Tis the Season wine list: Top 10 holiday wines, from sparkling to dessert

 Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut

 Co-authored by Jessica Dupuy
Looking for the perfect holiday wine? If you need a little help, and you’re willing to take the advice of two relatively well-informed wine enthusiasts, then look no further than our very own “‘Tis the Season wine list.”

CultureMap contributor Matt McGinnis of WhatAreYouDrinking.net and food editor Jessica Dupuy bring you a short and simple list of 10 wines. Two sparkling wines, two whites, two reds, two dessert whites and two dessert reds.

Matt McGinnis: “If you follow just one guiding principle for selecting wine for your holiday celebrations, by all means make it this one: don’t be a Scrooge. Whether you are hosting guests or celebrating just with your family, the holidays demand that you go the extra mile. You don’t have to be ostentatiously extravagant or break the bank, but don’t skimp on the most important element of your holiday meal, the wine.”

Jessica Dupuy: “McGinnis’ list may appeal to the Champagne and Lace wine lover, but let’s say you’ve got to host a large group of people and don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a crowd who — most likely — doesn’t care what alcohol-infused beverage you put in their hands. Or let’s just say it, you’re like a lot of us Scrooges out there and are just plain cheap, my list is the one for you.”

Sparkling Wine 

McGinnis Picks: Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru
The first wine you should grab for any holiday occasion is bubbly. Every aspect of opening, pouring, serving and drinking Champagne excites the senses in ways no other wine can. This Christmas, look for a smaller Champagne house that grows its own grapes and produces its own wine. You can find these Champagnes, known as grower-producers, by looking for a tiny “RM” on the label. This is a good short-hand for finding high-quality bubbly without overpaying.

Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru fits the bill for “party-in-a-bottle.” Once popped open, riotous showers of bubbles race to the top of the glass to form a creamy mousse and the bubbles continue to dance and play on the tongue with aplomb. It fills the nose with walnut, apple and pear with the burst of each festive bubble. The Godmé has toasty bread and bright green apple, ripe strawberries flavors and a jangling citrus zip.

The best way to start off any holiday celebration is a kiss under the mistletoe quickly followed by a toast with lovely Champagne. It’s a perfect mate with soft creamy cheeses, ripe berries and just about any hors d’oeuvre you choose to serve before dinner.

I picked up this lovely bubbly from The Red Room Lounge for $55.

Dupuy Picks: Gruet Rosé Non Vintage
While Matt’s philosophy is certainly altruistic if not a bit showy, there was a time when shelling out a few extra bucks to ensure you could show up to a holiday dinner with a good wine was key. But these days, the global market for wine has been blown wide open with a whole slew of impressive wines on the shelves for under $15. You just have to know how to find them.

Everyone loves a good celebration. And a few bubbles in the bottle is a sure fire way to summon a good time. While the best from the large French Champagne houses or even the most delicate of small production grower-producer Champagnes can be instant show-stoppers, I’d suggest panty dropper. And sparkling wine is no doubt the go-to wine for that. But you’re just as likely to turn heads with a little bubbly from the sandy loam soils of New Mexico.

The Gruet Rosé is bright with flavors of strawberry and raspberry as well as hint of lemon zest and warm limestone. When it comes down to it, it’s really just as sophisticated as the real deal. It doesn’t hurt that the winery was started by a French family in the mid-1980s while looking to make a mark with wine on the American frontier.

You can find Gruett Rosé at Spec’s for about $15.

White Wine

McGinnis Picks: Fritz Haag 2010 Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
Coming to Christmas dinner without a white wine is like going to church without any pants. You just wouldn’t do it. Riesling is among the most food friendly wines on the planet and a sure bet to pair well with almost anything you choose to serve at the holidays. I recommend an ever so slightly sweet Spätlese variety which will accompany savory, spicy and sweet dishes alike.

Here is the second place where you shouldn’t be a cheapskate. Spend a bit more to get a fine German Riesling like the Fritz Haag from the Mosel region. This is an absolutely delightful wine that smells of honeysuckle, ripe pear, baked apples and cotton candy. It has luscious cocktail pears and peaches, honeydew flavors balanced with an electric acidity that makes it sing. It’s great with your salad and appetizer courses.

Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling is available for $40 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

Dupuy Picks: Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay
McGinnis’s shrewd selection of German Riesling for the holidays is certainly noble, but potentially foolish. I’m not about to waste a few drops of precious angel tears on someone who doesn’t appreciate them. And when it comes to holiday celebrations, you are usually running the gamut of wine drinkers who love anything from the oakiest of Rombauer Chardonnays to the most delicate of German Rieslings. I’m in favor of meeting somewhere in the middle.

Offer all the citrus and apple notes that a fine Chardonnay can offer, with an extra boost of minerality from the French region of the Loire Valley. This crisp little wine barely has a kiss of oak, but finds its strength in its acidity, which makes it a great food wine for your average turkey dinner to grilled fish or pork tenderloin.

Whole Foods Market has this wine for only about $10.

Red Wine

McGinnis Picks: 2011 Domaine Chignard Fleurie ‘Les Moriers’
Christmas dinners can be a cacophony of clashing flavors with several brash dishes competing for your tongue’s attention. It’s tough to pair a red wine with diverse dishes like goose, turkey or beef Wellington and Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and Waldorf salad. Beaujolais, made with the Gamay grape, are soft, fruity and versatile enough to go with almost any dish.

The engrossing experience of drinking a Beaujolais cru is a departure from the unfussy toss back of inexpensive Beaujolais Nouveau. It has bold scents of wild strawberries and maraschino cherries. Unlike the Nouveau, it has complexity on top of the fruit-forward juiciness. The sassy cheery cherry and blueberry flavors are balanced with granite minerality, crisp acidity and soft tannins. It is a festive accompaniment to almost anything you choose to serve.

This lovely Beaujolais is among the sumptuous selections of French wine at the Austin Wine Merchant for $25.

Dupuy Picks: Marquee de la Musa Garnacha
True, Beaujolais is an elegant and beautiful choice — and I look forward to joining McGinnis’ holiday dinner to enjoy some. But just as with Riesling, it’s the type of wine that is more on an acquired taste for some than for others. I choose to move to the warmer climate of Spain, specifically to the Cariñena region where Garnacha (Grenache in French) reigns supreme.

Similar to the Gamay grape found in Beaujolais, Garnacha is a thin-skinned grape often used to bring more depth of fruit to blends with a breadth of earthiness and tannin. This wine is light, but with a fair amount of complexity. And as it is a warm climate grape, it lends itself to foods with a little spice — as is fairly typical of holiday dinners in Texas. Smoked pork loin with an apple, cranberry and jalapeño chutney would be ideal for this wine.

You can pick this up at Whole Foods Market for about $9.

White Dessert Wine

Sandeman SherryMcGinnis Picks: Sandeman Royal Corregidor Rich Old Oloroso Sherry 20 Year Old
Sherry is one of the most complex and difficult to produce wines in the world. I could bore you with the intricacies of how it’s made, but suffice to say that if someone shares Sherry with you, it’s because they think you are worth it. That’s reason enough to put it on the holiday table.

The Sandeman aged Oloroso smells as good as a holiday party with roasted candied pralines, almonds and baked pear. It tastes like kissing the gorgeous, foul-mouthed intern in the coat closet at the end of that Christmas party; nutty and bitter mixed with 20-year-old sweetness and the saltiness of a reluctant tear. I can’t imagine another wine combining sweet, bitter and brine in a more pleasurable way.

Back at home, serve it slightly chilled, but not refrigerator cold, in a tulip shaped white wine glass. It is a perfect compliment to the end of a holiday meal. Its rich raisiny sweetness goes well with many traditional holiday deserts like gingerbread, rum cake and chocolate-cherry trifle.

This diminutive 500ml bottle will set you back $20 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

Dupuy Picks: King Estate Pinot Gris Ice Wine
While McGinnis is manipulating the intern into the coat closet, I’d rather keep my dessert wines on the classy side. They can be sweet, but more in the vein of angelic seraphim and cherubim rather than tawdry underaged tarts. So I’m going with a lovely little ice wine from Oregon.

The King Estate uses the often mis-represented Pinot Gris grape for this crisp and delicate wine brimming with ripe pear, apricot, peaches and wildflower honey. At only 11 percent alcohol this wine is searingly delicate, but the fragrant aromatics and the higher level of residual sugar will do doubt ensnare your senses. Serve chilled alongside a cornmeal cranberry-orange zest cake and you’ll certainly hear the songs of angels.

Technically, I’m barely shaving a few dollars off the price of his Sherry with my ice wine, but with the difference, you can still do your best to entice the intern with a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boy — she probably won’t know the difference. You can also find this at Whole Foods Market for about $18.

Red Dessert Wine

Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny PortMcGinnis Picks: Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Porto
Port has always been one of my favorite fortified wines. The Port screams “Happy Holidays!” Drinking Port at Christmas is definitely a British tradition, but it’s getting more and more traction in the states as people are more open to explore fortified wines. This 20 Year Old Tawny has a boozy nose of dried orange peel and figs. Port is always bold and this one doesn’t disappoint. Orange, cherry, leather and cigar cling together in a sweet vanilla present.

When you are all done with your feast having eaten every tidbit of Who-pudding and every morsel of roast beast, sip on this nectar and you won’t have a care in the least. Sit back by the fire and sip a snifter of joy while enjoying visions of sweet fairies dancing, oh boy. It’s just as sad to finish the glass as unwrapping the last present under the tree.

The Austin Wine Merchant has a good selection of Port and this one goes for $50.

Dupuy Picks: Pedernales Cellars Glögg
McGinnis does have me here. I am a sucker for Port. But while he’s savoring his last drop of Tawny, I’ll likely be polishing off the last of the dirty dishes from the Holiday feast. But I’d never leave my guests without something to talk about. Which is why I’m going with something a little unorthodox: a Swedish-inspired wine made from a local Hill Country producer.

Glögg is a seasonal holiday fortified red wine infused with a whole range of spices including cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s typically served warm with a cinnamon stick and handful of raisins or dried cherries tossed in the bottom of the glass — an excellent treat to enjoy when the Glogg is at its end. This velvety red sticky is made in homage to Pedernales Cellars co-founder Fredrik Osterberg who grew up in Sweden and now finds his home among the rolling landscape of the Texas Hill Country. Serve this libation with a handful of Swedish-style ginger snaps and know that you’re not only spreading good cheer but supporting a local producer all at the same time.

Currently Glögg can only be found at the Pedernales Cellars winery in Stonewall for about $19. You can order it online and still probably stay under the price of McGinnis’ Port.

This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

Texas-flavored Bloody Mary recipes for your Sunday Funday

The perfect Bloody MaryThere are billions of reasons for day drinking on a Sunday: you need a little hair of the dog, your NFL team is winning, you’re thirsty in church, it’s the holidays and you have a house full of family drama, to name a few. And there is no better concoction for a Sunday Funday than a Bloody Mary. Brunch says to it, “You complete me.”

We owe a debt of gratitude to the French for our pervasive Sunday elixir. Legend has it that the Bloody Mary was created by Fernand “Pete” Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in the early 1920s and after the end of that ghastly period known as Prohibition, he imported his basic recipe to the King Cole Bar in New York.

Over the years the Bloody Mary has taken on a myriad of styles while staying true to its core ingredients. The basic backbone of a bloody — vodka and tomato juice — gives it an ideal frame for an immeasurable variety of spices and garnishes to customize it to suit your mood.

Recently I stumbled across a wonderful book by Judy Bennett, Bloody Marys: Sanguine Solutions for a Slew of Situations, that has dozens of scrumptious recipes to fit any reason you have for drinking a cocktail. In her book, Bennett mixes wit and wisdom as deftly as she mixes booze and bitters. It’s full of clever anecdotes to accompany each recipe.

As a food and drink writer, I felt it was my duty to work my way through the book, finding the recipes I like best for conjuring a mid-day haze on a lazy afternoon. We are fortunate to have several excellent hand-crafted vodkas made right here in Texas like newcomers 1876 Vodka and Starlite Vodka from Treaty Oak Distilling Co.; and stalwarts like Deep Eddy VodkaDripping Springs VodkaSavvy Vodka and Tito’s Handmade Vodka. I substituted all of the recommended vodkas in Bennett’s book Texas vodka to give them a local flair. Give these a try.

Bloody Mary made with Texas Vodka

Go Packers
This is the official tailgate recipe of the Green Bay Packers, but you can make it suitable for a Longhorns, Cowboys or Texans game by mixing it with local Deep Eddy Vodka.

  • Generous amounts of Worcestershire sauce, 4-5 dashes
  • 3 drops Tabasco sauce, or to taste
  • 3 dashes celery salt
  • Juice from 1 lemon wedge
  • 2 fingers Deep Eddy Vodka
  • 2-3 fingers tomato juice
  • Dill pickle spear, to serve (optional)
  • Garlic-stuffed green olives, to serve (optional)
  • Pepperoncini, to serve (optional)

Add ice to a 12-ounce plastic cup and set aside. Put the first four ingredients in a second plastic cup and add the vodka and tomato juice. Pour the mixture into the first cup, then pour everything back into the second cup. Keep pouring back and forth until it is well blended. Squeeze a little lemon, garnish and serve.

My Kids Found My “Private Drawer”
For those times you just want to forget what just happened, try this tangy and spicy Mary.

  • 1 shot Dripping Springs Texas Orange Vodka
  • 1 shot sake
  • 1 tsp. wasabi
  • 6 ounces tomato juice
  • 1 tsp. dried ginger powder
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. lime juice
  • Fresh cilantro to serve

Shake and strain all the ingredients (except the cilantro) into a Collins glass with ice. Garnish with cilantro and drink way the memory of what just happened.

This is My First Really Healthy Relationship
When your heart is going pitter patter for someone special, here is a classic recipe for two.

  •  Several dashes salt and black pepper
  • 1 jigger Starlite Vodka
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 tsp. horseradish
  • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 8 ounces high-quality tomato juice
  • 1 fresh lemon, cut in wedges, to serve
  • Several pickled asparagus spears, to serve

Rim two Old Fashioned glasses with the salt and pepper in equal measure. Combine the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Strain and pour over ice in the prepared glasses and garnish with lemon wedges and asparagus.

The Way to a Man’s Heart is Through His Stomach, But That’s Not Where I’m Headed
When you’ve conquered the early phases of romance and are ready for the power of time tested aphrodisiacs for a real Sunday Funday, this recipe is for you.

  • 46 ounce bottle of tomato juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  •  ½ avocado
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 ounces lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. steak sauce
  • 2 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • 2 tsp. celery salt
  • 2 tsp. hot sauce
  • 1 tsp. horseradish
  • 1 750ml bottle of 1876 Vodka

Excluding the vodka and garnishes, whirl the ingredients together in a blender. Fill pint glasses with ice and 2 shots of vodka each. Top with the tomato mixture, then garnish with an asparagus spear and a stalk of celery.

Whether you are looking for a Bloody suitable for Queen Mary or for something appropriate for a Roman circus, there is a recipe for you in Bennett’s Bloody Mary bible. I know which one I’m mixing next.

Samples were provided by 1876, Deep Eddy Vodka, Savvy Vodka, Starlite Vodka and Tito’s. I still have some left if you want to come over and mix up a few more batches with me. Cheers!

This story was originally published on CultureMap

What are you drinking? 

How I learned to love saké without the bomb

Texas Sake CompanySaké often seems like the right thing to order when I go out for sushi, but I usually end up ordering a Japanese beer instead. Saké is just so dang foreign to me. Not only is it described with all kinds of Japanese words that I completely don’t understand, but there aren’t any common points of reference for me to go by. It’s not like I can choose the one I used to sneak out of Dad’s fridge when I was a kid, like a Budweiser. Nor can I pick one based on a really well-known variety like I can with wine. There is no such thing as cabernet sauvisaké.

Other than a few good experiences I’ve had when someone has ordered for me, the depth of my saké experience is made up of downing a few saké bombs at DK Sushi during karaoke night. Those go down like da bomb because the beer masks the taste of the rot-gut saké that’s used.

Persistent ignorance is a horrible reason to miss out on an intriguing beverage, so I set out to learn a few tips on saké, how it’s made, how to order it and what kinds of food go well with it. While it’s often called “rice wine,” saké is actually more like beer in that it is made with fermented grain. It is “brewed” with a special type of sake-grade rice, like Yamada Nishiki, which is polished to remove some of the outer husk of the rice grain. The inner starchy heart of the rice is used to make a cleaner saké.

In fact, there are different grades of saké that are determined based on the amount of the outer protein that has been milled away. The saké designations are: junmai, which has 70 percent rice grain remaining; ginjo has 60 percent; and daiginjo has 50 percent. If no distilled alcohol is added to daiginjo, it will be labeled junmai daiginjo, which is considered the most premium style.

Beyond those variations, saké can also be bone-dry to sweet, filtered or unfiltered, pasteurized or unpasteurized, hot or cold, barrel-aged or not. There are lots of things to know, so I sought advice from a few saké experts in Austin who have achieved certification through the Saké Education Council. I spoke with Michael Carlson of Uchiko, Adam Faraizl of Kenichi and Yoed Anis of the Texas Saké Company, all of whom are level-two Advanced Saké Professionals, to learn a lot more about saké.

THERE IS ACTUALLY SAKÉ MADE IN AUSTIN

Yoed Anis Texas Sake CompanyClose your eyes and imagine what a traditional saké brewer, or toji, looks like. Yoed Anis is nothing like that. Here is a young, muscular, mop-haired Israeli engineer who is the first person to make saké in Texas. Anis fell in love with regional styles of saké in 2006 during his first visit to Japan. He was fascinated with how the saké played an integral role in the meal and in religious ceremonies. After that experience, he learned everything he could about saké and eventually opened the Texas Saké Company in October 2011. There are only six saké breweries, or kuras, in the United States. Why would anyone make saké in Texas? Because there is a ton of rice grown in Texas.

“The Japanese came to Texas in 1904 to grow rice,” Anis explains. “It has been growing here organically since. The grain structure…looks very much like the same as the kinds used in Japan to make premium saké.”

Anis sources his rice from organic growers in Worton County, where it is grown in the same Colorado River in which it is later brewed. Anis is emphatic about the use of organic materials to do his part in protecting the environment. The whooping crane on the Texas Saké Company logo pays homage to the Matagorda Wildlife Refuge in Southern Texas, which is home of one of the largest populations of whooping cranes.

Texas Saké Company makes a dry, full-flavored, traditional style of saké more similar to the types made on the Southern islands of Japan 200 years ago. It’s a manual- and labor-intensive process. They wash the rice by hand five times and don’t polish it extensively. After washing, the rice is soaked and steamed before starting fermentation for three months. It takes about six months from first washing the rice to selling the bottled saké. Texas Saké Company makes three types of saké: Whooping Crane Tokubetsu Junmai style; Rising Star; Nigori Cloud Junmai, an unfiltered, hazy style; and Tumbleweed Karakuchi, a bone-dry style introduced in October in the bottle and available on tap at the Draught House Pub.

The locally made saké is available at farmers markets and grocery stores throughout Austin, Houston and Dallas. Anis says it has been well-received by restaurants as well.

“Local chefs at places like Barley Swine are re-inventing Texan cuisine,” he says. “They are open to new flavors like saké that go well with other local ingredients. I love breaking the stereotype of drinking saké only with Japanese food. It pairs really well with local cuisine like smoked meats. It is really fun to try saké with lots of food.”

DEMYSTIFYING SAKÉ AT UCHIKO

Michael Carlson Uchiko Michael Carlson didn’t know anything about saké when he started working at Uchiko. He quickly found out that it is a fantastic gateway to Japanese culture and hospitality. That knowledge started a passion that led him to earn his Advanced Saké Professional certification in Japan earlier this year. His passion pervades the beverage program at Uchiko.

“We serve great wine and beer, but it’s the saké we’re most proud to serve,” Carlson says. “My goal every day behind the bar is to demystify saké. It’s the mystery drink that no one has an anchor to judge it by. Most people’s experience is with table saké, futsu-shu, made with lots of brewer’s alcohol. It has an astringent flavor, so people heat it up to mask the nasty flavor. Premium Japanese saké is about purity of ingredients and consistency of character. The sakés we have here demonstrate that.”

Carlson says buying good saké isn’t as daunting as it seems. Unlike wine, the price and quality of saké are completely linked. The more handcrafted and polished it is, the higher the price. The saké that gets exported to the U.S. goes through distributors who are very discerning. Expert distributors eliminate the lower quality ones, meaning the saké available in stores throughout Austin is the good stuff.

Sake at Unchiko When ordering saké at a restaurant, there are a few easy things to look for. Remember the word “ginjo.” It is synonymous with good saké. If you want super premium saké, look for junmai daiginjo-shu. This is the pinnacle of saké with elegant smoothness, floral scents and flavors of Anjou pear and anise with a round, long, fulfilling finish. Carlson encourages his guests to be adventurous with pairing saké with food.

“It’s a myth that saké is only good with Japanese food,” he says. “When it comes to pairing, saké has sweetness and inherent acidity that complements foods without detracting. It is a lot like a good glass of riesling with racy acidity and a little bit of residual sugar. Ginjo has the balance and mellow flavor that lets it pair with anything. I like it with fried chicken.”

Carlson has favorite pairings to explore various styles of saké. One combination is the sweet pear and melon flavors of Konteki Tears of Dawn Daiginjo with prosciutto. A pairing that blows me away is Yuki No Bosha Nigori Junmai Ginjo with Tex-Mex. Spicy and sweet foods work really well with nigori because it has a milk-like calming effect and sweet berry and cherry flavors.
“If you haven’t tried saké before, try it. If you have had it, but didn’t like it, give it a second chance with premium saké,” Carlson suggests.

DISCOVER SOMETHING NEW AT KENICHI

Adam Faraizl KenichiAdam Faraizl has been fascinated with the Japanese culture since he was a child in middle school. He went to college in Victoria in Western Canada, where he majored in Asian studies. He was immersed all things Asian, providing him ample access to saké and a romantic environment to fall in love with it. His love for saké got serious in 2008, when he took the level-one Saké Education Council exam. He followed that by passing the level-two exam in Japan in 2010. The countless hours studying saké regions, rice varieties, polishing grades and visiting breweries prepared him to guide Kenichi guests to find delicious sakés.

“Rather than ordering from big names you may have heard of, pick something you might not have seen before,” Faraizl recommends. “It’s like ordering a craft beer instead of choosing Miller Lite. Go with something interesting.”

Whether you are looking for something to sit and sip or something to pair with food, you’ll likely find it in the big selection of saké by the glass at Kenichi. Like Carlson at Uchiko, Faraizl is happy to pour samples for people to try. Faraizl follows a few basic rules of thumb for pairing saké with food. He suggests ginjo sakés are balanced and go with virtually anything. He likes daiginjo with fish and lighter courses, junmai with heavier courses and recommends honjozo, with its slightly higher alcohol and acid, go with fattier dishes like pork spare ribs.

Sparkling Sake at Kenichi “Saké and dessert is always really good,” Faraizl says. “Try warm saké with peach cobbler or strawberry sorbet. It is really fun. Instead of doing Champagne, pair sparkling saké with scallops and foie gras. It cleanses the palate like Champagne, but it’s low in alcohol and it lets the food to shine through more.”

The best way to learn about saké is to dive right in and start tasting it. Faraizl is ready for you.

“Come in and learn about saké if you want to try something different and expand your horizons,” he says. “I’m always here and want to help people explore. Our staff is well-educated and we want people to experience good saké.” Are you ready to learn to love saké without the saké bomb? Kampai!

This story was originally published in Austin Man Magazine

What are you drinking?