A Christmas Party Wine List — Cheers!
When is too much good wine too much? A friend of mine puts that question to the test every winter with a Christmas party that gathers some of the finest wines in the world, especially from the New World. He invites a bunch of wine pals, including me, to get together to share some of the treasures from their cellars. This is a hedonistic bunch, so the wines are tremendous!
This list is a veritable “who’s who” of the California wine world, and here are my favorites.
I loved the mature flavors of the 1987 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon. That year was a renowned vintage in Napa Valley, and this wine is showing its true worth. It still had lovely black and floral fruit but came together with more earth and mocha notes, as well. What I also loved about it was that it was quite elegant for a Napa Valley Cult Cabernet, yet not wimpy. The tannin has resolved into this amalgam of velvet and cocoa with a really long and satisfying finish. I would say drink this up now, as it would be hard to believe it can get any better.
The 2008 Harlan Estate Proprietary Red was another stunner. This was still youthful with loads of black fruit, and the vanillin and toasty wood notes melding quite nicely. I had this same wine last September and it is still on the rise. It is full, rich, deeply flavored and complex. And yet, for all this flavor, the texture is seductive and very polished. There are no hard edges here whatsoever; it seems to glide over your palate kind of like a stealth bomber, but still graceful and powerful. This will last another decade, for starters.
Speaking of wines that will last a long time, the 2010 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon was a gargantuan example of Cabernet that really stood out on my palate. The concentration and intensity was on another scale. What was so surprising about this wine is its drinkability now. The tannins are perfectly ripe, there is balance to the richness and even the wood character seemed well integrated at this stage of its life. Although this wine is still in its infancy, it is precocious and extremely well-endowed.
You probably know I am a Burgundy fanatic. So when I took a break to get some of the delicious food, I decided to drink the 1997 Bouchard Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru.
Maybe it was the matsutake mushroom rice or the roast duck, but this wine was the perfect foil for both. This wine showed all the lovely elegance and class of Grand Cru Pinot Noir. It filled the glass with high-toned red fruit, cinnamon, sandalwood, violets and plump red cherry. Among all the BIG Cabs, this wine seemed almost light-bodied, but with a silken texture that was truly a treat to enjoy.
What Christmas party would be complete without Champagne? My Champagne of the party came in the form of a half bottle of MV Krug Grand Cuvee, but with the older gold label. This wine was released at least five years ago, and in a smaller bottle it has evolved more than in larger bottles. This wine displayed tons of that biscuity, toasted bread, brioche and gingersnap cookie notes that only comes with time. It still had poached apples and cream bolstered by cleansing acidity. This was a splendid example of Krug style and complexity.
Last and certainly not least, there was a very rare bottle of 1945 Livadia Red Port Cabernet Sauvignon from the Massandra Collection produced in the USSR at the Massandra
Imperial Winery Crimean Republic Ukraine. I was told that the bottle’s neck had to be broken in order to open the wine. It smelled of toffee and caramel, roasted chestnuts and rhubarb pie. It was indeed sweet but not overly so. It reminds me of a 40-year-old tawny port but with slightly more fruity aromas and flavors, and a touch lighter in body. It was wonderfully complex and made me want to smoke a cigar at that moment.
I want to send a special thank you to my hosts — you know who you are — and to all who shared their treasures. Let’s do it again in the new year.
Merry Christmas to you all!
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.