Last night was an example of my favorite way to enjoy wine – a casual dinner with good friends, with a manageable number of wines ranging from unassuming (but perfect partners to the right foods) to transcendent. Tasted over the course of a leisurely evening, the wines got sufficient air time to open up aromatically and unfurl their full flavors on the palate. Things got off to a bang with a pair of wines that had been opened on nights previous and were ready to strut their stuff. 2006 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Spatlese Trocken shows some nice late-harvest fruit in a dry package, but although my favorite rieslings are usual German ones, tonight it can’t keep up with the otherworldly 2005 Franz Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Hochrain from the Wachau region of Austria that my friend M has generously brought. Every time I stick my nose in the glass, this wine sends shivers down my spine. Light petrol and flinty mineral aromas float above golden orchard fruit, and I come back to it again and again. Dry and stony on the palate with a touch of bitter pith, but buffeted by deceptively generous fruit, this plants notions of nectar in your mind but goes down like glorious mineral water. I’m enjoying and not scoring any wines tonight, but this one would clearly be in the exalted 95+ point range for me.
Next I pair a 2011 Casa de Vila Verde vinho verde from Portugal with a butter lettuce salad with carrots and roasted butternut squash. From the grapes arinto, loureiro and trajadura, this light, fresh white lives up to the “green wine” name, presenting a palate with fresh herbal green that manages not to come off as vegetal. A nice citric snap here makes the wine lively and juicy. The next time you’re thinking of having sauvignon blanc, try a vinho verde instead – this is better than the vast majority of the perfunctory sauvignon blancs in the same $11 price range.
Chicken and mozzarella ravioli is partnered with two pinot noirs, 2004 La Famille Claude Dugat Gevrey Chambertin La Gibryotte and 2010 Anthill Farms Demuth Vineyard pinot noir. The Dugat, a negociant bottling, is from the 2004 vintage in Burgundy, in which a significant number of wines display a distinct green character of debated origin (one popular explanation involves pyrazines released by ladybugs). I’ve had a number of bottles of this over the years, haven taken a chance on a number of bottles at a bargain $20 price, and it has generally shown some stalky, stemmy character that seems to be a manageable amount of the 2004 greenness, and tonight’s bottle still shows the same. M and I agree that it’s not enough to be bothersome, and this wine delivers enough burgundy typicity and pleasure to justify the bargain price I paid. M does a nice job of picking out the Anthill Demuth as an Anderson Valley wine when I serve it blind to him – and this one is true to the Anthill style – floral and fragrant tart red fruits and hints of beetroot, framed by oak in an accessible, cool-climate-fruited package.
I serve two blind wines with New York strip steaks, and though they are both from Portugal, they show very differently. The 2009 Herdade do Rocim Mariana comes across as a light-to-medium bodied red that’s smooth on the palate, with touches of a bushy, herby pepper on the nose to add interest. All three drinkers who try this one one prefer it to the 2009 Quinta do Portal Colheita Tinto Douro, which is a good wine in a different style – darker-fruited, brooding and more intensely flavored on the palate. A blend of alicante bouschet, aragonez (which you may know as tempranillo), cabernet sauvignon and trincadeira, the Mariana is from the Alentejano region and aged in stainless steel, which together with a nice plummy acidity, keeps it fresh. On the other hand, the Quinta do Portal tinto is a brooding, dark blend of tinto roriz (yet another name for tempranillo), touriga nacional and touriga franca from the Douro DOC, and shows the profile of an international red – French oak aging and dark, concentrated primary fruits. Both wines sell for $15 or less generally, and to me the Mariana especially is a very solid wine for the money.
As we linger after dinner, comparing the reds, I find I can’t help but keep going back to the fabulous Hirtzberger. From there, we move on to a tasty 2003 Gimmeldinger Schlosser Spatlese rieslaner from Muller-Catoir, pleasing with light cinnamon-like spice inflections, and a perennial favorite producer of sweet wines, Alois Kracher of Austria, is the source of our capper for the evening, a 2002 Kracher Nouvelle Vague TBA chardonnay. The residual sugar in both of these wines goes fabulously with a light and pleasing champagne cheddar cheese from the Finger Lakes, giving our guests a last bit of fortification before they venture back out into the blustery New York night.
The Portuguese wines in this report were complimentary review samples received from representatives of Wines of Portugal.