Volnay & Pommard on the Holiday Table

Volnay & Pommard on the Holiday Table

Holiday meals, especially more intimate gatherings or holiday season dinner parties, offer a stage ripe for exploration of wines that may stretch the budget in other circumstances. The table is set. Someone, maybe you, is already cooking a multi-course seasonal meal. Instead of just pairing wines and foods, why not use the opportunity to take your guests on a journey? A couple of well-chosen bottles of Burgundy can certainly elevate a celebration.

Which brings me back to Volnay and Pommard. Perhaps no two communes illustrate terroir in Burgundy as clearly as these neighboring villages. Like Barbaresco and Barolo in Piedmont, they are unmistakably feminine and masculine expressions of the same grape variety, in this case pinot noir. Drive or bicycle south from Beaune on the Route des Grands Crus and you will arrive in Pommard, an appellation whose relatively low elevation, underground spring water, and sediment composed of a heavy mix of clay and iron yield wines of deep color, intensity and structure. These are appealing, powerful, ageworthy wines that will be especially attractive to fans of collectible cabernet sauvignon.

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Clovis Taittinger on Opening Champagne

For Clovis Taittinger, 34, the welcome hiss of a Champagne bottle opening is always something magical. He still stares at the bubbles rising in his flute with awe. He views removing the signature mushroom-shaped cork from a bottle of Champagne as a ceremony of sorts and wants people to experience pleasure, not fear, when opening a bottle. Asked to advise those of us who did not grow up in one of Champagne’s most renowned family-owned Houses of an elegant and festive way to uncork a bottle, he shared his thoughts on what makes for the most graceful presentation:

1) Take your time.  Move slowly.  Concentrate.
2) Remove the foil.
3) Keep pressure on the cork while twisting the key of the Champagne’s wire cage six times to the left.  Discard the cage.
4) Cradle the body of the bottle in your dominant hand as you wrap your other hand around the neck and the cork, to prevent the cork from flying off.
5) Holding the bottle upright at a slight angle, turn the bottle until the cork pops off into your hand.
6) If successful, the pop of the cork should sound like a gunshot with a silencer.

Mastery comes with practice, says Clovis. This Christmas he will practice at home with his wife, parents, children and a bottle of Taittinger’s Prestige Cuvee--Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne.”

A Seder Wine Worthy of Four Cups

The Passover Seder is structured around drinking four cups of wine. For decades this meant the ceremonial meal was punctuated by sips of the syrupy concord grape based Manischewitz, a wine that seemed to live in the refrigerator from one holiday to the next without ever being emptied or replaced. Fortunately, as Israeli winemaking has matured, the source for Seder wine has shifted from the shores of Lake Erie in New York State to the high-altitude vineyards of the Upper Galilee, where wineries such as Recanati are making quality kosher for Passover wines with international varieties.

Basic Recanati wines are reasonably priced crowd-pleasers: cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and merlot that could hail from good producer anywhere in the New World. The Reserve label wines offer a more distinctive experience. For Recanati winemaker Gil Shatsberg, who also founded the much-admired Amphorae Winery along Israel’s border with Lebanon, they represent his effort to make wines that speak of their origins in the Middle East near the Mediterranean Sea. Thus the Petite Syrah-Zinfandel Reserve 2011 from the Galilee is silky and bright with aromas of violets and fresh plums and the old-vine Wild Carignan Reserve 2010, Judean Hills tastes of bramble, smoke and chocolate.

Winemaking in Israel comes with particular challenges. Vineyards have to be leased because the government owns all agricultural land. Plus, for a wine to be Kosher (as all Israeli wine must), the vineyard must be left fallow every seven years. This is accomplished symbolically through a national ban on exports after every seventh harvest, even if the vintage yielded the best wine a winery has ever produced.