The Experts Chime In on Favorites

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When I look for info from the local experts on wine, I often turn to Janet Easterling and Joe Baker. Both are sommeliers, and both are incredible wine connoisseurs.

Janet is currently a wine consultant to a number of upscale San Antonio restaurants. She also can be found at Bergheim Cellars on Hwy 46, so if you are out that way and need help choosing a wine, you’ll be in expert hands.

One of the most enlightening and educational wine trips I’ve ever taken was with Joe Baker. He’s the Wine Director for Gabriel’s Holdings (Gabriel’s, Don’s & Ben’s, Seazar’s). We traveled with Joe to the Burgundy and Champagne regions in France where we visited dozens of producers. Barrel tastings are the norm in France, and I’m ashamed to admit that we actually had to ‘spit’ while sampling some incredible Montrachets and Champagnes.

To give you an idea of what a gifted ‘nose’ Joe has, we were invited to have lunch with legendary wine maker Jacques Lardierre at Louis Jadot. They served us a multi-course meal with different wines paired with each course. The host kept the wine covered to see if Joe could tell him what it was. These were older vintages..wines dating back to the 60’s and 70’s. Joe not only named the wines but also the year of the vintage! He’s truly gifted.

Janet Easterling, Sommelier

It’s tough for me to pick 5 favs, but here goes:

First…consider this special time of year, when we should choose wines that are”more” special to celebrate the holidays. Also, colder weather calls for more rich and full bodied wines.

  1. Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc (or Brut Rose) it’s just tough to beat their quality for the money. Tis the season to celebrate, so pop something!
  2. Silver Chardonnay. Time to put away those summer whites and pull out the chardonnay. This one, from the makers of Caymus and Mer Soleil, has no oak, and is very versatile. If you must drink a light white…drink bubbly!!
  3. Golden Eye Pinot Noir. Earth, fruit, aromas and nice weight and texture…this highly rated pinot is from Anderson Valley, which has consistently been producing some of Cally’s best pinots for several years. It sells out fast.
  4. Shafer Relentless Syrah. I have to have something from Shafer. Just love this winery, even their dog. This is a must buy every year. Usually about 20% petite syrah in the blend, so a big masculine wine. Who needs cab? But then the Shafer One Point Five cab from SLD is awesome too! (alternative: any Two Hands Shiraz)
  5. Layer Cake Cabernet Sauvignon. A monster “bang for the buck” cabernet from CA. for about $25. Thick and rich and full of ripe fruit, with a finish that lasts forever. Delicious! This is a sleeper second label of the cult wine, Hundred Acre, that sells for about $270. Wish I had a glass right now.

Joe Baker, Sommelier

Value is clearly the theme for this year’s bubbly choices. As always, though, I believe in value at all price points, so let’s work our way up:

  1. Cristalino Brut Cava ($8) ~ Lighter-bodied, thank heavens, than most Spanish sparklers, and without the press-wine bitterness so rampant in cheap fizz, this is amazing bang for the buck. Why would anyone buy carbonated wine (i.e bulk or transfer method) with true bottle-fermented (aka methode champenoise) bubbly at such a low price?
  2. Villa Sandi Prosecco Fresco ($12) – As I once told Walt Whitman, “I contradict myself? Fine, I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes).” Here is a bulk-method sparkling wine for more than $10 that I’m actually recommending after just dissing the category as “carbonated wine.” The difference here is the unique charm and flavor of freshly fermented Prosecco grape, which is captured, illuminated, and preserved by effervescence. Toasty, yeasty complexity is not at all the point. Nor is the nervy acid “cut” of many top Champagnes. Quaffability is quality when it comes to Prosecco, a category whose more expensive bottlings usually miss this point entirely. This aptly-named entry-level offering gets it down, providing beautiful fresh white peach aromatics and a soft texture with just the slightest hint of fresh doughiness. Do I think this style of tank-fermented fizz should cost less? Absolutely! Is there a cheaper substitute with anything remotely like this kind of charm? Absolutely not!
  3. Mumm Carte Classique Champagne ($24) – Sorry, California, but with the real deal at this price, why look anywhere else? Mumm is discontinuing this package (their extra-dry cuvee), which would normally run $35 and which is the perfect substitute for America’s top-selling true Champagne, Moet & Chandon’s White Star. Like White Star, its slight sweetness pairs beautifully with various Asian dishes, with fruits & cheeses, and especially with Sunday brunch.
  4. Baumard Cremant de Loire Rose ($22)/Roederer Estate Rose ($26) – Two vastly different styles, both offering tremendous value compared to the mediocrity of most of the $50 big- name rose Champagnes The Baumard is bright and shimmering, with pinpoint bubbles and a brisk, cleansing finish that concludes with an intriguing, ineffable, oh-so-subtly piquant hint of Cabernet Franc. A unique and wonderful wine from the best French bubbly producer outside of Champagne, and a perfect prelude to the rich creaminess and depth of California’s best sparkling wine, Roederer Estate Rose. Full-bodied, toasty on the nose, and with a luscious yet authoritatively dry palate of red and black berries that persist throughout its incredibly long, layered finish. Both are somewhat limited in supply.
  5. Vintage 2002 – This is Champagne’s best year since 1996, so the premium over nonvintage cuvees is well worth it. So far the Louis Roederer trio of Blanc de Blancs, Brut, and Rose ($66) are all top notch, and the Veuve Clicquot Vintage Reserve ($75) is a major step up in quality from their “Yellow Label,” drinking better, in fact, than their $180 Grande Dame 1998. Also look for some late-release 1996s from Pommery ($75) and the sublime Bollinger RD (at $220 a bargain vs.the $375 Krug 1996).

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