Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The Re(night)cap with Afterword

The nightcaps we posted are good all year long

With any of these you will never go wrong

In case you missed one we’ve reposted them here

With one afterword, coming sometime next year…

imageEpilogue: Oktopusake Premium Junmai Sake, Connecticut

On the rare occasions I’m not drinking wine with sushi, I opt for sake instead. Sake is a perfect pairing with sushi and, since it is a rice wine, I can still call it research. I was very excited to learn that there is a local company working on perfecting their own sake. Oktopusake will soon be offering three varieties of their premium junmai sake to Connecticut consumers: Sun – a traditional dry sake; Moon – an unfiltered version (think milky white and slightly sweet); and Stars – a specialty reserve sake that will be as black as squid ink because it will be tinted with, well…squid ink! We will keep you posted on Oktopusake’s progress and are very much looking forward to seeing this new local product in Connecticut stores and restaurants in 2014.



Re(night)cap: One of the questions I encounter the most as a wine educator is “What’s your favorite wine?” I confess, it’s a question I’ve come to dread because I always feel like I’m disappointing the inquisitor. My answer usually goes something like this: “I don’t really have a favorite. It depends on the day, the time of year, the company in which I find myself, and any gustatory delights with which I may be pairing the wine.”  If really pushed, I’ll tell them that I am a Champagne girl. This seems to provide them with a little more satisfaction. But the truth is my favorite wine changes on a monthly, weekly and even daily basis. And I am always waiting to find my next favorite wine. The beauty of the wine world is that there is always more to explore. So, here I will present a list of my 12 favorite wines right now for drinking and gifting during the holidays, one day at a time for the next 12 days.

A Votre Santé!

For the full list of 12 nightcaps, click here: Nightcap Recap






Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 12th Nightcap

photo-146Nightcap #12: Piper Heidsick Cuvee Rare Brut Millesime 2002, France $145

Christmas is finally upon us and it's time to put a halt to present shopping and cookie swapping, and get to some popping. While I am a big believer in bargain bottles, there are times when splurging is in order. And if you're going to splurge, make sure you do it right. At a recent Champagne tasting I attended in NYC, I had the pleasure of sampling 40 of some of the best Champagnes available at the moment. The offerings spanned a wide range of prices, from under $30 to several hundred. In the mix were such big boys as vintage Krug, Dom Perignon, and Cristal. Many of these coveted sparklers tickled my fancy but, in the end, there were a select few that stood out from the crowd.

Although it might lack the glamour and cache of some of today's trendier wines, Piper Heidsick has, to my mind, always delivered a solid and consistent product. I had wandered away from PH, lured by the call of the boutique Champagnes that are currently under the spotlight. I am happy to have arrived back home just in time to taste the Rare 2002. Industry experts have remarked on Piper Heidsick's improvement in quality over the last several years. If one was in need of proof, Rare 2002 provides it in spades. It is beautifully balanced, possesses great structure and boasts a menagerie of fruits. It provides the perfect measure of toast and a lingering finish that's both elegant and intense. It is a beautiful note on which to end.


Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 11th Nightcap

uraguay redNightcap #11: Bodegas Carrau Tannat de Reserva 2011, Montevideo, Uruguay $15

Tannat, indigenous to Southwest France and one of the oldest varieties in all of France, is one of the four most tannic grapes in the world. This grape is so high in tannins that the procedure of micro-oxygenation was actually invented specifically to tame it. This grape is often blended with varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot to soften its tannins. Tannat was taken to Uruguay in the nineteenth century where it is now flourishing. The difference in climate and terroir produce a grape that, while still high in tannins, creates wines of superb quality when produced in low yields.

Tannat from Bodegas Carrau is one of my favorite expressions of this grape. With roots in Catalonia, Spain dating back to 1752, the Carrau’s moved to Uruguay where they have been at the forefront of innovative winemaking since 1930. Bodegas Carrau was the first to export wines from Uruguay. They introduced the idea of using tannat for top reds in 1973 and, in 1997, they built a beautiful and innovative winery into the side of a hill to capitalize on low-input winemaking. Bodegas Carrau employs organic and sustainable methods, uses indigenous yeasts, and makes some of their wine without the addition of sulfur. Tannat is a heavyweight in the world of wine and shines brightest when paired with a worthy partner. Lamb provides the perfect soulmate. Feeling adventurous? Try wild boar. 

Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 10th Nightcap

image_510254_squareNightcap #10: Pelissero Dolcetto d’Alba Munfrina 2011, Piedmont, Italy $18

It must be difficult being the person nobody has heard of from a family of stars. I imagine this is how the dolcetto grape would feel if only it could tell us. Dolcetto is from Piedmont, home to such stars as barolo and barbaresco, fabulous overachievers made from the nebbiolo grape. These wines are well sought after and can command steep prices. Piedmont is also home to barbera, the most widely planted grape in this area and an increasingly popular variety, although not in the same league as nebbiolo. While I would not turn my nose up at a bottle of these beauties, I have a soft spot for the underdog. In a region where 2/3 of the wine produced is red, and most have high acidity, dolcetto is living in big brother’s shadow. An early ripener not naturally high in acidity, dolcetto is grown at higher altitudes than nebbiolo in order to help preserve what acidity it does has.  

Pelissero Dolcetto d’Alba Munfrina is an opulent red purple. It has the rustic earthy notes typical of this variety (and much appreciated), with black cherry and spices dancing around a core lightly laced with eucalyptus. The experience concludes with a delightfully lingering finish. Definitely not just your father’s pizza wine. Salute!

Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 9th Nightcap

albet_cava_reserva_loNightcap #9: Albet i Noya Cava Brut, Penedes, Spain $16

The holidays just wouldn’t be the holidays without bubbles and there are more to choose from than ever before. While prosecco sales in the United States have gone up around 35% in the last 3 years, it is really cava I crave. Cava is the sparkling wine of Spain. It has traditionally been made from 3 indigenous grapes – xarel-lo, parellada and macabeu – but beginning in 1986, chardonnay, and then pinot noir and several other grapes have been authorized for use. Cava is made in the traditional method with a second fermentation in the bottle in which it will eventually be sold, as in Champagne, but is less strict than the French when it comes to aging requirements.

Albet i Noya is one of my favorite cava producers. The reasons why are too numerous to list here, but I will give you the highlights. This family winery was the first in Catalonia to embrace organic farming and winemaking, taking it one stop further in 2004 with biodynamic grape growing on part of the estate.; they disgorge their cava manually and print the disgorgement date on the back of every bottle; and they only use yeast indigenous to the Penedès region. Their cava is even vegan friendly! But mainly I love the way this cava tastes. It is made from the 3 indigenous grapes plus chardonnay, and was aged for 18 months. It is clean and mineralic, with just a splash of citrus, and then a hint of hazelnuts on the long finish. And what lovely bubbles.  ĺSalud!

Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 8th Nightcap

NAOUSSANightcap #8: Boutari Naoussa 2007, Macedonia, Greece $16

Wines from Greece were not taken very seriously until the last 25 years or so during which there has been a concerted effort on the part of Greek winemakers to produce better quality wines (probably fueled by Greece's entrance into the European Union in 1981). And, let's face it, the country's most famous wine, Retsina, made by adding pine resin to wine, did not do much to elevate their standing in the minds of wine drinkers. But Greece is now giving us wines that merit our attention. This beautiful region with its Mediterranean climate is home to hundreds of indigenous grapes and, although almost all of them are near impossible to pronounce, it is definitely worth the effort to learn how to say at least a few of these Greek names.

One of my favorite Greek grapes is xynomavro (pronounced ksee-NOH-mah-vro). A dark-skinned red grape with high levels of both tannin and acids, xynomavro produces robust red wines. Xynomavro hails from Macedonia, and some of the best red wines in Greece are considered to come from Macedonia's subregion, Naoussa. Boutari Naoussa, made from 100% xynomavro, was the first bottled wine available in Greece in 1879 and continues to be one of Greece's treasures. It is rich and smooth with pomegranate and ripe berry flavors, and tomato notes. As with all great treasures, these wines won't be kept secret for long because, even if the names are Greek to wine drinkers, we still recognize a good thing when we taste it.

Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 7th Nightcap

271342Nightcap #7: Stadt Krems Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria $16

Many a worthwhile grape has failed to capture the American public’s attention, and love, due to nothing more than a language barrier. Let’s face it, it’s hard to cozy up to a wine whose name you can’t pronounce. Experts have speculated that this is the case with Austria’s signature white grape, grüner veltliner. But this grape has had something of a rebirth in the last few years. For starters, we can now call it Gru-ve, or Groovy, for short, making it immediately more accessible. Add to that the fact that it is a high acid, lip-smacking grape that pairs well with many foods, and we’ve got a winner.

This luscious wine throws off citrus notes, followed up with a delightfully tart bite, and finishing with a touch of white pepper, a flavor commonly associated with Groovy.  It provides a surprisingly weighty mouthfeel. What I especially like about this wine is its ability to stand up to bold-flavored dishes, even those notorious for making bad bed fellows. I have paired this wine with broccoli rabe to the surprise and delight of doubtful diners. In the never-ending search for chardonnay substitutes, this wine is a stand out. Da doo da doo doo, feeling Gru-Ve!

Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 6th Nightcap

image_2001250_fullNightcap #6: Milbrandt Vineyards Traditions Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington $15

I know, I know. We're all supposed to eschew merlot ever since seeing Sideways. Well, I refuse. I happen to love this grape and often find the wines more approachable and easier to pair with food. Merlot, in addition to having many of the flavor characteristics of cabernet sauvignon – black cherry, vanilla, mocha – can have the most soothing and enjoyable velvet-like finish. It's my liquid version of comfort food. I will never say no to a merlot from Bordeaux (where there is actually more merlot planted than cabernet sauvignon), but I have found merlot from Washington state to be excellent, and with an affordable price tag. 

In the tradition of Bordeaux, this wine is a blend – merlot (76%), cabernet sauvignon (22%) and cabernet franc (2%). Butch Milbrandt, originally from Oregon, moved to Washington and launched this winery in 2005. Washington is the second largest producer of vinifera wine (think European) in the United States. It is America's primary site for riesling and, although most of the grapes grown are chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, the merlot and shiraz produced here are the wines that actually meet with the highest critical acclaim. So, go on. Try a merlot for just one night. You can go back to being a pinot snob the other 6 days of the week. 


Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 5th Nightcap

Nightcap #5: Onyx Moonshine Secret Stash 2013, Connecticut, USA, price varies

It may not be wine, but we would be remiss not to include a product by this company in our list of worthy nightcaps. Onyx Moonshine is a local success story, and an almost overnight one, at that. The first moonshine to be legally produced and sold in New England, Onyx can now be found on shelves in almost every bar and liquor store in Connecticut. I first discovered this white lightening a year ago at a screening of a documentary about Prohibition in Connecticut where they were pouring drinks made from their moonshine. For an explanation of just what moonshine is and to learn more about their very first product, click here: Connecticut Celebrates the End of Prohibition.

Barrel Aged JPGOnyx prepared for an even bigger celebration of Prohibition Repeal Day this year. On December 5th, Onyx released their newest product, Secret Stash, a charred oak barrel-aged moonshine and Connecticut’s very first whiskey. This firewater is now spreading across Connecticut like wildfire. If you want to catch the craze early on, you will need to hurry. A very limited amount of Secret Stash was produced – 33 barrels to be precise – a tribute to the year that Prohibition was repealed. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a bottle, you can expect to pay in the area of $60 for it, although price varies depending on the retailer. As if its scarcity and sexy name weren't enough, each of the 33 barrels produced has different flavor notes due to the unique nature of each barrel used and the conditions under which it was made. A list of the 33 restaurants and stores carrying the Connecticut-crafted hooch, complete with each barrel's flavor profile, can be found here: Find Secret Stash.
If you miss out on the first run, take heart. Onyx plans to release more of their sneaky pete during the summer of 2014. In the meantime, you can grab one of their other home-brewed products as a gift for that special grog guzzler in your life. Visit Onyx Moonshine.

If you snagged a bottle of Secret Stash, you might want to try this cocktail recipe, provided by Onyx Moonshine:

Onyx Maple Manhattan

2 oz Onyx Barrel Aged Whiskey (Secret Stash)
½ oz Maple Syrup
½ oz Sweet Vermouth
Orange rind, for garnish

Combine Secret Stash, maple syrup, and vermouth in a shaker over ice. Twist the orange rind over the mixture to release the orange oil, then rub the orange rind along the rim of the rocks glass. Shake and strain over an ice sphere.

Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 4th Nightcap

51ae46ef765d4Nightcap #4: Grupo Bodegas Olarra Cerro Anon Rioja Crianza Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain $18

I have a strong fondness for Spanish wines and this is never more evident than when I get my lips on a big, bold Rioja. Rioja is almost single-handedly responsible for putting Spain on the global wine map. As with most European wines, the name on the label is the region, not the grape. In Spain, Rioja means tempranillo. This grape is less fruit-driven and more about earthy, smokey, tobacco and leather-like aromas and flavors, with good tannins and a delightful food-friendliness. 

Grupo Bodegas Olarra has only been around since 1973, but they have managed to make a big splash in a fairly short time. They combine modern winemaking with traditional vinification and aging techniques. Although 100% tempranillo wines are becoming more common, Cerro Anon adds a touch of garnacha, mazuelo and graciano to the mix. This wine, which is created from some of the bodegas' older vines, has the earthy, leather components, buoyed by notes of blackberry and orange zest. Try pairing it with your holiday roast. You will not be disappointed.