Yes, NYE is all about the bubbly. Whether it’s truly “Champers” (Champagne from Champagne, France) or some other fizz, we tend to fixate on the bubbles for New Year’s Eve. A few centuries of clever merchandising from the region of La Champagne, and we are programmed to go for the sparkling stuff when met with any celebration. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but a whole evening of sparkling wine is a lot of bubbles and tart acid, so I like to build up to the bubbles. Yes, I do have a bubbly put aside for New Year’s Eve, but I have a range of other wines lined up to precede the pièce de resistance. I even like to include some of the fabulous wines I’ve had in the past year…
Since the bubbles are inescapable, my special Champagne suggestion for this New Year’s Eve is a Grand Cru Brut from Charles Mignon, a small producer out of Epernay, France. Not many vineyards in Champagne are classified Grand Cru, which shows the age and prestige of this producer. If you like Champagne with brioche and biscuit notes, then this is your bubbly too. Yes, there is tart acidity and hints of citrus and green apple, but what makes the Mignon special for me is the rich wheat berry and yeast characters that I often associate with famous producers like Perrier Jouët, Louis Roederer and Veuve Clicquot. The Charles Mignon is a steal for under $50 per bottle and stands up to the reserves of those just listed that can be nearly double this price.
Although I tend to drink more red wine, this New Year’s will be a little warmer than most so I’m going to start with two crisp and refreshing whites: a dry Riesling from the Rheingau, Germany and a dry Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, France. The German Riesling is to honor my trip to Germany back in May and the French Sancerre is to honor my French mom who passed away this past summer. Both whites are light and refreshing and awaken the palate with zesty citrus notes and plenty of mineral structure. Pair them with light appetizers, a cheeseboard or even peel-and-eat shrimp.
For the reds I often come up with a theme, and for example, on Christmas Eve, I paired up a Washington State Petit Verdot from Bergevin Lane with a well-known Bordeaux blend from the Left Bank, Chateau D’Armailhac. Both happened to be the 2011 vintage, which made an interesting comparison since it was a problematic vintage in many locales. I also liked that we could try one of the lesser-known varietals featured in the Bordeaux, Petit Verdot, alone, to see if we could then pick up those notes in the D’Armailhac from Pauillac.
The “Amare Aeterna” from Bergevin Lane, Columbia Valley Washington State, is one of the few 100% Petit Verdot wines one can find domestically. This is a dank version with loads of mineral depths starting off with the classic graphite and cedar shavings we often associate with the varietal. It brings this kind of mineral complexity to the Bordeaux blend (where it is probably under 10%). Being “New World,” there was some fruit to the Petit Verdot, but it was not a Cali fruit bomb, this was a Washington “mineral depth charge.” The fruit took a backseat, but I picked up some black cherry notes mingled with herbs like anise and sagebrush. It opens up to violets and lilacs smashed on slate stone. Complexity and depth were the key words for me in summing up this fascinating wine.
The Chateau D’Armailhac was bold yet elegant. Not the giant vintages of 2009 and 2010, the 2011 has some elegance to it, what we call a “drinker” vintage rather than a “keeper” vintage. Chunky cherry and black currant come across over a frame of toasty oak that is medium-bodied, not heavy. We could pick out some hints of the pencil shavings associated with the Petit Verdot, though it’s a minor player in this blend. It was fun to try and deconstruct the Bordeaux blend using our own knowledge of the other Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Merlot. Yes, I like themes to my wine tastings, and you can come up with any theme to justify drinking what you love on the last day of the year.
After these great still wines (and perhaps a fantastic meal) I am ready to pop my bottle of Champagne and toast the New Year after reviewing some of the highs and even some of the lows of the past year. I just wanted to remind everyone that it doesn’t have to be bubbly all night long. It’s OK to start with some of your other favorites (or a year-end review, as I did) to then make the magic popping sound while the ball is dropping. Happy New Year to you and yours!
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine & spirits supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE