I won’t belabor the discussion of 2020 and how happy we were to see it go. Instead, I’ll focus on the wines we sipped as we embraced the philosophy of “out with the old; in with the new.”
December is a happy month at our house: Christmas and New Year’s are festive occasions, to be sure, but we also celebrate our anniversary on the 22nd and Gabe’s birthday on the 29th. Most years we go pillar to post in our revelries, with something to fête just about every day. This year was no different, although the guest list was pared back – to two.
Christmas Eve: Aged White Rioja and My Mom’s White Bean Soup
I resurrected one of my mother’s holiday traditions this year: her homemade white bean soup with ham. She made it every year because we always had an unpredictable cast of characters rolling through: friends whose families lived far away and those with no family to go to, often dined with us. A big pot of soup could fill the tummies and the hearts of any number of guests. And it was delicious!
To go with the soup I opened the 2007 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja Blanca, an aged white wine from the Rioja DOC. Bodegas López de Heredia has made wine for 143 years, and is a specialist in the production of white wines intended for aging. This bottle, a blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasía, was aged in American oak barrels for six years (with two rackings per year) and was fined using egg whites prior to bottling.
A deep golden color, this wine had a complex nose of dried orchard fruit, almonds, citrus peel, and a slightly funky mushroom note. After an hour or so, the funk evolved into a sweeter, less earthy aroma. On the palate, there was dried fruit, almond and hazelnut, and a caramel-like finish that was more savory than sweet. A lovely match with the bean soup, this wine kept going for a few days after we opened it, giving up something new with every sip.
Christmas Day: A Cuban-Inspired Meal Paired with a Biodynamic Sparkler from Spain
So, we’ve lived in Miami for a couple of years now, but this was our first Christmas in the Magic City. Missing the comforts of family and tradition, we decided on a radically different menu inspired by the cookbook Nuevo Latino from chef Douglas Rodriguez. To set the record straight: I am not Cuban and have no business trying to create a Cuban holiday meal. But one of the benefits of living here is that local grocery stores have all the ingredients at hand – guava paste? No problem!
I modified the recipe for lechon (roast suckling pig), substituting a three-pound pork loin and marinating it in a heady mix of citrus juice, fresh oregano, and garlic. As the pork roasted I mixed a fresh lime, garlic, and oregano mojo to drizzle over top. On the side I made black bean muñeta, a dish similar in texture to mashed potatoes, made from long-simmered black beans, onion, bay leaves, and oregano. My guava and cream-cheese pastries, alas, didn’t turn out so well (but I think the recipe might have a misprint.) They tasted great but were a bit of a train wreck aesthetically.
As a complement to the meal we poured the 2016 Clos Lentiscus Malvasía de Sitges Greco di Subur Blanc de Blanc Brut Nature from Spain. This wine was a delight! Made via biodynamic practices in a seaside bodega just south of Barcelona, the Clos Lentiscus is 100% Malvasía, an unorthodox (but delicious) choice for sparkling wine. Winemaker Manel Avinyó (aka The Bubble Man) represents the 10th generation to craft wines on the family estate in the Garraf Natural Park south of Barcelona.
Made via the traditional method (as in Champagne) the Clos Lentiscus is unique not only because it’s made from Malvasía but because the liqueur de tirage comes from rosemary honey produced by bees on the property. It’s highly aromatic, with herbal and floral notes; the long finish is a mix of biscuit and citrus – perfect for our citrus-spiced pork roast.
Gabe’s Birthday: Homemade Lasagna and Chianti Classico
In normal times, we’d have celebrated Gabe’s day by having dinner out with friends. Because we couldn’t do that, I asked him what he wanted me to make. Without a moment’s hesitation he replied, “Lasagna.”
Done! I made the sauce from scratch and enlisted Gabe’s help in assembling the lasagna. We had a blast bustling in the kitchen together and I particularly enjoyed hearing stories of his childhood birthdays, when his mom always made a special meal for him.
We went classic with the pairing, opening a 2018 Domini Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico. A blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo, the wine was vinified in stainless steel vats and aged for seven months in French oak barrels. It spent another seven months in bottle before release. It was deliciously traditional, with notes of sour cherry and pomegranate, fresh herbs, soft vanilla. Moderately high acidity and tannins and a long finish made it a pleasure to drink with a rich dish like lasagna.
New Year’s Eve: Steakhouse Take-Out and Pomerol Followed by Champagne
This is one holiday when we usually stay home: mixing it up with crowds of drunk tourists is no fun and we prefer to have a quiet dinner away from the madness. We opted to order a take-out dinner from our favorite local restaurant – Fleming’s Steakhouse – and crack open a bottle of 2014 Blason de l’Evangile Pomerol.
A second wine from Chateau l’Evangile, this right-bank Bordeaux was 93% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 15 months in two-year-old French oak barrels. Chock-full of black plum and currant fruit, with moderate acid and tannin, it was a very pleasant accompaniment to dinner.
Our meal included New York strip steak (cooked perfectly), chipotle mac-and-cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and a wedge salad. It couldn’t have been easier or more delicious. The wine was a nice match, but I was underwhelmed by it. It was structurally correct and I couldn’t find fault with it technically; I just wanted more – something. Personality? Wow factor? I don’t know. Hey, maybe my palate was off. Overall it was a tasty evening, one we concluded with a glass of Piper-Heidsieck NV Cuvée Brut.
I love the Champagnes from Piper-Heidsieck, especially this non-vintage, relatively affordable bottle. Its blend is mostly black grapes (50-55% Pinot Noir and 30-35% Meunier) with 15-20% Chardonnay; the balance comes from reserve wines, the use of which is determined by the Chef de Cave. Finding just the right recipe of wines from over 100 individual crus is an art, and this delicious wine is a fine example: notes of almond, citrus, apple and pear mingle with berry and cherry fruit. Totally gulpable (is that a word?)
Onward to 2021
I can only hope that the wines ahead are as lovely as those we tasted over the past few weeks. And let’s hope we have a lot more to celebrate by this time next year.
Cheers to good health and happiness all around!