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Holiday Cheer That Won't Deplete Your Bank Account
By John Anderson
Dec 13, 2023
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When last he appeared at this site, this Ole Professor promised on his return to deconstruct the tale of how a small and obscure Cape Cod wine shop turned itself into a model for other aspiring retailers.  Since then, however, friends—both those who are lucky enough to live on the Cape and those, like the Ole Professor and his family, who are regular summer visitors—asked that I put this off until the beginning of the vacation season, when the story would be more relevant—and useful—to them!  Points well taken!

And so, instead, my focus today will be on the Season That Is Now and some wines to drink that won’t deplete your bank account.

As longtime readers of this column know, I am a great fan of the wines of Alsace in general and the always excellent and keenly priced wines of Domaine Kuentz-Bas in  particular.  You could argue—and I would—that Kuentz-Bas offers the best bang for the buck there is over a broad range of very well-made Alsace wines.  The starting point, which for me defines the house as a whole, is its generic “Alsace,” a blend of domaine-sourced grapes that varies year-by-year, and which, indeed, can vary greatly.  Being an academic nerd by inclination and training—they don’t call me the Ole Professor for nothing!—I’ve noted the stated blend on these wines—the exact percentages can be found on the back label—over many years.  The current blend, for vintage 2022, is 40% Pinot Auxerrois, 25% Sylvaner, 15% Riesling, 12% Gewürztraminer, and 8% Muscat.  What’s most unusual is the 15% of Riesling, which almost never figures in the blend here.  This juicy and fleshy—but not heavy or hot—wine finishes very dry with a stated alcohol content of 13%.  

New this year is a marvelous Return to the Days of Yesteryear label that Kuentz-Bas’s exclusive American importer Kermit Lynch describes thusly:  “Our man Dixon Brooke discovered this historic label on an ancient, dusty bottle tucked behind a glass case in Kuentz-Bas’s tasting room.  The artwork depicts the three châteaux cresting the hillside behind the village of Husseren-les-Châteaux, and much of the fruit for this bottling comes from the steep vineyards painted in the castles’ shadow.”  It is, in fact, a wonderfully old-fashioned label that does justice to a wine that is, dare I say it, delicious!  And a snip at about $18 a bottle.  Highly versatile too.  This is a wine that would go well with a wide variety of gastronomic offerings, from fresh oysters from the cold American and Canadian waters, as well as all sorts of fish (salmon, lobster, crab, and on and on and on—smoked and/or cured salmon too).  Grilled chicken and roast turkey would also be well served by this pairing.  

The 2017 Pinot Gris (stated alcohol of 13.5%) from Domaine Kuentz-Bas—neither the labels on this or the basic Alsace blend indicate an estate-bottled wine (but the corks do!)— is a bit more expensive but still a real bargain at about $25 a bottle.  And it’s extra delicious given the six years in bottle.  Fully mature now, though I think it will easily last decade or more in bottle.  With really good acidity and very dry, this has so much going for it.  Perhaps even more versatile than the “basic” Alsace, it too makes for a fine pairing with shellfish or poultry, or as an apéritif or with mousse or foie at the end of a meal.  

I’ve drunk the Kuentz-Bas wines for years, while my more recent discovery—indeed one of my great discoveries of the past year or so—have been the wines from Domaine Dirler-Cadé.  I long ago enjoyed used to enjoy glasses of their excellent Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé over lunch at Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan.  Very fine and elegant they were too!  I haven’t had it since but would love to re-taste!

But that’s also an apt description—fine and elegant—for this estate’s absolutely marvelous Muscat—which the back label tells us is 100% made from grapes grown in two of the finest Grand Crus in Alsace, Saering and Spiegel.  (There are many, many Grand Crus in Alsace—too many, and some are distinctly less good than others.  In retrospect, there probably should have been a separate class—Premier Cru Alsace—for the lesser sites.)  In any case, the 2020 Muscat, which I have bought so many times now, for about $20 a bottle, is light, lilting and charming, the perfect apéritif, IMHO.

Speaking of heavily discounted, I recently bought a case of 2022 Chiroubles “Bel-Air” from Château Raousset for about $15 a bottle.  The vintage was another hot one—and some, if not quite a few of the 2022 Beaujolais do have a real alcohol “bite.”  But even at a stated 14.5%, the Raousset version, which is brought in by the estimable Jeanne-Marie des Champs, one of the great shippers of fine Burgundies, is perfectly balanced.  A real tribute to the estate—and to Jeanne-Marie’s palate.  Chiroubles, normally so light and ethereal and acidic—it is one of the smallest of all the Beaujolais crus—can, it seems, stand the extra added heat.  The resulting wine is, as the French say, très gouleyant!  And would be perfect with turkey, if you’re still in the mood for turkey after a long Thanksgiving weekend!

If, however, a roast or other red meat (duck or lamb) figure in your Holiday meal, let me sing the praises of another of my favorite Beaujolais estates, Coudert Père et Fils in Fleurie, the owners of the famous “Clos de la Roilette” in that village.  The importers, Louis/Dressner, like Jeanne-Marie and like Kermit Lynch, get the Ole Professor’s Seal of Approval.  They are names that can be trusted because they deserve to be trusted.  The 2022 Fleurie “Cuvée Christie” comes from a separate plot not in the great Clos itself, but is exceptional in its own way, the vines being 30-40 years old on average.  I bought a case at $28 a bottle before Thanksgiving—and have not regretted it for a moment!  The wine itself is richer, fleshier than the Chiroubles—as befits the richer soil of Fleurie.  This one would be lovely with any of a wide variety of red meats—so long as you don’t overcook them!  Medium rare—or less—please!  Think of the wine!

Now if you’re feeling flush (say $40 the bottle—on sale!) and can still find some, I highly recommend the “Griffe du Marquis,” which does in fact come from the Clos de la Roilette itself and is indeed the tête de cuvée of that grand property.  The very Olde World front label heralds the quality:  “Vin Issu de Vieilles Vignes de 1930.”  Don’t be put off by the fancy label, the heavy and old-fashioned bottle, or the wax capsule; the wine inside is very fine indeed, long on the finish and beautiful on the nose.  This is a lovely, perfumed, relatively low alcohol (13% stated) kind of wine.  

Finally, or rather to begin with (!), you must have Champagne, so let me recommend that you snap up the next time it comes up or rather pops up in your email box, any of the excellent and extremely well priced Champagnes from the small grower André Chemin that are imported into the U.S. by the Wines Til Sold Out (WTSO) people.  There’s a range of these wines on fairly regular offer, from a very crisp Premier Cru “Brut Tradition” through a Rosé, all non-vintage, and all for $25-$30 the bottle.  I like them a lot, and so does my spouse!

Looking to save a ten-spot and so willing to try something that sparkles other than Champagne?  Then try one or another of the very well made Crémants de Bourgogne from Domaine Chollet (also imported by Jeanne-Marie); or the Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes on offer from Maison Lucien Albrecht in Colmar).  These are all highly regular in quality and great bargains ($18-$25 the bottle).  It’s seldom that one or the other isn’t in the fridge at Château Anderson.  

Lastly, there’s the small matter of how to finish your meal.  I love vintage Port—well-aged tawnies too!—but now we are out of range for bargain hunting.  Sauternes though—yes, Sauternes!  The fabled drink of the millionaires (of a bygone era when mere millionaires still counted for something!), Sauternes and its cousin Barsac are remarkable bargains as long as you don’t go fishing for the finest and most famous.  Yquem!  No, no Yquem for you!  Or pour moi!  At a recent dinner at the aforementioned Gramercy Tavern, a small group of serious wine and food lovers—there were five of us—finished the meal with a half-bottle of 2010 Château Raymond-Lafon.  One of our number had brought it along with him.  It was fabulous—and had cost said Member of the Gang a mere $20 just a few years ago—luscious without being overbearing.  Oh, and my tip of the season:  Sauternes and Barsac keep extraordinarily well in the fridge.  Think weeks.  Not just days.  I try always to keep some in the fridge.  You never know when you might want that mousse—or the foie!  And then you might go a-wanting!  The Old Devil, and not just the Ole Professor, would both tell you the same!  Hear them!

Happy Holidays, Mes Amis, et,


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