Looking for the perfect dinner and dessert wines? Bristol Bar & Grille’s Master Sommelier Scott Harper recommends the following sommelier selections.
People regularly ask me for wine recommendations. Some ask for themselves. Others want wine for a gift to give a friend or business associate. Usually, the request is as simple as inquiring what Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay I would suggest. Sometimes I get an unusual look because I answer their question, but then recommend an alternative from a completely different grape and region.
I am not trying to say the wine I suggest is better, or that I do not like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. However, I do believe they are world-class grapes and are a real pleasure to drink. I love variety. There are so many grapes from so many countries producing world class wines. It is hard to be as excited about Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as some of the wines off the beaten path. Sometimes these wines may have pejorative stereotypes or difficult to pronounce names. Other times the wines are just wines the average wine aficionado does not know about. Below I recommend a white, red and a dessert wine to try. They might be a bit challenging to find, but are truly exceptionally wines and worth the effort.
Sommelier selections for dinner: White – Grüner Veltliner
Considered the sommelier’s wine because of its versatility in pairing with food, Grüner Veltliner is the number one grape of Austria. The Germanic name scares some people into thinking it will be sweet, but it is not. Most quality Grüner Veltliner comes from the Niederösterreich region of Austria, and its three most prevalent sub regions Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal.
Generalizing about Grüner Veltliner is difficult, but you could say it comes in three different styles. The first is a quaffing style. It is light, crisp, refreshing, a tasty aperitif or accompaniment to spicy food or grilled bratwurst. The second would be a medium-body style. It is racy acidity, and the flavors of white pepper, white peach and nectarine. It also includes flavors of apple, citrus and a slight herbal or green flavor like lentil and minerality. The last style is a full-bodied style. This style strikes the balance of crisp acidity, minerality and rich forward fruit. This is a style from the Wachau region of Austria called Smaragd, which refers to the ripening level of the grape. Grüner Veltliner is not a wine that needs oak. It has plenty of refreshing flavor without it. Suggested producers of Austrian Grüner Veltliner are Allram (Kamptal), Machherndl (Wachau) and Martin Nigl (Kremstal).
Sommelier selections for dinner: Red – Grenache
There are Grenache plants all over the world. By almost all accounts, it originated in Spain, but France has more Grenache planted. A grape with thin-skin, it excels to its highest levels in the southern Rhône of France. Grenache is regularly blended with other grapes like Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan. It may not be as well-known as Syrah because you do not see the grape listed on the label. Wines from the southern Rhône are named after the place in which they are grown, as opposed to the grape.
Grenache typically has a full-body. You will find flavors of red cherry, kirschwasser (fruit brandy), raspberry and some black fruits. Additional earthy flavors as well as red licorice and pepper are noticeable. The earthy flavors include forest floor, leather and garrigue. Garrigue is the smell or taste of Provençal herbs and lowland shrubs. You can find Grenache in some great villages in the southern Rhône like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vasqueras and Lirac. There is also a wine that comes from a blend of some of the better villages of the southern Rhône, including the Côtes-du-Rhône-Village. Suggested producers of southern Rhône Grenache are Mas de Boislauzon Côtes du Rhône Villages, Gigondas Bouissière and Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Sommelier selections for dessert: Madeira Malmsey
Madeira is best known only from its eponymous island off the coast of Morocco, It is part of Portugal. Maderia has a unique character because it undergoes a heating process for several months after fermentation. This practice evolved in the 18th century when it was noticed that wines shipped through the tropics, improved markedly. As a result, this heating process, combined with fortification, long barrel aging and high acidity account for its long age-ability. It also accounts for its ability to remain drinkable for years once opened. That is even more unusual.
Malmsey is my favorite Madeira grape. It is a cozy, sweetly seductive and downright ethereal wine. Malmsey is the perfect libation for a cold winter evening. It is an excellent full-bodied, rich, sweet wine to end your meal. Malmsey is typically available at five, 10 and 15 years old. This wine ages in a barrel for the aforementioned period of time, but they do not continue to mature in the bottle. A Colheita Madeira is the product of one vintage. It ages a minimum of five years.