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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The Halmarks of a Classic Rosé de Provence

Photo by Magdalena Jankowska/iStock / Getty Images

Rosé de Provence is the kind of wine that fulfills a longing for a particular time and place. Its pale salmon hue, fresh fruit aroma and tumbling minerality evoke seaside lunches and sunset aperitifs. Typically made from grenache, cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre, the classic style is light and refreshingly dry. When the weather begins to warm, Americans have an insatiable appetite for Rosé de Provence. For eight consecutive years this bottled essence of Southern France has experienced double-digit sales growth here. As such, today we have access to more rosés from a greater variety of Provençal producers than ever before.

Achieving the elegant simplicity of a well-crafted rosé requires gentle handling of mature fruit. Corners cut in the vineyard lead to thin wines with an aftertaste that can be green or medicinal, wines that are the bad oysters of summer drinks. Good rosés should be light-bodied with mouthwatering acidity and taste of white flowers, seashells and just-picked berries. A few bottles that fulfill this tall order are Château de Pourcieux,  Domaine de Saint-Ser, Château la Calisse, AIX and Domaine de l'’Abbeye Clos Beylesse.   

Rosé de Provence is not a wine to be sipped slowly and pondered. It is meant to disappear quickly, by the magnum if possible, and its charming way of capturing the spirit of Mediterranean idyll should be delivered to the consumer without emptying their wallet.

Summer Reds

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When we talk about white wines for summers, we implicitly understand the reference. Summer whites are bright, light, thirst quenching wines that are eminently drinkable. Sancerre ,Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine and Albariño immediately come to mind. Summer reds are more difficult to define. We know we are not breaking out a pensive vintage Bordeaux for the family barbeque or uncorking a luscious California cabernet sauvignon with a bowl of chilled asparagus soup, but it is it possible to reduce the entire universe of reds to a simple rule of thumb for the summer months?

One helpful idea is to think about the climate of the wine’s region of origin. Warm climate reds tend to be juicy with plenty of body and just enough acidity to be mouthwatering. Think nero d’avola from Sicily, malbec from Mendoza, or grenache from the southern Rhone Valley. These intensely flavorful wines will maintain their structure in the face of bold, smoky, spicy summer fare. 

On the other end of the spectrum are the cool climate reds, what we call bistro wines, since they show so well served lightly chilled by the carafe. At their best, cool climate reds are youthful and delicious, tasting of fresh berries often with floral or mineral notes. They won’t overwhelm a fresh salad niçoise, spring pea soup or chicken paillard. Some very fine examples can be found in the Loire Valley, notably the cabernet franc from Chinon and Saumur. Other sources worth seeking out are pinot noirs from Alsace and Central Otago. 

The Elegance of Churchill’s Dry White Port


The question of what to drink as an aperitif on a winter night, when the thought of something cold, light and crisp sends chills up your spine, is not easily solved. In Portugal, the answer is often white port served lightly chilled. This is a great idea, in theory. It is easy to imagine sitting by a fire sipping a well aged fortified white wine that warms you from the inside as flavors of honey and almonds fill your mouth. Unfortunately, most white ports fall into the category of one-dimensional high alcohol sweet wines that are best when served combined with other ingredients by a talented mixologist.

This backdrop is what makes tasting Churchill’s Dry White Port a bit of a revelation. Though it is labeled “dry aperitif”, Churchill’s drinks like a fine tawny that happens to be made from white grapes. The base wine is a field blend of local white varieties — Malvasia Fina, Códega, Gouveio and Rabigato— harvested from an old high-altitude vineyard in the Douro sub-region of Cima Corgo. This means the grapes are grown and pressed together before being fermented dry. Once it is fortified, the port is aged for ten years in oak casks. The result is a complex dry white port with a golden hue. In the mouth, it is viscous with nutty flavors and mellow fruit. It pairs beautifully with roasted almonds, smoked salmon, paté, gougéres as well as most cheeses, and its consumption need not be limited to the winter season. Once opened, it will keep in the refrigerator for a month.

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 Cinderella Story in Chianti Rufina

The story of Selvapiana is a fairytale come true. It begins with a beautiful hilltop castle surrounded by olive trees and sangiovese vineyards. Once a summer residence for Florentine bishops and later under five generations of family ownership, the property eventually came under the stewardship of Count Francesco Giuntini Antinori who had no children. As he grew older, the count looked around the castle and at all the villagers and decided that the future of the property would be best served if it was placed in the hands of his estate manager’s two children who were born there. In 1994, four years after his estate-manager passed away, the count adopted the brother and sister and made them his heirs in perhaps the ultimate example of loving the family you choose. The story even has a happy ending. Today the count’s adopted children, Silvia and Federico Giuntini A. Masseti are the winery’s managing directors, leaders in organic farming and international spokesmen for the wines of Chianti Rufina. And if that weren’t enough, the Selvapiana “Bucerchiale” Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG is a benchmark for elegance in Chianti Rufina and one of Italy’s great wine values.

The Count turned 80 years old on September 13th and celebrated with a grand lunch at the winery with Silvia, Federico and 150 of his closest friends and relatives. Guests came from throughout Italy and from as far as India, New York, and Denmark. As Selvapiana was one of several Tuscan estates owned by the count’s parents, cousins from Badia a Coltibuono in Chianti Classico and Capezzana in Carmignano and a niece from La Parrina in Maremma were at the heart of the festivities.

The party began in the garden with an aperitivo of wine and cheese from La Parrina, then moved indoors for lunch. There was a primi (first course) of risotto with sangiovese grapes and Chianti Rufina, a secondi (second course) of roasted wild boar and a dolci (dessert) showcasing a giant napoleon topped with 80 candles. Selvapiana “Bucerchiale” Chianti Rufina Riserva was served with the main meal and a special library vintage of the Bucerchiale accompanied dessert.

SELVAPIANA “Bucerchiale” Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG, 2007 (Italy) $31 
Made from 100% old-vine sangiovese grown at high altitude in limestone and schist, the wine is concentrated with wild cherry and tobacco flavors, great length and liveliness. Delicious upon release, with time, it softens and develops aromas of truffles, berries, and the scent of the forest floor. Available here

Risotto with Red Grapes and Chianti Rufina
Serves: 4
Preparation time: approximately 30 minutes

4 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 cups Italian short grain rice, such as Carnaroli or Arborio
¾ cup Chianti Rufina or other dry red wine
2 cups ripe seedless red grapes, cut in half
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Bring the vegetable broth to a simmer. Meanwhile, combine the olive oil and butter in a large heavy-bottom pan over a medium-low flame. Once the butter melts, add the shallots and sauté for 2 minutes until translucent. Add the thyme and the rice, sauté for 2 more minutes using a wooden spoon and stirring frequently. Add the red wine and stir constantly until the liquid has been absorbed. Be sure to scrape the side and bottom of the pot ensure the rice doesn’t stick. Add the warm broth to the rice in ½ cup increments. Stir until the broth has been absorbed before adding another ½ cup. After about 18 minutes the rice will be tender but firm to the bite. Add the grapes and grated Parmesan, cook for two more minutes, stir gently until the grapes soften. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

A Royal Warrant For Champagne

Given that 2013 will likely be a year for William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to celebrate, why not use Boxing Day as a moment to revisit the Champagne chosen to toast their marriage. For six months before their nuptials, only six people outside the Royal Household Wine Committee were in on the secret that magnums of Pol Roger Brut Réserve Brut were served at the reception, two from the Pol Roger office in England and four from the office in France. The order was run through Berry Bros. & Rudd, the venerable wine and sprits shop on St. James Street in London, whose managing director Simon Berry moonlights as the Clerk of the Royal Cellars and head of the Royal Household Wine Committee.

Far from the only Champagne in the running, the Royal Household Wine Committee considered wines from all seven Champagne houses with a Royal Warrant from H. M. The Queen: Pol Roger Bollinger (the preferred Champagne of 007), Louis Roederer, Krug, G. H. Mumm, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin and Lanson Pére et Fils. Robert Large, the Royal Cellar’s Yeoman, ultimately chose the wine for the event.

Why Pol Roger? Hubert de Billy, who directs domestic sales and global marketing for the house, speculates, “Given the economy, they wanted high-quality non-vintage Champagne in magnums from a family-owned company that was not trendy, but part of the gentry way of living.” The price offered had to be fair, “Not more than the general public would pay and not less.” And it didn’t hurt that Pol Roger was a favorite of both Sir Winston Churchill and Princess Diana. The Brut Reserve, which is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, is given at least three years to age, leaving it round and elegant.

Laurent-Perrier was served at the private dinner at St. James Palace in the evening – it has Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales but not H. M. The Queen. It makes one wonder what the Yeoman of the Royal Cellar will serve on New Year’s Eve.

Entertain Like an Antinori

Cantinetta Antinori opened in 1957 on the ground floor of the family’s ancestral home in Florence. Palazzo Antinori, as the trattoria is known, is an homage to the medieval tradition whereby aristocratic families sold delicacies from their country estates by offering those dishes through small windows in the wine cellars of their city residences. Over time, what began as a small shop featuring the Antinori’s wines and olive oils evolved into a popular sixty-seat traditional Tuscan restaurant.

Allegra Antinori, a 41-year-old mother of two with luminous green eyes, oversees the Cantinetta in Florence, along with outposts in Vienna, Zürich and Moscow. She also manages hospitality at all the Antinori estates. Her job could be described as demonstrating her family’s commitment to authenticity and finesse through food, drink and generosity.

Allegra believes that wine should be an emotional experience. She wants her guests to use their senses to perceive perfumes, tastes and textures and respond to wine viscerally, the way they might to a piece of music or a work of art. She fosters environments at the restaurants and estates that encourage this kind of experience by entertaining elegantly without being overly formal or excessive. She greets guests with a glass of wine, sits everyone at one long table, serves family style and always has something boiling on the stove.

In early October, Allegra brought Cantinetta Antinori to New York City as a pop-up restaurant at the Mondrian hotel in Soho. The scene was set as if for an opera, complete with faux marble walls, a replica of the Antinori family tree dating back 26 generations, and a long communal table. The 2008 Tignanello, the most important current release in the family’s portfolio, was served with the simplest dish, gnudi, a dumpling made of spinach and ricotta served in a tomato cream sauce. The pairing was revelatory. The pillowy dumpling revealed the Super Tuscan wine to be elegant and expansive. Of course, for many of us, serving Tignanello requires stretching the budget. After dining at Cantinetta Antinori, however, the wine feels more accessible knowing that the rest of the evening’s shopping requires little more than spinach, ricotta, Parmesan and eggs.

Gnudi: Ricotta-Spinach Dumplings
Serves: 4
Preparation time: 60 minutes
Based on the recipe from Cantinetta Antinori, Flavors of Tuscany

1¼ cup, fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup, leaf spinach, cooked, drained, and finely chopped
3 tbsp, grated Parmesan cheese
2  eggs
¼ tsp, nutmeg, grated
½ cup, flour, as needed
½ lb, melted butter

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Drain the ricotta well and place it in a bowl. Add the thoroughly dried spinach, half the Parmesan, the eggs, the nutmeg and a large pinch of flower. Mix well and let and let rest for at least 30 minutes. Bring salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Using your hands or two spoons, form the ricotta mixture into small dumplings. Dust the dumplings with flour and gently drop them into the salted water. When the dumplings rise to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to an ovenproof dish. Top the dumplings with the melted butter and remaining Parmesan cheese and cook in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Garnish with a dollop of your favorite tomato sauce. Serve hot.