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Help For The Holidays
by Jonathon Alsop
December 1997


Only a couple of traditional wine rules hold through the holidays: half a bottle per person at dinner, French Champagne only, pink wine with pink food like salmon, those sorts of rules. Otherwise, every bottle in the cellar is in danger of being opened at almost any time, because all those special occasions they're being saved for are happening now. Aren't they? Here's wishing everyone a healthy and happy year with a few tips for wine drinking and gift giving for the holidays.

Put A Bow On It!
For a complete presentation, put together one bottle of 1995 Carpe Diem Chardonnay and one bottle of 1994 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir (about $50). The label art is just beautiful. For something a little more over the top, toss in a bottle of Maison Deutz Brut (about $15), the California sparkler made by the same company.

Some Respect With Age
There's really nothing like a properly aged red wine, and the 1982 Chateau Griviere (about $15) is a winner all the way around. Perfect wine for my father... anyone's father, really.

Say It With White Wine
There are only a handful of white wines in the world worth the big bucks, and most of them are Sauternes or chardonnay of one kind or another. Sweet chenin blanc from the Loire valley in France is always thrilling and worth the investment. Give a trio of 1995 Baumard Quarts de Chaume (about $35), 1995 Baumard Clos Ste. Catherine (about $18), and 1996 Baumard Coteaux du Layon (about $12).

New Favorite Red
When someone asks what's your favorite this or that, I always wonder, old favorite or new favorite? The 1993 Pedroncelli Morris Fay Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (about $15) is my new favorite red from out west. The Morris Fay family has been growing fruit of all kinds in California since the 1800s, and this wine really shows off its history and background like a red Bordeaux. Young still, but tastes older than it is with great classic structure and depth of fruit.

Original Zin

Italy's Adriatic province of Puglia -- affectionately (I guess) called The Heel -- is rumored to be the home of a strong red grape called primitivo that is the direct ancestor of California zinfandel. Although this lineage is ultimately unprovable (a human and a field mouse are almost indistinguishable on a genetic level, so imagine how close different grape varieties are), once the notion is planted, it becomes hard to shake.

The result: I actually think I taste zinfandel in the 1994 Copertino Riserva (about $8) from Puglia. Any resemblance in name to Cupertino, California, home of big-name zinfandels from Ridge and others, is only that much more coincidental.

If this is the reserve, I shudder to think what the vino ordinario must be like. Even at this level, which may mean just a bigger dose of oak aging, this red is muscular, rough, and rustic. It smells of fresh hay, vaguely like eucalyptus, and green tree bark. If it were an American, it would be wearing overalls buttoned only on one strap, a la Lenny in Of Mice And Men.

Natives may be laughing themselves silly right now since primitivo -- Italian for "strong red grape" -- is not exactly a popular varietal, and it's not even listed on the back of the bottle with all the other unknown country Italian grapes.

But the Copertino shouldn't be unknown. It's a great bargain and perfect for a winter meal.

Troglodyte Wine

Somebody help me out on this one! For the last few months, I've been grabbing up as much as I can of a strange California wine from Il Podere dell' Olivos, a third or fourth label of the famous Au Bon Climat. The wine is a 1992 Taborite (whatever that means) Barbera with an inscription in what I think is Greek. The wine is bright and citrusy, full of fruit and sun, very similar to its Italian counterparts. Even a handful of phone calls has turned up very little information.

A few nights ago at the Centre Street Cafe in Jamaica Plain, co-owner Michael misread the label without his now-essential glasses and proclaimed it troglodyte wine. Kind of fitting, given its mysterious background.

Can't Judge A Wine By Its Jug

People often ask me what's the best bottle of wine I ever had, and although I've never been able to pull together a satisfying answer, the question always takes me back 15 years ago to a party at my best friend Jay's place. At the time, Jay was working with this woman who was going out with a chef, and the chef showed up at the party with this big mangy Carlo Rossi-style jug full of red wine.

We tasted it, and our minds were blown, because in spite of its appearance, this wine had everything you could ask for in a wine. It was fruity and well-structured, tannic and soft, strong and smooth. Every flavor was fresh and spicy and completely in pro portion. So what's this? we asked, but the chef never really gave us an answer. We were talking about this wine for years to come, reminiscing about the chef and the jug and one amazing wine.

Fast forward now to 1997. Jay and I are eating at Uva in Allston, a really tremendous place that does wine right. Jay was looking into the kitchen when he saw the staff emptying the remains of bottles of wine into a big jug that the cooks were using for cooking wine. A little bit of $30 merlot, half a glass of $27 cabernet franc, some zinfandel, a dash of Chateauneuf du Pape, you know, this and that.

Remember the chef? he said. And in that moment, I realized that we'd been drinking the chef's cooking wine, and it was a "field blend," if you will, of all the wines on the restaurant's wine list. That night, we probably drank more great wines at one time than we ever will again, thanks to that blend.

It may not be the single best wine I ever had, but it certainly holds the indoor record for best wines in a single evening.

Beaujolais Nouveau Death Watch

Beaujolais Nouveau is like that rare South American butterfly that is born, mates, and dies all in the same day, only worse, because there's no sex. Damn little alcohol, either. Barely a month old, and already its previously vibrant fruit corona has started to fade. The price has started to fade as well, down from the November high of $10 a bottle to $6.49, although you can find it for more if you look.

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