Last year’s Christmas case of wine for my parents proved so successful, we’ve expanded things to two cases this year. This year, all of my siblings chipped in. Being the “enophile” in the family, I naturally do the shopping. Tough break, I know.
Since we’re visiting my childhood home in Los Angeles, I took a trip the other day to the Wine House in West LA to fill up the boxes. With a budget of roughly $20 per bottle, here are some thoughts on what I selected and why.
First, we always need bubbly. In my price range, Champagne prices and selection at the Wine House were a bit lacking, so I turned to two sparkling favorites – the 2000 Domaine Huet Vouvray Petillant and 1998 Domaine Meriwether Cuvee Wm. Clark. Huet is perhaps (inarguably?) the finest producer in Vouvray, and its sparkling wine of 100% Chenin Blanc is fine indeed. Typically lemony and minerally, with just enough dough and yeast. The Domaine Meriwether is an Oregon product and quite nice wine, more in the Champagne style with nice yeastiness from longer lees ageing.
Then, white wines. Domestic Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc tend to be common and boring, at least given our budget. So I turned mostly to Europe for my selections, and that’s probably never a bad idea no matter your price range.
For Sauvignon Blanc, the 2005 Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon, an appellation close to Sancerre in the upper Loire valley of France. For Chardonnay, two Maconnais – the 2005 Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon Macon and the 2005 Maison Verget Macon-Villages Grands Elevage. Of course, we must represent Oregon and I was pleased to find the 2001 Hamacher Chardonnay Cuvee Forets Diverses for less than you’d pay in Portland. I find this wine to be one of the top Chardonnay from Oregon, released late and still worth cellaring for a few years more.
My parents visited and quite enjoyed Vouvray a few years back, so in addition to the Huet sparkler I added the 2005 Domaine Champalou Vouvray Cuvee des Fondraux, usually a sec-tendre or lightly sweet that should be terrific in the highly touted 2005 vintage. And my father, loving his German heritage, must have wine from the Fatherland, no matter his reluctance of sweet Riesling. So, the 2005 Gunderloch "Jean-Baptiste" Rheinhessen Riesling Kabinett, a drier style even for Kabinett but still with a hint of sweetness. And the always terrific 2005 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Velt Krem Freiheit, which may be a bit out there for my parents. But I couldn’t resist.
For reds, I was again put off many domestic Cabernet selections but still found some oddities of fine quality to include. Namely, the 2001 Cedarville Cabernet Sauvignon from El Dorado County in California’s Sierra Foothills. Likely rich and strapping, but without being over the top. Also, a sale bottle of 2001 Havens Bourriquot, an unusual Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend from Napa made is a Bordeaux style. As a contrast, I picked the 2003 Chateau Coufran Haut Medoc, mostly Merlot from what is usually Cabernet country.
The Zinfandel selection in this price range is also limited, but I found the 2004 Dashe Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley that should be good if more oaky and rich than earlier vintages from this ex-Ridge winemaker. And an old school favorite, the 2003 Sausal Zinfandel Alexander Valley Old Vine, still with its 1970s vintage label and hopefully wine style. Haven’t had it in some years, but I suspect Sausal hasn’t changed much from its days producing savory Zinfandel that can age gracefully.
Branching out, I found some Rhone variety and varietal wines. First, the Grenache-based 2004 Domaine Charvin Cotes du Rhone Le Poutet from the acclaimed Chateauneuf du Pape producer. To contrast, two varietal Syrah – the 2001 Havens Syrah Napa Valley and the 2003 Pikes Shiraz Clare Valley from a cool climate region in Australia. Typically peppery and fruity without too much heaviness or alcohol that plagues the land down under.
Of course, we must have Pinot Noir. So the 2003 Domaine Simon Bize Bourgogne Les Bourgeots from the respected Burgundy producer of Savigny Les Beaune. Should be translucent and fragrant if not especially rich. To contrast, I was happy to find the newly released 2005 Grochau Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, which I tried from barrel earlier this year. Definitely check out this producer.
And from Italy, two bottles (it’s so good) of 2004 Fattoria Felsina Chianti Classico and, with a lacking selection of Barbera, a mystery bottle that I know nothing about – the 2004 Massolino Barbera d’Alba. If it’s modern and oaky, so be it. These wines are for my parents’ taste, not mine, though I couldn’t help including some off the radar stuff.
So there it is, two cases of wine for Christmas. What’s that you say? Only 23 bottles? Yes, I forgot the magnum of 2003 Clos la Coutale Cahors, mostly Malbec from the Dordogne in France that, despite a dose of Merlot for softness, retains nice country wine authenticity. Who can resist 1.5 liters of this stuff. It’s a party in a bottle.