WINE & SPIRITS
BOLD, SEXY REDS CREATE GLAMOROUS, AMOROUS EVENINGS
With Valentine's Day approaching, I began thinking about some of the sexiest red wines I savored over the course of the year. Any of these distinctive bottles—sampled at lunches, dinners, and tastings with winemakers—will make a fabulous gift for the man in your life. Consider this a short list of collectible gems—eye-opening wines well worth their price (many are in the $100 plus range)—perhaps a Valentine's cheat sheet.
At Veritas, a wine-centric Manhattan restaurant with one of the most impressive collections in town, I tasted sensational Sonoma syrahs from Pax Wine Cellars. Winery co-owner (and Greenwich resident) Joe Donelan poured me the 2006 syrah from his Walker Vine Hill Vineyard. The Rhone-style red is a voluptuous, silky wine with vivid blackberry and blueberry notes. In its first vintage, this particular syrah received a whopping 95 points from esteemed critic Robert Parker, Jr.
The 2005 Pax Syrah Kobler Family is a biodynamic wine produced from grapes grown on land where a family of lambs also grazes. Ten percent viognier is added to the blend to give it more old-world character. It's a complex, creamy wine with a lingering finish and notes of dark fruit, acacia flowers and olives. The final wine I tried, 2004 Pax Syrah Cuvee Keltie, is a big-shouldered red that Parker likened to a Chateau Hermitage, with its white pepper notes.
At tasting with a battalion of bold reds across the pond, I sampled the iconic Rioja wines produced at CVNE, one of Spain's most revered wineries. Jesus de Madrazo, scion of the noble family behind the property (and full-time winemaker), walked us through some of their finest bottles. His 2005 Contino Vina del Oliva recently won a trophy as the best wine in Spain. It features blackberry and plum notes.
Madrazo is a pioneer in using the indigenous graciano grape as a stand-alone varietal and not an ingredient. His 2005 Contino Graciano has a violet aroma and notes of aniseed, cassis and autumn leaves. Drinking it, in Madrazo's evocative words, is "like making love to a gypsy girl."
For wines that are just as sensual as those rich Spanish reds, you might look to Italy, as I did at a series of "discovery" lunches featuring three of the country's most respected winemakers. From the Vietti winery of Piedmont I savored a rich purple Barbera d'Asti—the 2005 La Crena—exuding raspberry aromas and lush, spicy fruit. This single-vineyard wine, from grapes grown in Barolo territory, is from an estate anchored by a gorgeous hilltop castle. Vietti is renowned for producing food-friendly Barberas—perfect matches for pasta and roasted game. The 2006 Barbera d'Alba Tre Vigne is intensely floral and has so much finesse that it's been called the Grace Kelly of Barberas.
My Italian wine series continued with outstanding Tuscan Chianti Classicos from Barone Ricasoli, said to be the first winery in the world to import its wines widely (and the originators of the traditional Chianti formula). My favorite, the Castello di Brolio, named for the castle on the property acquired by the noble Ricasoli family in the Middle Ages, is a gorgeous red wine with smoky notes and a bouquet of red fruits.
My Italian tour concluded in the Veneto region, where the Masi winery produces its powerful Amarones. These rich, high-alcohol reds—totally dry, not at all sweet—are made from grapes that have been hung to dry for months on bamboo racks kissed by the Venetian wind (in a process called appasimento). The wine juice ages in cherry-wood casks, resulting in a heavenly wine tailor-made for real romance.
All of these reds share a few singular traits—they have extraordinary personality and exude their particular terroir (reflecting the climate, air, earth and magic of the region they're grown in). They can each transport you to the land from whence they sprung—offering a romantic journey in a glass of wine.