Love it or hate it, 2016 brought us some very interesting things. As a Winemaker, author, blogger and citizen of California “wine country” (I make vino from the Central Coast, and Napa and Sonoma Counties), it brought me into contact with some new friends, some new experiences and definitely some cool new things.
Many end-of-year posts are all about “Top X Wines of 2016”. Here you will find no “Top Wines” as the best wines are the ones you best love to drink (mine is Champagne, by the way). Below is simply a lovingly-collected compilation of treats, books, art and goodies from 2016 that are related to wine….and aren’t wine….which made me happy in 2016.
But First, Champagne
The title of David White’s new book about Champagne might as well be the first thing a dinner guest hears while walking through a winemaker’s door. After a day of making Cabernet, the last think many of us want is a big glass of red. Except the drink being poured is as likely to be called “bubbles” since no winemaker would ever call domestic sparkling wine, no matter how renowned (vintage Schrammie, anyone?), “Champagne”. That name is reserved for the French stuff alone. That little factoid is one of the many in Mr. White’s book necessary for the newbie to know. Rest assured, Champagne veterans will find plenty to capture their attention from the fascinating history of this renowned wine to the current producers and growers. With sparkling wines and Champagne on a world-wide sales upswing, and with a paucity of good reads on this fascinating subject, But First, Champagne is a book whose time has come. I predict White’s book will remain close at hand at my house for year-round reading and reference. Because whether consumed in the shower (me, guilty) or whilst attending a shower, Champagne is always in season.
McQuade’s Celtic Chutney
We do not eat enough chutney in the United States. I was about to say, “around here” but in my kitchen, at least, we do approximate our annual chutney allocation because in 2016 I found the good stuff. McQuade’s Celtic Chutney to be exact. What’s Celtic about it you ask? Well, it’s made by the delightful and delightfully very Scottish redhead, Alison McQuade, based around her Granny McQuade’s handwritten chutney recipes. My favorite is the Fig & Ginger, which goes wonderfully with my Garnet Monterey Pinot Noir and Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam cheese. Beyond the obvious cheese and wine pairing, I find myself dipping into a jar to serve with grilled pork chops or to dress up a simple sandwich. McQuade’s Celtic Chutneys can be found in the Bay Area at the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace and Cowgirl Creamery in addition to restaurants and fine retailers in the area and or by contacting Alison at email@example.com.
The One Glass
A few months ago I was tasting some amazing Sardinian wines at Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson’s house and halfway through the first flight a guest’s wayward elbow launched a glass off the counter top. Granted, the glass did fall on a thin kilim carpet laid over the kitchen tile but as I witnessed a small bounce instead of a big smash, I was immediately impressed. In my house that wine glass would’ve been toast. That was my introduction to The One Glass, a line of fine wine stemware created by Andrea and her husband John. Andrea had been approached by several stemware companies looking to partner with her on a custom glass but she never found a product she was willing to get behind nor did she subscribe to the notion that you needed a different glass for every type of wine. As a busy wine professional and equally busy parent, Andrea decided to create her own universal white and red wine glass. They had to meet her exacting design criteria while being affordable and (gasp!) dishwasher safe. Like Andrea says, “Wine and wine glasses should not be complicated.” I could not agree more. Buy The One at Amazon here.
Dana Confection Co.’s Calissons
Calissons are a traditional French sweet with a somewhat mysterious history. Essentially a layer of crisp royal icing atop a paste of fruit (often melon) and almonds, no one exactly knows when they were first made or how they got their name. I enjoyed them on a trip to the area around Aix-en-Provence a few years ago but up until recently hadn’t seen them since. Happily, in 2012, confectioner Rachel Dana discovered calissons while visiting the South of France and returned to her atelier in Brooklyn to perfect a domestic recipe for her fruit-based concoctions. I love how the crunchiness of the icing gives way to a toothsome chewiness of bright fruit and almond paste. Dana’s Black Currant Jasmine calisson has a dark-fruited depth of flavor lightened by a jasmine green tea-like freshness. Not too sweet and intriguingly flavored (including Melon Blossom and Rhubarb Lavendar), Dana Confection Co’s calissons would be an elegant and unique part of a wine and cheese tasting or after-dinner cheese and fruit plate.
Penelope Moore’s Palette of the Palate Artwork
Winemaker Dinner where I get up and introduce a flight of my wines paired with the chef’s selections? Ho hum. Winemaker Dinner where an artist is painting a live interpretation of my wine on a huge canvas in front of the guests? Now that’s a cool wine country experience. Art and wine are oft-linked and glibly paired but as artist Penelope Moore and I discovered, both winemaking and oil painting do have a lot in common. Using a given media (me: grapes, her: colored oils) we each use our skills and artistry to transform our raw material into a new creation. I listen to the grapes and guide them to be the wine they were meant to become. Penelope tasted my wine, in this case my Garnet Vineyards Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir, analyzed its aromas and flavors and then let them guide her color and layering choices to create an interpretation of the wine in oils. Visit her website for a look at her visual interpretations of wine as well as her larger body of other beautiful and creative work.
These were my Top 5 (non-liquid) Wine Things of 2016. Here’s to you and yours as we turn the page on one year and look forward to the next. Cheers!
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger and lives in Napa.
Her wine: www.garnetvineyards.com (among other projects)
Her book: The Winemaker’s Answer Book
Her contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org @alisoncrowewine
Sample reviews: Please email me at email@example.com for sample submission or informational reviews. I don’t do a ton of product reviews as this is largely an educational and personal wine blog (and my day job is being a winemaker) but if I take a fancy to your stuff like that of the folks above, I may talk about it!