the same grapes as Valpolicello, but this is so not Valpolicello. Regular Valpolicello is enhanced by drying some of the grapes so that they shrivel like raisins, then pressing them so that just a drop of rich nectar emerges, and blending the nectar in with the Valpolicello. The result is a much richer wine with much sweeter fruit, more like fig and balsamic than bright cherry. Think roasted meats and sweet, caramelized vegetables. Also consider it with chocolate when you come home from your romantic dinner out. The perfect nightcap.
Altovinum, Evodia, Garnacha, 2009– $10.99
A budget price, but not a cheap wine. This wine is one of the best values in the shop. For lots more on the producer and the wine, see Alex’s blog post below. Alex wrote about the 2008 and, we are so pleased to report, the 2009 is just as good or better. Nothing pleases us more than to find a wine of this quality at this price; what a value!
Having just read a review by Tanzer, and conceding that he said it well, it appears below. I will note only that it received a 90. Enjoy.
Sexy, high-pitched aromas of strawberry preserves, black raspberry, minerals and pungent flowers. Concentrated but not at all heavy; sweet raspberry and blackberry flavors are lifted by a hint of violet. Very suave, especially at this price; finishes with silky tannins and excellent clarity. No jamminess here, which is pretty rare for inexpensive garnacha. These vines are reportedly planted at 850 to 1,100 meters altitude on slate and are more than 100 years old.