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Wine Banter - By John Haggard - January 2017

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Holiday Wine Pairings 

By Guest writer David Defries

With the Dungeness crab season fully underway I thought we might take a look at a few wines to pair with crustaceans, shellfish, standing rib roast, prime rib and even your favorite desserts. 

Let’s start with Dungeness crab and a selection of three wines that would be superb. First up we have the Rochioli 2013 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (ret $59-$69). It is fermented in French Oak barrels, however it does not linger so long in the oak that it loses all of its elegant crisp fruit flavors, apple and pear, notes of citrus and, on occasion a little minerality, which is determined by vintage. The 2013 vintage was challenging for many chardonnay producers as the cool wet climate created bunch rot, reducing yields and, as one winemaker put it, “it was like performing triage on the crush pad”. The Rochioli exemplifies a chardonnay where Mother Nature’s hand was diminished and they were able to produce another stunning vintage.

The Burnside Road Sonoma County Chardonnay from Anderson Valley (ret $26) is fermented in neutral oak with a beautiful nose of orange rind and a hint of citrus and minerality that will pair beautifully with Dungeness crab as wells as a myriad of other seafood dishes such as salmon filet.

The Atascadero Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Russian River Valley (ret $21) with a lower 13.2 % alcohol is stainless-steel fermented, and if you’ve ever read any of my articles,  I more often than not prefer white wines that have been fermented in stainless steel. This is a perfect example, where the elegant fruit flavors show alongside dry and firm acidities and this sauvignon blanc would complement everything from a Waldorf salad, Caesar salad and, of course, delicious Dungeness crab.

For those who are going to be enjoying sparkling wines during the holidays, here are two sparkling wines that need no accompaniment, other than a toast to your guests, however the Grandial from France, a Blancs de Blancs retailing at only $12 is a superb value sparkling wine and will also work as a “Kia Royale” with a little crème de cassis. And now, for one of the finest brut rosé Champagnes I have ever tasted, and believe me I have searched for decades, the incomparable Billecart-Salmon NV Brut Rosé. I recently had a guest exclaim this is Champagne for lovers and I couldn’t agree more. If your love affair is Sparkling Champagne and oysters here’s a pairing I find to be among the best I’ve ever found: buttery Malpac oysters in the half shell and the elegant subtle red fruit and racy elegant acid of the Billecart-Salmon. If you’re unable to locate Malpac at your local seafood purveyor, look for Kumamoto oysters or Dungeness Bay. This Champagne will set you back (ret from $80-$110 for 750ml) though it is also produced in half bottles. 

For those of us who enjoy a red wine (which is most of us in Sonoma County), an excellent choice is Acorn’s Medley Russian River Valley Red Wine Blend 2012 (ret $40). This spicy red wine is replete with flavors of strawberry and rhubarb. If you’re serving a standing rib roast, prime rib or even gamier fair such as rack of lamb or loin of venison, this is one Syrah that would complement these dishes beautifully.

And now to dessert: over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to taste through a myriad of late harvest wines. And while I’ve tasted dozens of different late harvest Bordeaux from Sonoma County, I recently found what I believe to be the finest late harvest Bordeaux blend I have ever tasted. The Estate 1856 Dessert Wine, Sonoma County (ret $36 for 375ml) is comprised of 85% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 2% Petite Verdot and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. Wow what a find: fortified wine at 17.4% alcohol with absolutely no heat on the palate, combining both the feminine and masculine qualities. Imagine this wine with flourless chocolate cake or truffles.

Happy holidays!

John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, Sonoma Wine Tasting in Duncans Mills, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open Thu, Sat, Sun: 11am – 5pm, Fri:  11am-7pm (Local’s Night, Friday, 4-7pm, and you don’t have to be a local to join us). www.sophiescellars.com