As the weather and seasons change, as well as during the holidays, consumers often seize the opportunity to enjoy what wine experts sometimes feature as holiday or seasonal wines. However, I am of the belief that wines do not have to be seasonal in nature. I enjoy food-friendly, versatile wines that are appropriate for all seasons. Below are eight of my favorite selections to enjoy year around: both still and sparkling wines at varying price points, some highly rated by some of the world’s renowned wine critics.
The third week of November 2019, I had the great pleasure of tasting five wines for a Wines of Argentina Twitter tasting led by Christy Canterbury MW, whose topic was “perfect Argentinian wines to pair with vegetarian Thanksgiving dishes.” The two wines from Patagonia will be featured in a forthcoming article. Below are my impressions of the three wines from Mendoza.
2017 Mascota Vineyards Unánine Chardonnay, Argentina ($20 SRP, sample)
This chardonnay hails from high-altitude vineyards in Mendoza, thus, this wine reveals cool-climate characteristics such as ample acidity and bright citrus flavors, especially when chilled. As it warms a bit, one begins to taste sweeter tropical fruits, like pineapple and mango, and the influence of the 30% malolactic fermentation and sur lie aging in French oak for six months, a luxuriously creamy and weighty palate replete with smoky vanilla. If vegetarian and you eat dairy, this wine is calling for a creamy or cheesy dish. If you eat meat, pair this with buttery poultry or shellfish. If you follow scores: Tim Atkin MW, 93 points; Wine Enthusiast, 89 points.
2017 Catena Zapata Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay, Mendoza, Argentina ($40 SRP, sample)
Since 1902, four generations of the Catena family have farmed the land and produced wines at all price points. The grapes for this chardonnay are grown at altitudes of around 4000-5000 feet – hence the name Catena Alta – from the family’s “heritage rows” of the Domingo (20%) and Adrianna (80%) Vineyards. The effect of the higher altitudes is very prominent in this chardonnay. The wine is barrel fermented with native, wild yeasts, and 70% goes through malolactic fermentation. The cool-climate fruit flavors of grapefruit, lemon, and lime beautifully complement this production style. I would argue that this wine’s weighty richness and higher-acid citrus profile are substantial and vibrant enough to pair not only “standard” chardonnay protein pairings such as baked salmon, rotisserie poultry, and buttery shellfish, but also a traditional asado or empañadas, for those who prefer white wines. For vegetarians, I recommend foods of that can stand up to the intensity of this chardonnay, such creamy potato, pasta, and pastry dishes, such as vegetable pot pie or a cheesy quiche. Vinous, 91 points.
2018 Alfredo Roca Pinot Noir, Mendoza, Argentina ($15 SRP, sample)
The Roca family is a fourth-generation family operating an estate-model winery comprised of 280 acres. This pinot noir is sourced from eight precious acres of vineyards in the southern province of San Rafael, at altitude of around 3000 feet. It shows intensely flavored, tart fruit on the palate, such as cranberry and plum, cradled in cinnamon spice. Recommended food pairings include traditional, rich American Thanksgiving fare with or without meat, anything mushroom, and creamy, cheesy risotto, potato casserole, or vegetarian lasagna.
My November 2019 tastings continued with the following samples from Ferrari Trento, known as “Italy’s most awarded sparkling wine producer,” whose organically certified, sustainably farmed, mountain vineyards are still under the care and control of the Lunelli family’s third generation. In 2019, Ferrari Trento was recognized as the “Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year” at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships.
NV Ferrari Trento Brut, Trento DOC ($26.99 SRP, sample)
This 100% chardonnay, brut is Ferrari Trento’s original, dating back to 1902 when Giulio Ferrari planted the first chardonnay grapes in the Trentino mountains. This is the go-to, classic Italian blanc de blancs, always delicious, elegant, and affordable. A plethora of abundant, fine bubbles carry flavors of bright, crisp apples and biscotti across one’s palate. The acidity of this wine begs for the simplest of salty snacks – including nuts, potato chips, popcorn, and fries – as well as fried chicken and fish, triple-cream cheeses like Brie or Camembert, quiche and other egg dishes, oysters, and smoked salmon.
NV Ferrari Trento Brut Rosé, Trento DOC ($35.99 SRP, sample)
You had me at first sip of this richly colorful, bright salmon elixir, with its plentiful, creamy mousse, floral notes, and delightful balance of both sweet and tart red berries, brioche, and mouthwatering acidity. Made from 60% pinot nero (the Italian name for pinot noir) and 40% chardonnay, you cannot go wrong with this highly acclaimed, Italian take on brut rosé. Enjoy this traditional method sparkling wine on its own or with fried foods, charcuterie, fatty pork like lightly seasoned carnitas or pulled pork without sauce, sushi, or pink shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp.
During December 2019, I had the delightful experiences of tasting a wine from Ribera del Duero as well as my first Italian sauvignon blanc and pinot noir hailing from the higher elevations of Alto Adige.
2017 Bela Ribera del Duero ($19 SRP, sample)
Recently purchased by iconic Riojan producer, Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE), Bela, built in 1999 and planted in 2002 mostly to tempranillo, is a 182-acre estate and winery located in the village of Villalba del Duero, in the province of Burgos. According to CVNE, this 100% tempranillo “bring Riojan elegance to the rugged Ribera del Duero region.” This wine is both deeply colored and dark on the palate, with black fruit aromas and flavors. Thanks to only six months of aging in American and French new and one-year-old oak barrels, the wine reveals sweet spice, soft tannins, and an ample mouthfeel. Pair this wine with hearty dishes like grilled or roasted meats, casseroles, or the Ribera del Duero regional favorite, lechazo, roasted lamb.
2018 Colterenzio-Schreckbichl Sauvignon PRAIL, Südtirol-Alto Adige ($22 SRP, sample)
Sauvignon blanc vineyards in Alto Adige date back to the nineteenth century, and this example successfully demonstrates this heritage. This wine is floral and herbal on the nose and bright and juicy on the palate, a mélange of citrus, stone, and tropical fruits, think a mixed fruit bowl, but with a weightier mouthfeel and smokiness from some partial oak aging. Its sharp acidity is an ideal accompaniment to chèvre (goat cheese), baked chicken and fish, grilled or sautéed scallops, mussels marinera, raw oysters, and vegetable dishes with artichoke, asparagus, and zucchini. James Suckling, 91 points.
2015 Peter Zemmer Rolhüt Pinot Noir, Alto Adige-Südtirol ($18 SRP, sample)
My immediate thought when tasting this wine was, “Wow, this is intense.” It reveals flavors of tart fruits and berries like blackcurrant, sour cherry, cranberry, raspberry, and unripe plum. It sees a total of 18 months of oak aging, 70% in new French oak barrels and the other 30% small French casks that are two to three years old for 12 months, then another six months blended. The result is a pinot noir that is not overly tannic, with just the right amount of spicy oak influence to not overpower the aforementioned fruitiness. I tasted this wine with my baked Atlantic salmon dinner, but this wine can also stand up to red meat dishes like lamb, as well as complement baked, grilled, or roasted pork and poultry. Tasting Panel, 91 points.