Despite cheerful claims that the December-January holiday is “the most wonderful time of the year”, many of our traditional party songs and Christmas songs have a pronounced melancholy edge. “The Coventry Carol,” for example. Or “We Three Kings”, “I Wonder as I Wander” and the nostalgic New Year’s Eve tear-jerker, “Auld Lang Syne” with his central question: Should old acquaintance be forgotten?
The answer – an ambiguous “no.” We will at least drink to old friends and old times, even if we can not return to the way we were. And of course, we might not want to go back, though the instant nostalgia (remember how fun it was to go out to eat?) Can be pleasantly indulgent.
I wrote in the last column about some new wines that I hoped would help launch 2022, but old acquaintances should not be forgotten. So when daughter Julian announced that the centerpiece of Christmas dinner would be a roast lamb, I immediately thought of a Greek wine that I discovered over a year ago, loved, wrote about, and promptly tucked away in my “old kending.” (There is actually no such file, but that metaphor makes me sound a lot more organized than I am.)
Called Naoussa, it comes from a small Greek wine region with family-owned vineyards. Made from the native xinomavro grape, it is a warm, spicy red with good acidity and tannins. Earthy and rustic, it is also aromatic, lively and very satisfying. I flexed my flexitarian muscles and tried it with a piece of lamb – and yes, the wine was a great partner that one would expect as lamb, like xinomavro, is a specialty in the area. But it was just as good with rice-and-mushroom stuffed delicatasquash and the long-cooked broccoli dish.
The other diners were also crazy about it, though a couple preferred the richer red on the table. I kept happy with the lighter, even though it was still lush, Naoussa – and wished I had brought another bottle. If The Pips supply is getting low, it’s probably because I’ll keep coming back to buy more, especially since the bottle is a really great bargain – only $ 15 for a natural wine, beautifully made with biodynamic grapes.
Also in the spirit of not forgetting old acquaintances, I picked up a bottle of the latest vintage from Parts and Labor, a red blend from Hobo / Folk Machines winemaker Kenny Likiprakong in Napa. I was happy to note that the alcohol content had dropped by 2020 – and I liked it even more than previous vintages. Kenny seems to have collected most of the grape varieties from his favorite Mendocino vineyards to make this delicious dry blend – syrah, grenache, carignan, barbera. Each of these was separately harvested and fermented in stainless steel, then aged mostly in stainless steel, although a quarter of the grapes were aged in large oak barrels.
Although medium-bodied, it’s perfect for vegetable-based winter meals, and like Naoussa, it’s a bargain – only $ 14 on Co-op.
Return visits do not always give such happy results. After praising the 2018 Haarmeyer Wirtz Riesling (“possibly the best riesling I’ve tasted”), I picked up a bottle of 2019 without noticing the change of vintage. (I also neglected to check the alcohol, which had gone from 10.9% to a full 13.9!) That bottle was also a contribution to the Christmas dinner, but I took a tear and said: “Uh – this is not the wine I drank Before. “And in a group of Riesling lovers, not a single one liked it.
I actually suspect there was something wrong with that particular bottle, but the experience makes me remind readers to check vintages. (And if a recommended wine is really awful, do not automatically conclude that “the Wineaux” has lost the wine sense she started with.) If anyone has tried a bottle in 2019, I would greatly appreciate it if you ‘ d email me your experience of drinking it. That said, I will continue to try every single Haarmeyer wine out there – the chenin blancs are amazing.
Finally, for the sake of good order, something new for 2022. I just was not in the mood for a chilled star thrower on New Year’s Eve – hot and red appealed much more and seemed like a better match for our wild mushroom / honey nut squash pizza. So we inaugurated the year (well, it was midnight somewhere) with a fun-story red. The story: My partner in all things, including wine, picked up a bottle for a Christmas present that she knew I would love as I have been whizzing over Margins wine for many weeks now. This one was brand new on the Co-op shelves – winemaker Megan Bell’s first blend, the Neutral Oak Hotel. What a discovery, she thought!
Imagine her deflation (she hid it well) when I came home from Co-op a few days before Christmas and was delighted with my find – the same (beautifully labeled) bottle. But no matter what, unlike the poor in “Gift of the Magic”, we had double joy.
It is a wine worth doubling. As advertised on the label, it was aged – for nine months – on neutral oak, all the grapes (cab franc, mourvèdre, counoise, chenin blanc, muscat blanc) were fermented and aged separately and mixed just before bottling. Megan is a “naturalista”, so the wine is spontaneously fermented without veneering or filtration. I spent a lot of time just “drinking” in the scent, so filled with wild flowers and forest.
At first sip it is quite sour (it bleeds after a while – I suggest you let it breathe for two hours), tastes of sour cherries, raspberries and cranberries along with earthy spices. It’s eminently food – friendly and you’ll be amazed that anything so exuberant and intense can get in under 12% alcohol. Megan only made 176 cases, so it will be gone soon – a trade for under $ 25.
As I considered old and new acquaintances for this first column in 2022, I realized how lucky we are to have both Sterling Carlton from Co-op and Amy Grabish from The Pip to supply us with the best of the old and introduce us to new. Thanks, I to! And take good care of yourself against COVID – I would mourn any virus-induced deterioration of your amazing palates.
– Susana Leonardi is a resident of Davis; reach her at email@example.com. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com.