'Tis the season for holiday feasting. That typically means a up-close and personal experience with the fruits of the vine. What to serve and how to serve it are top of the mind.
As a service to our "Wine Talk" readers, I have devoted years of research to the subject, and I have a few ideas that might enhance the experience for you and your guests.
First, and probably foremost, shine up that wine decanter that's been gathering dust in your kitchen cabinet. For one thing, a decanter of wine at the feasting table creates an ambiance of elegance and refinement. That, and your wines will taste better. Aerating a red wine prior to serving elevates the aromas and softens the tannins. Even white wines benefit from decanting, though not as much as reds.
Don't have a decanter? A carafe of any kind will do just fine. Don't have a carafe? At the very least, open your reds a good hour or so before serving. You will be glad you did.
Second, one of the ceremonial aspects of the holidays that I've grown fond of is the seasoning of the wine glasses. This is simple and a bit of fun, and has the practical benefit of removing kitchen aromas from your stemware.
It begins with the host pouring a small amount of wine in his or her glass and giving it a good swirl. The glass is then passed around the table, the next person pouring the wine from the host's glass into his or her glass and giving that a good swirl. The ritual is repeated until the wine comes back to the host from the last guest to season with a swirl of wine.
And finally, be a reverse snob and serve a good dry rose as an aperitif when guests arrive. You may be surprised at how much everyone enjoys it. Over the years, I have made a point to offer the rose before offering other wines. Often, when the rose is presented in the midst of other wines, it is overlooked. When presented first and alone, everyone drinks it, and most enjoy the experience!
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Wakefield 2014 Shiraz "St. Andrews," Clare Valley, Australia ($60) -- This hot-rod shiraz from Wakefield is a showy wine that dazzles consistently from vintage to vintage. The 2014 is rich and layered, showing aromas of ripe blueberry, blackberry and mulberry, an overlay of eucalyptus and a hint of spice. The finish is seemingly endless, with exceptional persistence of flavor. Rating: 95.
Bruno Paillard Brut Rose, Champagne, France ($65) -- Bruno Paillard is quietly making inroads in the U.S. market with an elegant style that emphasizes subtlety and complexity. Paillard's nonvintage brut rose is all of that, beginning with its appearance, a pale pink rose-petal color. On the palate it is bright and clean, with mouthwatering acidity that makes the red fruits sing. It has the structure and oomph to pair with roast fowl or grilled salmon. And it's perfectly breathtaking as an aperitif. Rating: 94.
Ponzi Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir "Classico," Willamette Valley ($43) -- This vintage of Ponzi's "Classico" pinot noir offers an insight into the depth and richness Ponzi pinots can achieve. The 2014 is a gem, layered with cherry and cranberry aromas, a subtle touch of wood spice and fine tannins that are beautifully integrated and approachable, even at this youthful stage. Rating: 93.
Sonoma-Cutrer 2013 Pinot Noir, Vine Hill Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($46) -- This eclectic pinot from Sonoma-Cutrer's Vine Hill vineyards shows an intriguing note of coffee that morphs into a deep black cherry layer on the palate. With slightly rustic tannins and an earthy forest floor essence on the finish, it displays exceptional texture in the mouth with excellent persistence through a long finish. Rating: 93.
Gascon 2014 Malbec Reserva, Mendoza, Argentina ($25) -- Argentine malbec is unlike any other malbec, and the 2014 Gascon Reserva is more unlike other malbecs than most. With layered black fruits dominant, this is a dense wine that exhibits a fair amount of heft without being out of balance. But its greatest appeal is the note of white pepper on the nose and the palate, an exotic twist that is not only aromatically inviting but downright delicious. Rating: 92.
J Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($40) -- Although best known for its superb sparkling wines, J is just as adept at still table wines, producing excellent pinot gris and pinot noir from primarily Russian River Valley grapes. The 2014 RRV pinot is a good example of the J style, which emphasizes balance between fruit and acid and suave tannins. This vintage shows ripe black cherry with a note of cola and wood spice. Rating: 92.
Dry Creek Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley ($28) -- Always a good value, the basic 2013 DCV cabernet sauvignon from Dry Creek Valley doesn't disappoint. Exhibiting richness and depth, this vintage offers a burst of blackberry and currant fruit midpalate, framed nicely by just the right touch of oak vanillin and spice. Well-proportioned and beautifully balanced, it's a steal at the price. Rating: 90.
Robert Whitley's column, "Wine Talk," can be found at creators.com.