If you’re still working on resolutions for 2017, I have a suggestion—try new wines! Even working in the food and beverage industry as I do, it’s easy to fall into a rut where you eat familiar dishes and drink familiar wines. This year, instead of resolving to be a nicer person or exercise every day—and we all know that never lasts for long—why not endeavor to expand your horizons by learning more about the incredibly varied world of wine?
Our first stop is the 2015 “Les Fils de Gras Mouton” Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie. I know the name is an intimidating mouthful, but the wine is not. The word to grab ahold of is “Muscadet,” the common name for the grape and an area within the Loire Valley. The rest is just extra info: “The Son of the Fat Sheep” a reference to another of the winemaker’s wines, Sèvre et Maine designates a specific area where the best Muscadet is grown, and “sur Lie” (on the lees) is a technique where the fermented grape juice remains in contact with the sediment produced during fermentation which lends complexity to the wine.
The complexity comes across in its refreshing nose—clean with citrus and floral notes, like the most pleasingly elegant and subtle fabric softener you can imagine. On the palate it has a tangy citrus-lemon quality, perfect for fans of sauvignon blanc, while those who love Italian pinot grigio will love the light, clean and dry characteristics. As a bonus, it has the barest hint of sparkle due to time spent on the lees. This is a great wine for any seafood (I’m told it’s especially nice with oysters) and one to be enjoyed anytime in the summer.
Then try the COS Frappato, a light-bodied Sicilia red. The frappato grape is typically used as a blending grape with nero d’avola, Sicily’s most famous grape. But used alone, it sports a strawberry-cherry nose, light tannins and acidity, and is super food-friendly, like an Arnold Palmer (ice tea mixed with lemonade). And like a good Beaujolais, it would be great with happy-hour bites such as cured meats, light cheeses, antipasti and pizza, but somehow appropriate to many of the heartier dishes of winter like sausages braised in sauerkraut or roast duck. I tried it with a spatchcocked chicken grilled in the fireplace and it was a perfect pairing.
This is an honest and simple wine that reminds us that wine doesn’t always have to be the star of the show, something that demands all of your attention. Sometimes we just need something uncomplicated and good to refresh and accompany a meal.
Our last wine is “new” in that it’s time for people to revisit merlot, and the 2011 Woodward Canyon Columbia Valley Merlot is a great way to become reacquainted. On a recent trip to Napa Valley, I noticed that every single vineyard we visited alluded to the “Sideways effect,” meaning the nosedive in popularity taken by merlot after a derogatory reference was made about it in the 2004 movie Sideways. Demand almost instantly vanished, and many wineries stopped producing it. Although there is a good deal of uninteresting merlot out there, it is important to remember that some of the finest wines on the planet are made with this grape.
The Woodward Canyon merlot has a very interesting nose that evolves over time in the glass. It began with hints of coconut and anise but then after a bit of time seemed to unfold into tobacco and leather, and never lacked for fruit. On the palate, notes of black raspberries, a balanced acidity and tannins make this a wine that doesn’t need the accompaniment of food, just beautiful time alone—or with friends—to savor it. And if you did need food to go along, maybe a good steak with peppercorn sauce and some salad greens with a little garlic-infused vinaigrette, then finish it off with a little cheese or dark chocolate.
The next time you head to your local wine merchant (on the way home from the gym) remember your resolutions: This year, I’m going to try to make the world (seem like) a better place. With an open mind, I’m going to expand my connections to the larger world. I’m going to try new wines.