One of the oddest stupidities of wine writing in particular and wine geekdom in general is the common disdain for white wines. Oh, we’ll write about them occasionally, and we’ll even drink them as aperitifs before dinner or as cocktail wines, but we rarely think of them as food wines – and especially not in January. (“Quelle scandale! I saw him drinking a white wine after Labor Day!”)
I admit to some hypocrisy on this, because I frequently go to wine stores to stock up on crisp, refreshing, food-friendly whites only to be seduced by a flirtatious Aussie Shiraz, a Rhone red or some new Spanish floozie. Then I go down to my cellar before dinner and fret, “Gee, I don’t have any whites!”
This is a theme I’ve hit on before, with “In Defense of White Wines.” But it bears repeating: White wines are often more food-friendly and more enjoyable than reds.
Case in point: the Feudi di San Gregorio Serrocielo 2004, from the Sannio DOC in southern Italy’s Campania region. The grape is Falanghina. “Falanghina for $30???” you might ask. Well, yes, it is pricey, but there is a load of fruit and complexity here that gets better with every sip. Lemon curd. I love lemon curd. Spice it with a little nutmeg and some tropical fruit flavors, It features a crisp, racy attack and enough structure to let it age well for at least another year or two, maybe longer. But why wait?
Pair this beauty with light chicken or seafood dishes, anything with acidity or bitterness. It is also a rare wine that pairs well with mesclun salad in a light vinaigrette, picking up on the bitterness of the greens with tropical fruit flavors.
Imported by Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, Florida.
Let me tell you about my friend Dave Johnson. We’re related, sort of – he’s my sister’s husband’s sister’s husband – and we share a passion for the grape, which we indulge every Christmas Day when our families join to celebrate the holiday. While everyone else is noshing on the spiral-cut honey-baked ham, the roast turkey, smoked salmon and various cheeses, chips and patés, occasionally stopping by to refill a glass, Dave and I are squirreled off to the side playing what he calls “Wine Camp,” an oenological version of stump the chumps. We don’t eat until every wine has been tasted, discussed, guessed and revealed, because we don’t want to cloud our palates.
I don’t remember what year this started. It may have been the time I poured an Israeli Merlot and dared him to identify it. (He pegged the grape and narrowed the location to Eastern Europe or Greece, which earned props from me.) Or It may have begun the time I identified a Spanish Garnacha on one sniff. (I never told him I’d had the same wine the previous week.) Perhaps it just grew out of our mutual interest in wine and the opportunity to have a little extra fun. Somehow it seems less geeky to combine a blind tasting with a family party.
Every wine lover should have a friend like Dave, who relishes the finest, hard-to-find cult wines but gains even more pleasure in discovering exceptional bargains that taste more expensive than they are. He primed us well this year with a lovely Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2004 from South Africa ($24) – easily identifiable as a top-notch Chard but hard to pin down by location – and an Attilio Ghisolel “Carlin” 1997, a close-out special from the Langhe, showing well the cocoa-dusted cherry flavors of Sangiovese. There was also a Jade Mountain “Les Jumeaux” 1991 from Dave’s cellar, a Cabernet-Mourvedre blend that was still showing beautifully.
Then he poured an inky, spicy-smelling red. “Ahh,” I thought, “Australia.” It coated the glass, smelled of Shiraz, though not purely so, and offered a mouthful of sweet, ripe fruit. It was actually a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32 Shiraz and 11% Merlot called Pillar Box Red 2004 from Padthaway.
“What do you think this wine would cost?” Dave asked us after we raved about it.
“Watch out,” said his son, Drew, a student at the University of Virginia who is already showing a talent for nosing varietals out of a glass. “He only says that when it’s under $10.”
Dave confessed he’d bought the wine for $8 a bottle from “some guy in Chicago.” (I’ve since seen it at $11 on the Internet.)
His final wine was Pax Sonoma Hillsides 2004, a Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache and a splash of Roussane from the winery that is the latest and greatest thing, blessed with a rave and sky-high ratings by HE WHO MUST BE OBEYED and therefore available only to those who know the winemaker, the winemaker’s daughter, or certain secret Masonic passwords. It was gorgeous, sweet, thick and syrupy, and packing a wallop at 15.4% alcohol. It also closed down within a few minutes, losing its fruit and showing only fumes and giving more evidence to my theory that such wines are best for blind tastings where they are rated on a single sip or larger groups where everyone gets only a small taste.
Anyway, I went back to the Pillar Box Red.
[OK, so I’m leaving out the wines I brought to the party. First was a Breaux Vineyards Lafayette Cabernet Franc 2001 from Virginia, a medium-bodied wine with nice balance and acidity, which Dave and Drew felt was European, then a Bedell Cellars Merlot 2001 from Long Island, which was a bit light and disappointing. My ringer this year was Grover Vineyards “La Réserve,” a Michel Rolland wine from India, of all places. The label did not identify the grapes, and they were not obvious. But the wine was surprisingly good – not bad at all for $18. Was that a hint of fenugreek I tasted? Well, probably not … ]