John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for December 8th 2012

Essential Smart Buys by Style; Tips on the Order to Serve Wine; Pairing Food & Wine for Dummies

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

I tasted nearly 140 wines to cover the December 8th VINTAGES release, and I’ve distilled all of that fermented grape juice into the essential smart buys for you. Given the sheer number of options I’ve expanded the usual top ten to include 17 recommended wines, and I’ve categorized them by wine style, so you can focus your shopping and plan your holiday supper wine selections. I lay out the wines in the order in which I’d recommend drinking them over the course of a long dinner (or lunch). And on that note, I also delve into more detail on the smartest order in which to serve wines in general.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift, consider my first ‘magnum opus’, Pairing Food and Wine for Dummies, the result of a lifetime of in-depth, professional research, and a year of laborious writing – it’s pretty much everything I know on the subject.

Pairing Food and Wine for Dummies by John Szabo MS

Food and wine pairing isn’t a matter of life or death. But isn’t life a little better with a good taste in your mouth? Starting with wine you like (and food you enjoy, too) is ground zero. All the other delicious considerations that lead to outstanding moments of tasting pleasure come after. To make your food and wine pairing memorable, start with a versatile wine — one that agrees with a wide range of foods — and things won’t go far wrong. Then consider a handful of taste, texture, and aromatic elements, and you may just find some magic.

Pairing Food & Wine for DummiesPairing Food and Wine For Dummies helps you understand the principles behind matching wine and food. From European to Asian, fine dining to burgers and barbeque, you’ll learn strategies for knowing just what wine to choose with anything you’re having for dinner.

Pairing Food and Wine For Dummies goes beyond offering a simple list of which wines to drink with which food. This helpful guide gives you access to the principles that enable you to make your own informed matches on the fly, whatever wine or food is on the table. It also covers getting the most for your money in restaurants, home entertaining, gift giving, and even what it takes to become a sommelier.

Release date: December 17th 2012; available online and in fine bookshops all over the English-speaking world. Pre-order your copy from

Tips on Serving Wine in the Appropriate Order

(Excerpted from Pairing Food and Wine For Dummies. Copyright (c) 2012 by John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd. Excerpted with permission of the publisher.)

A well-designed dinner, like a well-written play, has a flow that keeps you engaged and looking forward to the next scene. When serving multiple wines throughout a meal, the way to keep your guests in a state of expectation is to serve the wines in increasing order of intensity and complexity. Serve wine in this order:

The first wine: You should start with a wine that gets the appetite flowing and builds anticipation for what’s to come. The best choices to start with include high acid wines, such as Champagne or other dry sparkling wine, for example, which get the gastric juices flowing in anticipation of food. Crisp dry, still white wines can also serve the same purpose.

The next wine: Wines should progressively notch up the flavor magnitude and complexity, so that you’re not left wishing you were still drinking the previous wine. Serving a really complex, top-notch wine upfront takes the sizzle out of everything else that follows. Build up to your highlight wine of the night, when the meal reaches its climax.

The last wine: You should finish by gently letting down the diner. A drop of sweet wine is usually appreciated.

Aside from the artistic aspect of wine service order, you also have some practical taste considerations. For instance, serving a really light wine after a full-blown, robust wine makes the light wine seem virtually like water. Or serving a dry wine after a sweet wine makes the dry wine seem even drier, astringent, and more sour, just like serving a dry red wine with a sweet dish usually ends in disaster.

Here are the general rules to follow regarding the order of wine service (though like all rules related to wine, don’t be afraid to break them once in a while, for artistic reasons):

– Light before full-bodied

– Delicate before bold

– Dry before sweet

– Lower alcohol before higher alcohol

– Sparkling before still (except sweet sparkling)

– Younger before older (The older is more complex. Note: serving a young, really robust red before a delicate old red wine can knock the stuffing out of your palate and reduce enjoyment of the older bottle.)

Note that I didn’t say, “White before red”. Although that practice is common, and on the whole red wines are usually better placed after white wines, it’s not always the case. On plenty of occasions serving a serious white after a light red makes more sense, for instance when you have a great bottle of barrel-fermented Chardonnay with a little bottle age for added complexity. It would be a letdown to follow that with a simple, easy-quaffing red like basic gamay, Merlot, or sangiovese.

Smart Buys, and the Order to Serve them in

Sparkling Wine: The Aperitif

Blue Mountain BrutBeaumont Des Crayères Grand PrestigeDry bubbly makes a perfect starting wine. They’re crisp and light-bodied, and cause your mouth to water, which in turn sends a signal to your stomach that food is on the way. Most can easily transition into a light first course if there’s anything left in the bottle. They pair well with raw seafood and shellfish (ceviches, oysters, fish carpaccio), most things fried things from potato chips to calamari, or pretty much anything with lots of acidity.

Blue Mountain Brut Sparkling ($27.95). A fine Okanagan Valley bubbly from one of the most reliable traditional method sparkling wine producers in BC.

Beaumont des Crayères Grand Prestige Brut Champagne ($46.95). A classic wheat bread, biscuit-brioche, wet hay and honey nose gives this above average complexity; the palate is finely balanced with solid flavour intensity and ample, mouth filling volume – a good bet for the money.

First course: Light-Bodied, Crisp, Dry, Unoaked Whites

Dry, lightweight whites are most often from cool climates (think of coniferous or deciduous trees surrounding the vineyards instead of palm trees). They’re made in neutral tanks that don’t impart any flavor, and have fresh but subtle citrus fruit or herbal flavors, mouth-watering acidity, moderate alcohol and light body. The vast majority are best drunk within a year or two of vintage. At the table they’re highly versatile, like a squeeze of lemon on your favorite dish. Serve alongside starter courses: salads, raw foods, lighter seafood or shellfish, crispy-fried items, fresh goat’s cheese, and similar.

2011 Domæne Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner ($13.95). Clean, classic grüner nose, with fresh citrus fruit and typical white pepper notes, crisp, succulent, essentially dry palate, and amazing length for the money.

2011 Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling ($19.95). Aromatically shy for now, but this has significant depth and intensity on the palate in a bone-dry style, with more than its fair share of wet rock-granitic minerality.

Second Course: Medium-Full-Bodied Whites; Aromatic or Oak-aged

Bachelder Oregon ChardonnayAlamos Viognier 2011Stepping it up a notch, these whites are richer and more full-bodied, with higher alcohol (13+%), either made from aromatic grapes, or aged in barrels for another dimension of flavour and texture. They’re suited to more intensely flavoured foods as well as foods with more “body”, that is, with higher fat content (dairy fat, animal or vegetable-based oils). These also are among your best bets for bloomy rind cheeses.

2011 Alamos Viognier ($13.95). Nicely perfumed, with ripe orchard and stone fruit flavours, while the palate offers a slightly sweet, soft impression, and generous body.

2006 Kanu KCB Chenin Blanc ($14.95). Quite an amazing value here for fans of mature wines: the nose is nicely evolved, with lightly honeyed, dried orchard fruit – peaches and apricots, and the palate is just off-dry, fullish, lightly caramelized but solidly flavoured.

2010 Bachelder Oregon Chardonnay ($29.95). A wine with real power and depth, ripe but not overripe fruit, fullish texture, well-balanced acid and alcohol, and an invitingly taught, chalky texture.

2009 Vincent Girardin Les Vieilles Vignes Puligny-Montrachet ($52.95). An intense, nicely crafted example of Puligny, with characteristic limestone minerality, taught and tight texture, and excellent acidity considering the warmth of the vintage.

Second Course: Light-Bodied, Zesty Reds

These reds are fresh and lively, with bright acidity, modest tannins and little or no wood influence, the kind of wines you can drink all evening without tiring. Serve with a slight chill to play up freshness and fruit flavors, alongside a wide range of foods from charcuterie to tomato-based dishes, pork and poultry, or meatier fish like tuna or swordfish.

2009 Quinta das Camélias Reserva ($13.95). Lovely, open, fragrant floral nose, exuding wild violets and juicy, crunchy, fresh black fruit. The palate is lively and balanced, soft and fruity, highly drinkable.

2008 Bodegas Del Abad Domaine Bueno Mencía do Bierzo ($15.95). Fresh, fragrant, typical mid-weight mencía profile with its soft black and red fruits and wet clay/cold cream character, and underlying wood notes.

2010 Castello di Querceto Chianti Classico ($21.95). Classic Chianti with a polished, modern twist. Fruit is fully ripe but still fresh, acids brisk but balanced, and depth and complexity well above the mean.

Main Course: Medium-Full Bodied, Structured Reds

Fontodi Chianti Classico 2009Château La Tour Carnet 2009These are the middle and heavyweights of the wine world, more substantial and structured than lightweight reds, but still balanced, without excessive tannin, alcohol or acidity. Many of the world’s best and most age-worthy wines fall into this category. They’re often reserved for the main course, accompanying full flavoured braised dishes, roasted or grilled beef, lamb or game meats, or mature, hard cheeses. If your dinner wine budget is limited, spend it here; decant any of these an hour before serving.

2009 Fontodi Chianti Classico ($29.95). An evidently ripe and extracted wine, with concentrated red and black fruit character, solid, mouth filling impression and significant structure that would compete handily with many Brunellos.

2009 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($34.95). This is a ripe, fragrant, perfumed and inviting example of Châteauneuf with neither excess nor deficiency of any elements – balanced and harmonious with grace and poise.

2009 Château La Tour Carnet ($51.85). Refined, complex and balanced 2009 Bordeaux that captures the best of the vintage. Tannins are but ripe and fine-grained, acid fresh and balanced, wood an integrated part of the whole, and the finish terrifically long.

Cheese and Dessert: The Sweets

Antolino Brongo Cryomalus Ice CiderPedroncelli Four Grapes Vintage Port 2006Balbi Soprani Brachetto d’Acqui ($16.95). This is a raspberry-strawberry-scented sweet sparkling wine, the red equivalent of moscato d’Asti. The palate is gently sweet and frothy, less effervescent than traditional method sparkling wine, with low (6.5%) alcohol. Try with red berry-inflected desserts.

2006 Pedroncelli Four Grapes Vintage Port ($19.95). An amazing port-style wine from Sonoma made from four native Portuguese varieties, dark, very ripe, sweet and boozy. Try with blue cheeses or dark chocolate-based desserts.

2009 Antolino Brongo Cryomalus Ice Cider ($34.95). Made in Quebec from pressed, frozen apples, this has amazingly intense apple character. Intense sweetness is perfectly balanced by ripping underlying acidity. An excellent example to be enjoyed with any apple-based desserts obviously, but think also savory, along the lines of runny cheese, or foie gras, patés, rillets or sweetbreads.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season.

From the December 8, 2012 Vintages release:

Top 17 Smart Buys
All Reviews


John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, Master Sommelier


Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Rosehill Wine Cellars