So many reasons to drink around the holidays, and it all begins with a yearning to be merry. And my Christmas Eve merriment commenced with my starter Scotch (the cook’s prerogative, as the big moment approaches). My mother and father came over at about five, along with my sister and her husband, Mario, and their two little kids, and I felt that buoyancy was essential. The merriment continued with three worthwhile wines.
Mario had brought his traditional Christmas clam chowder, which is always excellent. So, first up, a sparkler that gets my vote for best inexpensive widely produced California sparkler: Mumm Napa Brut Prestige. There’s just nothing wrong with this wine: It has none of the cloying green-apple tartness of a lot of cheap sparklers, it’s well balanced between fruit and the faintly breadlike, yeasty quality of Champagnes, and it’s just plain drinkable, glass after glass. Which is how we drank it, until everybody was in the mood and feeling right about that clam chowder.
Then it was time for dinner: roast goose carved whole at table, with a sauce of reduced goose stock and dried cherries and a side of roasted root vegetables. My first goose, and it was a triumph, as proven by the fact that we all took turns picking over the carcass. (Evidence also, I suppose, that nobody got quite enough.) And to drink? Again, in the interest of merriment, I’d reached deep for my favorite California Pinot Noir, from Fort Ross. I bought a case a while back, and it’s one of the only wines I’m holding onto and doling out carefully. It could not have been a better match for the deep gamey quality of the goose, the complex richness of the sauce, and the earthy fruit quality brought on by the dried cherries plumped with goose stock.
Lastly, a move that turned out to be profligate: the best and oldest single bottle in my possession, a 1996 Château Pichon-Lalande Bordeaux, to drink with the cheeses. It was the wrong move simply because energy had moved on to presents by then, and to the mania of excited children, and nobody had quite the attention span to savor such a mellow bottle. So I tried to savor most of it myself, with ample help from Mario, and even from L, later, as we cleaned up together and drained the last few sips in the bright light of our messy kitchen. The next morning, of course, was a little grim, but by then Santa had come, our girls were running around in circles, and I had to start thinking about Christmas Day dinner for 25.
Mumm Napa Nonvintage Brut Prestige
Grapes: 51 percent Pinot Noir, 46 percent Chardonnay, 2 percent Pinot Meunier, 1 percent Pinot Gris
Alcohol: 12.5 percent
Price: Between $13 and $19 per bottle
This wine has nice yeast and citrus aromas, a reasonably soft mouthfeel, medium-fine bubbles, and flavors of Meyer lemon and mango, with a little butteriness.
2004 Fort Ross Pinot Noir Fort Ross Vineyard
Grapes: 100 percent Pinot Noir
Wood: 11 months in 45 percent new French oak, 55 percent old French oak
Appellation: Sonoma Coast
Alcohol: 14.7 percent
Additional Tidbits: Bottled unfined and unfiltered
Price: $39 per bottle direct from the winery
There’s an element of vanilla in the initial aroma, and a spice akin to nutmeg. The wine is medium bodied and soft on the mouth; it has subtle and well-integrated fruit that tastes of raspberries and dried cherries, and firm, smooth tannins. An excellent wine, expressive of a distinct region, and worth seeking out.
1996 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Grand Cru Classé de Pauillac
Grapes: 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Merlot, 5 percent Cabernet Franc, 5 percent Petit Verdot
I have to preface this note by saying that I had exactly one bottle of this wine, and it was consumed entirely in the late stages of a drunken dinner party. For that reason, I feel that it would be irresponsible of me to say much beyond the fact that the wine was breathtaking. For what it’s worth, Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide Sixth Edition describes it this way: “The color is a saturated ruby/purple. The nose suggests sweet, nearly overripe Cabernet Sauvignon, with its blueberry/blackberry/cassis scents intermixed with high-quality, subtle, toasty new oak. Deep and full-bodied, it exhibits fabulous concentration and a sweet, opulent texture.”