The Right Wine Can Add Sparkle to the Fourth
Palm Beach Daily News
June 24, 2018
By Paul William-Coombs
As the fireworks light up the night sky, you can celebrate July 4 with a glass of wine or a fine cognac. Choose from Champagne, red, white or rosé wine — here are some favorites.
Cognac and Champagne
Cognac is a brandy from the region in France of the same name. The geographic boundary of the region was determined in 1909 and further subdivided in 1938, including Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies. It may be made from six white grape varieties although 90 percent is sourced from vineyards planted to Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard.
The aging in barrel gives cognac its color and is used to soften the taste based on classifications: VS (Very Special), minimum age of 2.5 years; VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), minimum age of 4.5 years; and XO (Extra Old or Napoleon), minimum age of 6.5 years.
I enjoyed the Courvoisier XO recently from a mid-sized burgundy glass rather than a brandy snifter, and it had a surprisingly gentle aroma of spice, freshly picked oranges and vanilla bean. Gently warmed — not heated, as that “burns” the aroma — it was smooth and surprisingly fruity for a 40 percent spirit. The VS is fine for cocktails or mixed drinks. Looking for something very special? A vintage cognac such as the Hine 1914 might be just right.
If bubbles are your choice, then it must be Champagne. Two of my favorites are NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and NV Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée. The Billecart was slightly dry with a palate overflowing with raspberry and a slight acidity. The Bruno had a nose with a hint of fresh strawberries plus floral aromas, with spices, particularly cinnamon. The palate was crisp and dry, with orange zest reflected in the color.
2014 red blends
Interesting but very different recent tastings of red blends from the 2014 vintage in the $50 to $100 range included Paramount from the Gamble Family Vineyards in Oakville, Calif., and Luce from Luce Della Vite in Tuscany, Italy.
The Paramount was 32 percent cabernet sauvignon, 32 percent cabernet franc, 28 percent merlot and 8 percent petit verdot. Initially it was very tight and improved greatly after 30 minutes. It had a nose reminiscent of red fruits and a walk through the woods after a rainstorm, earthy and fresh. A well-rounded, forward wine with clear but not overpowering tannins that showed cherry pie and sage in the finish.
The Luce — a joint venture between Vittorio Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi — was an almost equal blend of sangiovese and merlot. A floral nose, particularly violets, with black cherries and freshly picked herbs. A well-rounded wine with an extended finish, showing spice in the finish.
The pinot noir grape variety was made famous by the Burgundy wine region in France, but today is grown throughout the world. Although the grape is difficult to grow, the resulting wine is described by many as “sex in a glass or sex in a bottle.” Two I have enjoyed recently in the $25-$35 range were 2016 FEL Wines Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from California and 2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Noir Princes Abbés from the Alsace region of France.
The FEL (named after the mother of vintner Cliff Lede, Florence Elsie Lede) was traditionally pinot noir with black cherry, chocolate, fresh baked bread and gentle pepper like cumin. The Schlumberger comes from the largest, at 330 acres, Grands Cru producer in Alsace and was full of red and black fruits, floral particularly wild roses, and herbal iced tea. The palate is medium-bodied with layers of red stoned fruits.
California white and rosé
Several recent tastings of California wines in the $25-$40 range designed for summer drinking — what I call picnic wines — included: 2015 Anaba Wines Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast; 2017 Sidebar Cellars Kerner; 2017 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc; and 2017 Inman Family Wines Endless Crush Rosé.
The Anaba, named after “an anabatic wind that blows up a steep slope, such as a vineyard, driven by heating of the slope during the daytime in calm sunny weather,” had been aged for 17 months in French oak barrels, 20 percent new. It was fresh, fruity and slightly citrus crispy, with fresh herb flavors in the finish. The Kerner, a cross between riesling and trollinger grape varieties first created in 1929, and named after Justinus Kerner, a 19th-Century German poet famous for his drinking songs. It was sourced from the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard, the only kerner vineyard in California. The Kerner had a good level of citrus crispness balanced by floral aromas, with a fruity, very juicy palate that was medium-bodied with a slight spiciness in the finish. It works well with lightly spiced food.
The Ehlers comes from north of St. Helena where the Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges almost merge. It was refreshingly dry and full of fruity flavors, balanced by aromas of stone fruits, particularly freshly cut peaches, with good acidity in the finish. The Endless Crush created by winemaker Kathleen Inman was a pinot noir varietal sourced from the Olivet Grange Vineyard. More Provencal than California in taste, it had a pleasing flavor balancing mineral strength with red fruit freshness, particularly baby mountain strawberries plus aromas of honeysuckle.
Enjoy the fireworks, capped off with whichever drink you select.