Times like this remind us of the things that are really important in life. In the big picture, wine, though it plays a significant part in my life, is not among them. Compared to the death and disease around us and the prospect of a looming economic recession, and maybe a depression, writing about wine seems trivial. Just a month ago, I was in Florence at the Antiprime di Toscana, the annual tasting of the new vintage of Tuscan wines, including Chianti Classico. Based on those tastings, I had planned an update about Gran Selezione, the new category of Chianti Classico that sits at the top of the region’s quality pyramid. There’s no doubt Gran Selezione is an exciting new classification within Chianti Classico. Yes, there are problems with the classification, but what classification is problem-free? At this point in time, however, Gran Selezione and its problems seems trivial at best. So, that column will wait.
Although wine may pale in comparison in importance to the darkness around us and what’s likely to come, it still does provide enormous joy and relief, especially during the shelter-at-home period. So, this column will be a continuation of previous advice, stimulated in large measure by the people—ok, a person—who wrote to me, suggesting I continue recommending wines for quarantine.
I started my last column on this subject by saying that—though I am an MD—I’ll leave the medical advice concerning the need to quarantine to your personal physician and public health experts. I’ve changed my mind. Everyone should shelter-in-place, adhere to social distancing, wear a mask or face covering when outside, and wash hands every time you touch something outside of your house.
A word about drinking alone. Your liver is really remarkable. It makes a bunch of proteins important for health, it gets rid of cholesterol and removes toxic material, and it can regenerate itself. But it doesn’t have eyes. It doesn’t know whether you’re drinking alone or with friends. It certainly can tell how much you drink, just not with whom. So, if you’re sheltering-in-place by yourself, don’t feel guilty about drinking wine with your meal. Importantly, don’t feel the need to finish the bottle because you don’t want to waste it. As always, think of moderate consumption. And remember that most wines are still fine after being opened for a day or two. It is critical to keep them in the refrigerator, even the reds, after you’ve opened them because the lower the temperature, the slower the wine deteriorates. Recorking is a good idea to keep the smells of your refrigerator out of the wine and to prevent spillage. You could say that screwcap closures were seemingly made for quarantine.
Now, with that out of the way, here’s my advice for another case for the next two weeks of sheltering in place. Of course, as I’ve said before, depending on how many other adults are with you in quarantine, you may need more than a case.
One thing I’ve learned since my last column of this subject is the diversity of wine that people drink during these times. W. Blake Gray, who writes for Wine-Searcher among other publications, reported that he and his wife were drinking Cain Five, a hearty Bordeaux-style blend, with dim sum. According to Blake’s report, it was a success. The broad message is to think outside of the box. Don’t be constrained by any preconceived ideas of what wines go with what food.
That said, I restate the obvious: Champagne or other sparkling wine is perfect both because the “pop” of the cork brightens any day and the wine itself goes well with a broad selection of food, from take-out Asian to pan-seared steaks.
And don’t forget the Champagne stopper, which allows you to enjoy a glass, re-stopper the bottle to conserve the bubbles, and have another glass the following night. Charles Heidsieck’s NV Brut Réserve ($69) is both powerful and elegant. Ok, it may not be what you want with a recession/depression in the future, so turn to Prosecco. Though Prosecco lacks the glorious rich complexity and depth of Champagne, it is refreshing and has the ability to elevate one’s mood. Mionetto makes of bevy of fine Prosecco bottlings that are widely available. Their DOC Treviso Brut ($13) is friendly, well suited for an aperitif or with food, while their Extra-Dry ($15), made from organic grapes, is broader and, paradoxically, has a more edgy backbone. Let me remind readers of Paul Chollet’s beautifully balanced rosé, Crémant de Bourgogne Brut “Oeil de Perdrix” ($16), one of the best French non-Champagne sparkling wine bargains.
I touted Riesling last month because of its ability to pair with a plethora of foods. That’s why I would definitely put a bottle or two in this case. Try Penner-Ash’s 2017 Hyland Vineyard Riesling ($31) from McMinnville, Oregon. Riveting acidity balances its hint of sweetness. Out of your budgetary range? Turn to Hugel, one of Alsace’s venerable houses and grab a bottle of their 2017 Classic Riesling ($20), which is energetic and delicately fruity.
Almost all (95 percent) of Chinon is red, but there is some white, made from Chenin Blanc, which is, rather like Riesling, a versatile wine. And like Riesling, Chenin Blanc is available in a range of sweetness levels. Every year, Couly-Dutheil’s white Chinon is always among the best. Couly-Dutheil gets the balance right with their 2017 Chinon “Les Chanteaux” ($24), marrying the fruitiness of the grape, a hint of sweetness, with uplifting vibrancy. Speaking of Chenin Blanc, if you have access to Long Island wines, look for Paumanok’s 2018 racy Chenin Blanc ($26) and those who do not, pick up Dry Creek Vineyard’s harmonious 2018 Dry Chenin Blanc ($16) from Clarksburg, California. These three Chenin Blanc will do double duty as a sipper while you’re making dinner or waiting for the Chinese take-out to arrive.
I’m a big fan of Soave because the good producers, such as Inama, consistently over-deliver for the price. Mineral-y, bright and long, Inama’s single-vineyard 2017 Soave Classico, “Vigneti di Foscarino” Vecchie Vigne ($23) is a perfect example. It has remarkable weight.
It’s hard not to include a Chardonnay and a rosé in the quarantine case. A 2019 Chardonnay from Los Vacos ($10), a Domaines Barons de (Lafite) Rothschild property in Chile, fits the bill nicely. Spicy and understated, it is nicely balanced and…has a screwcap. At ten bucks you can’t beat it.
Regular readers know that I’m not swept away by rosé, but Minuty’s 2019 “Prestige” Côtes de Provence Rosé ($27) makes even the most skeptical sit up and take notice. Very pale pink, you’d be forgiven to think it would turn out to be bland. Not at all. Lively wild strawberry-like flavors leap from the glass. This dry and invigorating rosé can hold up to some serious sushi.
You could fill your entire quarantine case with Chianti Classico from the 2015 and 2016 vintages, two spectacular vintages that are currently widely available. The 2015s are slightly riper compared to the sleeker and racier 2016s. Here are a half dozen from each vintage that I can recommend enthusiastically:
2016 Chianti Classico: Castello della Paneretta ($20), Casaloste ($20), San Fabiano Calcinaia ($21), Pincipe Corsini “Le Corti” ($24), Isole e Olena ($26), and Querciabella ($32).
2015s: Chianti Classico: Badia a Coltibuono ($20), Castellare di Castellina ($22), Tenuta di Nozzole ($22), Castello di Volpaia ($23), Isole e Olena ($26), and Fèlsina ($27).
Watch your distance and wash your hands—that’s my version of “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
E-mail me your choices for your case for quarantine at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein
April 8, 2020