January is upon us, and for most of the country, that means facing the daunting task of self-improvement and a mild case of mid-winter blues. Assuming sobriety is not on your list of New Year’s resolutions (and I wholeheartedly advise against it), here are a few of my suggestions for heart-, soul-, and body-warming wines to keep you in high spirits for nights that are better spent in…with someone special at your side.
Bold and Bubbly: Schramsberg J. Schram 2003
Made from Schramsberg’s finest harvests of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plots in Sonoma, Napa, and Marin Counties, partially fermented in oak barrels, and aged for six years, this sparkling wine will make Champagne purists pause, and California cynics (like myself) blush. Like a well crafted perfume, it starts with top notes of lemon and lime, a rich desserty center with creamy crème brulé and baked fruits, and lingering base notes of toast and mouth watering minerality. Go the sophisticated route and serve it with aged gouda or French mimolette or if you’re feeling playful, get in touch with your childish side and serve with grilled cheese andwiches and fireplace-roasted marshmallows. Follow with a rousing game of hide and seek.
Take a roman holiday with Monastero Suore Cistercensi “Coenobium Rusticum 2008, a pure expression of the lush Latium countryside with it’s volcanic soil and unmistakable proximity to the Mediterranean sea. A blend of local white varieties Trebbiano, Verdicchio, Malvasia, and Grechetto with minimal intervention from the wine maker, it is an explosion of fruit and flowers. Longer exposure to the grape skins leaves a deep golden color, and a whole host of aromas including mint, fennel, lemon, and pear virtually mirror the region’s local cuisine. Drink it slowly and feel the insides of your mouth heat up, culminating in a sea-salty finish that begs to be quenched.
Sky Lodge Escape: Schioppettino, Girolamo Dorigo 2007
A crisp red from the Dolomite mountain region of Friuli Venezia Giulia in the Northeast corner of Italy, Schioppettino has deep ruby red color with a surprisingly delicate character in it’s early years. It’s floral with a young, green, peppery note, sleek and elegant on the palate with an inviting drinkability as if it were Cabernet Franc’s pretty little sister that you were afraid to get caught staring at down the row from you at the synagogue, and who would later seduce in the bathroom during a BBYO lock-in. This is the perfect wine to simulate that ski lodge vacation you wish you’d taken. Imagine the cool mountain breezes locked in a bottle of cozy and warming red. Light some candles, run a hot bath, and imagine you’ve just come in from the cold.
If you can get your hands on Castelmaure’s Languedoc Corbières AOC La Pompadour, things will get hot. Fast. A searing and spicy blend of Carignan, Grenache Noir, and Syrah from the French-Spanish border, this wine captures the sun-baked climate and hot-blooded personality of the region, and at 14.5% alcohol, you’ll feel it instantly. This is not a wine for the subtle set. Deep red fruit, swarthy spices, and everything you would imagine from a romp in the woods, hotly pursued by a lascivious wolf. It’s best accompanied by a bloody steak and racing pulse.
Better than chocolate (almost), dessert wines may not be a substitute for happy endings, but they make a lovely accompaniment to cookies, cake, and kisses. Ben Ryé, Passito de Pantelleria, Donnafugata 2007 is made from late harvest, sun-dried grapes of the local variety, Zibbibo (also known as Moscato di Pantelleria). It hails from Sicily, more specifically, the isle of Pantelleria off the southwesterly coast. It’s amber-colored, smells like lemon and lime zest, and wraps around your palate like pure apricot jam. The finish is sprightly and pleasantly acidic (like a prize key lime pie) with sea breezy notes to conjure of thoughts of salty skin at the end of a languorous day at the beach. Enjoy passito with creamy white cheeses, pastries or citrus-scented custards and cakes.
For a darker more decadent finish, aged Madeira fortified wines have all of the roasted, toasted notes of coffee and caramel plus a tangy acidity. With each sip richness and freshness run circles around each other. Try Broadbent Madeira 10 Yr. Malmsey NV with a flourless chocolate cake, or some chocolate syrup drizzled just about anywhere.