I’m a red fan. The heat of summer doesn’t slow me down, nor does a dish perhaps best served with Chardonnay. I’ve told hundreds of customers, “Drink what you like.” I’m pretty good at taking my own advice.
Going into the holidays, I’m uncorking a list of five red wines with which I’m very, very familiar. Each stands alone with unique qualities, each is a welcome guest at my table and merits your attention. All are easy drinkers, not requiring fussiness to be pleasing. Even with immediate drinkability, some can tolerate cellaring.
Remember too that red wine should be served at cellar temperature – that means about 65 (F). Set your wine cooler or give these bottles about 30 minutes in your fridge before enjoying. In my day gig at Savannah Wine Cellar, it’s no coincidence that I have these wines in stock. Prices quoted are based on Savannah Wine Cellar retail.
This is just the second vintage of Cenyth for California winemaker Hélène Seillan. This Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon has stumped even my most devout Bordeaux fans – who taste the wine, fall in love, and take Cenyth home.
Helène learned her lessons well under the mentorship of her father, Peirre Seillan, a renowned winemaker who learned his skills in Bordeaux and then became vigneron for Vérité. She continues the family legacy of nurturing Old World essence from the hillside vineyards of Sonoma County.
While Cenyth’s expression may lean more toward Bordeaux than California, there is no mistaking the decidedly feminine aromas that Hélène has coaxed from her blend. This is an excellent gift wine and definitely a welcome guest at my table. It is imminently drinkable and with a little air develops into a rich, silky wine that is as pleasant to sip as it is alongside holiday feasts. $54.99.
2012 Shafer Relentless
The Shafer name is one of the most evocative for consumers. Most wine fans covet a sip of the critically-acclaimed, high-priced Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon. A consistent darling of wine critics like Robert Parker and the go-to luxury wine for elegant steakhouses, Hillside Select is without doubt a bold, inspiring California wine.
You can put a Shafer bottle on the table for less than $100 and still feel like a champ. Relentless, a Syrah and Petite Sirah blend, is full and rich. The velvety mouthfeel becomes a lingering finish that will make you forget about this wine’s big brother. Drinkers more accustomed to Aussie Shiraz will be stunned to find Syrah that drinks so princely, so elegantly, and so smoothly.
This is a beautiful wine to enjoy fireside or even with a few bites of cheese. On the table, oair with braised short ribs, duck and wild game. Of course, beef is an easy and sympathetic companion. $89.99.
2012 Phifer Pavitt Date Night
When Suzanne Phifer Pavitt and Shane Pavitt joined forces as husband and wife, they maintained date night traditions. It was great for the relationship of the two young professionals and it was the night that BIG decisions were made. When they got into the wine business, it seemed only natural to immortalize date night with luxury wines designed for those lingering suppers.
This Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, with a tiny splash of Petit Verdot, is just such a wine. While some may consider this a “special occasion” wine, it is definitely a wine that helps make memories. First, it’s an easy drinking wine right from the bottle. I recommend decanting – an always sexy move to kick off date night. Take a sip, hold it…now swallow. Yeah, taste those layers? This wine is an explosion of aromas and flavors. It’s floral, it’s laced with licorice and dark, seductive fruit. On entry, it’s a silky feeling wine that suddenly flexes its power to end with a lingering, velvety finish. $79.99.
2010 L'Arco Rosso del Veronese
Winemaker Luca Fedrigo of L'Arco shared with me over dinner one evening how he comes to craft his remarkable blends:
“I have dreams, God comes to me. I wake up in the middle of the night and go out to the cellar and blend. I’m inspired by the flavors.”
Many winemakers claim heavenly inspiration or have a supernatural muse – it’s not an unusual story to hear after a bottle of wine. What makes Luca’s tale even more intriguing is that he hails from a village in the Veneto where blending remains minimal and oak aging is a no-no. “Sometimes, the old men, they drink my wine and spit it out. ‘This is wrong,’ they say to me.”
This wine is definitely the result of Luca’s amazing blending skill. It reads like an honor role of the region’s best red wine grapes: Corvina and Corvinone, Rondinella, Sangiovese Grosso, Molinara. And, it’s all about the fruit. Tannins are expressed cleanly and clearly but without pretense. The wine itself is beautifully layered and savvy Italian wine fans will discern nearly every one of the individual grape varieties. The finish is clean and mildly lingering. There is just enough Italian rusticity to please us origin geeks – without being overly funky.
Good news: This is a bargain-priced wine among L’Arco’s labels. Big brother Pario sells for nearly triple the price of Rosso del Veronese. $26.99.
Valle Delle Stelle
Speaking of making a memory: This wine is what we enjoyed during our Italian vacation, much of it spent on the Agritourismo of Brancatelli. The southern Tuscan property is on the outskirts of the sleepy rural village of Riotorto, nestled in a valley looked over by the mountain fortresses of Campiglia and Suvereto. In fact, Brancatelli sits in the wine growing designation of Suvereto – just outside the fabled Chianti Classico zone.
Here, Giuseppe Brancatelli leans on French varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, and Syrah. It is those first two grapes that comprise Valle delle Stelle – valley of the stars. Aptly named, these grapes bask under a night sky unencumbered by manmade light, a sky filled with countless stars and other celestial bodies.
The wine itself is as complex as that busy night sky. With just a pair of grapes, Giuseppe squeezes out a remarkable range of flavors and aromas. Fruit character is paramount to this pleasing Italian blend – a more than worthy challenger to neighboring Chianti Classico and its prominent Black Rooster label.
Pair this wine with roasted pork or braised lamb shank. It is delicate enough to match up with filet mignon and hearty enough to compliment traditional Italian red sauces. $23.99.