Aren’t we enlarged
by the scale of what we’re able
to desire? Everything,
the choir insists,
inside these wrappings
burns another, brighter life,
by song: hear how
it cascades, in overlapping,
lapidary waves of praise? Still time.
Still time to change.
This time of year brings forth memories of Christmases that I’ve experienced and also, of Christmases that I’ve created in my imagination, fueled by narratives told and retold – a history of the way things should be.
I recently saw a woman downtown, dressed in a neat, black, to-the-ankle wool coat. On her head was a smart wool hat. In the brim of the hat, she’d tucked a hawk-colored feather and a dainty snip of red ribbon. Just that, the feather and the ribbon, sung of winter holidays, of the simplest beauties. I noticed her while waiting for my family to wrap up shopping in the used bookshop. I’d stepped out on the street because I’d heard music, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. In that moment, the music and the ribboned feather meant more to me than any grand gestures. I lifted my chin to position myself against tears. Spirit washed over me.
To be honest, I can draw up that feeling many times during the Christmas season. I picture the little white church near my childhood home, one that I visited several times with neighbors, even though I wasn’t a member of the congregation. Dressed in snow, with candles in each window and a holly wreath on the black door – imagining that church bathes me in a sense of peace so clear that it is nearly stellar, lunar.
My Yorkie, sleeping on her cushion in front of the fireplace, our Christmas tree casting attention her way through each little light, each heirloom ornament – this can feel near to holy when I hold the image in my heart.
To match these moments there are hundreds more, each filled with a required specificity because in their glow things are right with the world. And yet… we still have the urge to give and to get. To exchange and unwrap. To list and hope and circle back again, disbursements in the round for everyone we love.
To give the gift of wine is to give a bit of life – a bit of someone’s life’s work too – for others to enjoy. To be toasted instantly or tucked away for later, the bottles hold promise because they are emblematic of sharing. Here are a few of the bottles that have brought me enjoyment, that have inspired and delighted me or taught me something new this year. Thank you for joining me on L’Occasion in 2017. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year.
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
Weingut Sektgut Barth Riesling Sekt Brut NV
If you can find a producer that makes a wine with the same name as your recipient, then there’s the ringer – buy a few bottles and make them smile. If that’s not an option, buy them a dazzling, Riesling sparkler with the same name as me: Weingut Sektgut Barth Riesling Sekt Brut from Rheingau, Germany. Everyone knows that Germany does Christmas with all the right moves, and this wine comes from a truly magical part of the country, overlooking the Rhine River. Norbert Barth helped originate the Rheingau Charta (or Charter) Association, which was the beginning of today’s Cru-based arrangement inherent in the Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP). Mark Barth, Norbert Barth’s son, is now a leader in the winery, continuing the fruitful work of his father, under a beautiful philosophy.
“Make the best out of something good. Coax everything from the grape that can impart the distinctive character of Hattenheim’s vineyards, so blessed by nature. Create wines and sparkling wines that are racy and elegant and that lend a festive touch to every occasion. They’re good for body and soul and add pleasure to life.” Says Norbert Barth.
This beautiful bubbler’s extra-dry crispness and toasty nose would be lovely with oysters, a cheese plate, or roasted chicken. Available for $22.95 from Truly Fine Wines.
Domaine de Briante Brouilly “Naturellement” AOC 2015
If the gift of conversation is what you truly want to give, a Beaujolais must be on your shopping list. Beaujolais wines were a recent focus on L’Occasion and I’ve given in to the notion that these wines get people talking. Some are surprised by their quality, some are infatuated, some tend to linger too long on Nouveau (for good or for bad).
In the end, however, it certainly seems that Beaujolais in general and Brouilly in specific has people talking. Why not give a wine that the recipient can bring up at a dinner party? Brouilly (“bree-yee”) has vibrant red fruit aromatics and flavors, a measure of tannins and, a gorgeous touch of minerality. At around $17, this natural wine would be lovely with a roasted turkey or chicken. At has the chops to stand up to grilled red meat as well, think a beautiful wood-fired beef tenderloin, because huddling by the warm grill on a chilly night with a light dusting of snow might be fun! (Actually, my Dad does that for us every Christmas, and it tastes devlishly good!)
Tendril Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Collection
This is one of those unicorn gifts, a certain special thrill IF you can get your hands on it. Acclaimed winemaker Tony Rynders has crafted a five-course “meal” of Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. These wine are extremely limited so it might not be fair of me to recommend them – but even if you aren’t able to purchase them, let this be an inspiration.
Rynders looks at this Pinot Noir experience as a tableau for the senses – while each comes from the Willamette Valley, they are crafted to illustrate not only single vineyard capabilities but the interplay of oak, aging, and whole-clusters. The meal starts with Pretender, a white Pinot Noir, and extends to four other bottles, each unique. Though the experience is meant to be holistic, the bottles can be enjoyed on their own.
Pictured for this story is the 2013 Tendril Wine Cellars C-Note, 100% whole-cluster, 100% new oak – a single element in the collection. At $100 this is definitely a splurge. Go the full monty and get the set for just under $350. Pairings are endless for this series, as Pinot Noir is notoriously great with a meal.
Champagne André Jacquart Blanc de Blancs Brut Experience NV
Grower Champagne. It is one of the most captivating stories in wine today and I love the history of the Jaquart family, a fifth-generation winegrape-growing business. Since 1958 they’ve released estate-bottle wines from grapes grown in two famous villages, Mesnil-sur-Oger (Champagne Village classified Grand Cru) and Vertus (Champagne Village classified Premier Cru).
Now Marie Doyard (André Jacquart’s granddaughter) and her husband continue the family legacy. André Jacquart Blanc de Blancs Brut Experience NV is an elegant wine, aged sur-lie for five years, resulting in a creamy mousse with toasty warmth. Crisp and beautifully bracing at under $40, this is a stunner next to steamed lobster or as an apéro for your holiday toast.
One more detail I love about this wine. According to the winery, “Marie’s paternal grandfather, Maurice Doyard, was instrumental in the creation of the AOC Champagne and the delimitation of its vineyard areas.” Such meaning – toast to the future of your family with the history of Doyard’s.
Domaine Grand Nicolet Vielles Vignes Rasteau 2013
I am of the opinion that everyone loves Southern Rhône wines. They are perfect for connoisseurs and people that rarely consume wine alike. They are food-friendly, versatile and delicious.
This is the wine for everyone on your list. Domaine Grand Nicolet Vielles Vignes Rasteau 2013 will set you back a bit over $20 bucks – in my opinion, worth every shilling and then some. Rasteau is a Cru, a distinct region of fresh finesse and forward-thinking producers. It is beautiful country, with vines set around the village in the Dentelles de Montmirail region.
Early Nicolet vineyards and winemaking were some of the originals in Rasteau. This bottle is 100% Grenache from vines averaging 80 years of age. Minimal intervention and hand-harvesting make this wine true to terroir. This wine would be beautiful with winter stews, roasted meats, mushroom dishes, and herbed potatoes. Watch for 2015 and 2016 releases of Rasteau and all Southern Rhône wines – these are stellar vintages. I was in Rasteau just after harvest 2016, and the excitement was clear.
Domaine de Rancy Rivesaltes Ambré Vin Doux Naturel 2001
Vin Doux Naturel (VDN) are naturally sweet wines from Southern France. While I’m highly familiar with the VDN from the Southern Rhône, I am just starting a relationship with Rivesaltes, from eastern Rousillion. This wine is made from 100% Maccabéo, a varietal most of us haven’t tried. It has a good thing going in Rioja and with the proximity to Spain, it isn’t surprising to find this versatile varietal in Rousillion.
According to Patrick Allen Selections, Domaine de Rancy‘s importer, “Descending into the cellar one gets the feeling of entering a medieval alchemist’s laboratory. Each barrel, some as small as 12 inches in diameter, is labeled with a cryptic numerical code, that keeps hidden from outsiders which nectar each barrel contains.” This wine spent 12 years in one of those barrels before bottling.
VDN wines are so fascinating to me – they are indeed sweet but so tight-wire balanced with savory acidity. They have a textural quality that is very succulent and satisfying. This wine is traditionally a dessert wine and would charm any wine lover interested in trying something truly delicious and unique. $30 for a 500ml bottle, which can be enjoyed weeks after opening. Don’t be afraid of dessert wines; more to come later this month on L’Occasion.
Wine Pairing Weekend
This Saturday, December 9, the Wine Pairing Weekend bloggers celebrate “Giving the Gift of Wine”. This event is sure to get you ready to please the wine lovers on your holiday shopping list!
Here are the topics the #winePW crew will be covering:
Jade from The Tasting Pour tells us “How to Choose a Wine Gift”
Jeff from foodwineclick shares “Holiday Wine Gift Ideas: Not Just Any Champagne”
Cindy from Grape Experiences posts “Wines from The Hess Collection – Will You be Naughty or Nice?”
David from Cooking Chat writes about “Christmas Wine Gifts: Tips and Bottles To Give”
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Spreading Christmas Cheer”
Michelle from Rockin Red Blog tells us “How to Give the Gift of Wine”
Gwendolyn from Wine Predator shares “Good Gifts Have Good Stories: 4 Wineries from Napa”
Culinary Adventures with Camilla gives us “Sips Worth Sharing”
Jennifer from Vino Travels covers “Holiday Wines with a Sicilian Flair”
Lauren from The Swirling Dervish blogs about “Family, Food, and Wine: The Gift of Memories”
Here on L’Occasion we’ve got “Wine Wrapped Up: The L’Occasion Gift Guide”
Be sure to check on Saturday morning for these great articles! We will also hold a live Twitter chat on Saturday, Dec. 9., 11 am Eastern Time / 8 a.m. Pacific. Just tune into the #winePW hashtag on Twitter at that time to join the conversation. You can check out past and future #winePW topics by visiting this page.