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A focused wine-tasting provides a respite from holiday rush

Dave DeSimone
| Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006

In this season, when wine and spirits flow freely and comestibles aplenty strain the groaning tables, sharing special bottles of wine with friends in the relative serenity of a small wine-tasting group is a welcome respite. When tasting the wines blind, the enjoyment and fun are enhanced with discoveries and revelations about the wines and the people sharing the bottles.

At a recent blind tasting of red Burgundies, for example, one wine in particular bedazzled. Served from a decanter, its cloudy brick color instantly suggested advanced age. The complex, yet intense nose embodied the best of older red Burgundies with subtle, but distinct fruity aromas of plums and echoes of ripe strawberries leavened by bewitching nuances of sous bois, an almost ineffable mixture of damp earthiness, forest leaves and smokiness.

In the mouth, the wine had excellent acidity and silky tannic structure supporting a round, plump core of ripe fruit. It was well balanced and elegant with fine finesse, and yet it was still very much vital and alive in the glass.

Even with its age, subtlety and delicacy, it retained an engaging aspect of what the French call gouleyant -- easy and fun to drink while begging for another sip. In the end, it was a vin de plaisir, a wine of great pleasure for enjoyment amongst wine-drinking friends.

When it came to guessing the identity of the wine's producer, vintage and terroir, perhaps the likes of some of Burgundy's great veteran winemakers such as Aubert de Villaine, Jacques Seysses and Charles Rousseau could have answered accurately. But none of our group of certified Burgundy passionnés -- ranging from an experienced octogenarian to a relative novice who was only a lass of two years of age when the wine was produced -- had the depth of imagination and courage of conviction to name the wine's true pedigree: namely the 1971 Bouchard Père et Fils, Le Corton Grand Cru .

At the incredible age of 35, the wine had peaked and faded with gentle grace during the course of its patient evolution, but experiencing it now had much to teach and show all the tasters, both young and mature. It even stirred the enthusiasm of a fan of big Zinfandels who typically finds Burgundy's finesse underwhelming.

No mention was made of ratings, because the wine was produced long before the current fetish for rating wines numerically. It was invaluable, nonetheless, as a rare glimpse of one of the ending chapters of a long ago vintage that, at the time, had a very good, but not great, reputation.

Tasting the wine was a transcendent, unique experience creating an indelible and valuable sensory memory. Such memories provide the essence of developing confidence in one's own tastes in wine.

As such, this simple act of sharing the bottle of wine was a supremely generous act worthy of emulation for the upcoming year. The point is not to engage in rank snobbery by insisting on drinking either old Burgundies or any other particular type of wine, including those with high numerical ratings.

Rather, after all the holiday hubbub is gone, make the time to taste and share the wines that stir your passions with wine-drinking friends in small, focused groups. Doing so in the New Year in the spirit of humility and fun will make for wine-drinking time well spent.

For now, try the following wines:

Best buys

  • N.V. Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut Sparkling Wine, Sonoma, California (657, on sale: $17.99, plus an additional $2 off per bottle with instant coupon): This lovely sparkling wine made in the méthode champenoise from pinot noir and chardonnay grapes grown in Sonoma's coolest climate vineyards yields a wine with fine, persistent effervescence and lovely aromas of berries and citrus. The lush flavors of citrus and berries are well balanced in a creamy texture and a frothy, dry, yet soft finish. Recommended .

  • 2005 Groth Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California (Specialty 17418, $18.99): This classic Bordeaux-style white blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon crafted by veteran winemaker Michael Weiss offers appealing aromas of lemon and pear with a touch of fig and mint leading to rich flavors of citrus and melon balanced by bracing acidity and refreshing minerality through a dry, but lush and generous finish. Try it with fresh goat cheese baked in philo dough. Highly recommended.

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