Just what the end of the year needs: at last, a good taste of 2020.
Beaujolais Nouveau arrived, as always, on the third Thursday of November, in time for Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season.
In 2020, when all seems remade, the fruity, easygoing, undemanding Beaujolais Nouveau is more welcome than ever.
The name most associated with the fresh and refreshing wine is Georges DuBoeuf. The late winemaker turned uncorking it into a worldwide event.
Light-bodied and heady with a harvest of cherries and red berries, the garnet-hued 2020 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau (★★ 13.49) is a versatile choice. So’s the round, peachy 2020 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Rose Nouveau (★★ $13.49), which has a hint of strawberry. The prices are attractive, too.
THE NEW DECOYS
Decoy wines, part of the Duckhorn portfolio, deliver consistently high quality at a value price. Decoy Limited is a new, top tier for the wine.
The best of the group is the 2018 Decoy Limited Napa Valley Red Wine (★★★ $30), a lush blend of merlot, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and some tempranillo. Cassis, black raspberry, and a suggestion of spice define it, leading to a long finish.
Very appealing: the 2018 Decoy Limited Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (★★ $30), a lively red, full of blackberry, with notes of cassis and a hint of dark chocolate.
And the 2019 Decoy Limited Edition Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (★★ $30) abounds with red fruit and spice, smooth and satisfying. It’s a food-friendly, generous number, start to finish.
Recommended: the 2017 La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (★★ $25), a minerally pick with suggestions of plum and black cherry. The 2018 vintage also is available.
From Australia comes the aromatic, medium-bodied 2017 Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir (★★ $38). Raspberry leads here. Expect this pinot to age well for a few years.
The floral 2017 Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (★★ $45) enlivens almost any table, loaded with red fruit and spices for a pleasing selection.
More complex and concentrated is the savory 2017 Emeritus Vineyards Pinot Hill Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (★★★ $60). Mint, cranberry, and lemongrass lead the aromas and flavors on the way to a long finish.
Two excellent reds, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, are year-end treats from Chappellet, which soared with its 2017 cabernet franc.
The supple, stirring 2017 Chappellet Napa Valley Merlot (★★★ $45) delivers notes of plum, anise, vanilla, and black cherry along with cassis. If merlot is your favorite varietal, this one is mandatory.
The winery’s flagship productions are cabernet sauvignons. And the 2017 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (★★★★ $75) is intense with black cherry. There are hints of spice, notably cinnamon and nutmeg. An elegant gift, if you can part with it.
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines brings a well-crafted trio of Bordeaux-inspired red wines. Quite a gift package.
First, there’s the 2016 J. Lohr Cuvee PAU (★★★ $60), as in Pauillac, the Medoc commune between Saint-Estephe and Saint-Julien. It’s home to peak chateaux such as Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, and Latour.
Cuvee PAU blends cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and, yes, malbec. It’s advanced with notes of black cherry, plum, anise, and cedar, refined and harmonious.
The 2016 J. Lohr Cuvee POM (★★ $60), is named to honor Pomerol, and offers blackberry, blueberry, and cherry, with hazelnut. Pomerol is the region of chateaux Petrus and Le Pin, L’Eglise Clinet and Lafleur.
POM is 90 percent merlot, with splashes of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec, all of which make POM pair with a ribeye steak.
And the 2016 J. Lohr Cuvee ST. E (★★ $60) is meant to evoke Saint-Emilion, where chateaux Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Angelus, and Figeac are made.
It’s primarily a blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. The result suggests plum, herbs, dark chocolate, and currants. As with the wines of Saint Emilion, this one has years ahead of it.
JUST POUR FOR ME, ARGENTINA…
Domaines Baron de Rothschild Lafite and the Nicolas Catena family come together in Bodegas CARO, in Mendoza, Argentina. Theirs is a tribute to cabernet sauvignon and malbec, at a variety of price points.
The 2017 CARO (★★★★ $65) stands out with violet, pepper, and red berries, plus a bit of dark chocolate. Round, balanced, full, CARO is a power broker, three-quarters malbec and one-quarter cabernet sauvignon. It’s the right company for beef, grass-fed variety.
Two additional Bodegas CARO wines are more modestly priced. The 2017 Amancaya (★★ $20) is a fruity choice, balanced and very good, leaning more toward malbec. The 2018 Aruma (★★ $15), floral and full of red fruit, works as a sipper as well as company for red meat.
The prices for many of the top Barolos, from steller producers such as Voerzio, Giacosa, Mascarello, Ceretto, Pio Cesare, and A. Conterno, go pretty high.
Damilano makes some excellent Barolo. And you can have a taste or give a gift without breaking three digits. The 2015 Damilano Lecinquevigne Barolo (★★★ $45) is a ruby-shaded ode to the Nebbiolo grape, muscular yet very approachable, with a rosy scent.
And the 2016 vintage in Barolo was one of the best for the king of Piedmontese wines. Search for these wines.
Valpolicella is a less pricey, but always enticing Italian journey. And the 2015 Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore (★★★ $30) is a deal. The ripassa includes dried grapes made for Amarone. Blackberry and pepper jump out. Get that risotto ready.
THE NEW YORKER(S)
The most ambitious and richly satisfying wine from Wolffer Estate in Sagaponack, N.Y., is the 2017 Christian’s Cuvee Merlot (★★★★ $100).
This big Hamptonian, a remarkable wine named for the estate’s founder, is in its thirteenth vintage. It’s made from Wolfer’s oldest vines, with 78 percent merlot 22 percent cabernet franc.
You’ll uncork a ripe, intense red, spurred by cassis and berry notes, with a hint of anise: an elegant, slightly minerally production that you may cellar for years. But it’s tempting to drink today and be rewarded for your eagerness, too.
Paumanok Vineyards of Aquebogue, N.Y., is one of the top wineries situated on the North Fork of Long Island, the state’s sunniest region for grapevines. The area’s modern wine industry started on the North Fork, in Cutchogue in 1973.
The concentrated 2014 Paumanok Limited Edition Apollo Drive Vineyard Petit Verdot (★★★★ $75) is the fourth bottling of this varietal and it underscores how exceptional the single-block wine can be. Lots of black fruit plus generous tannins point to great flavor and, for the forbearing, a long life.
BREWS OF THE SEASON
This season sparkles with rich ales and stouts, and many other grand beers. Here are 10.
Affligem Noel Christmas Ale pours dark, deep, malty, and raisiny. It can age. But one taste, and patience vanishes. $10 for a 750ml bottle.
The silky 2020 Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale is the 46th annual celebratory brew. The hand-drawn tree on the label is a yearly plus. About $12 for a six-pack.
Breckenridge Brewery Christmas Ale is a rich, full-bodied production, with hints of caramel and chocolate. Figure $18 for a 12-pack.
Brooklyn Winter Lager, amber and lighter in style than most on this list, is the contrarian’s fine choice. A six-pack, about $12.
Guinness Imperial Gingerbread Spiced Stout is a merry mouthful, aged in bourbon barrels, from the grand brewery. About $18 for a four-pack.
N’Ice Chouffe, dark and strong from Belgium, is a delectable drink, with spice notes, a hint of brown sugar, mild carbonation. $5 for an 11.2 -oz. bottle.
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, an abbey-style creamy, bittersweet classic, serves aromas of chocolate, anise, raisins, cinnamon, and more in a memorable package. $16 for a 25.4-oz. bottle.
Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome will have you quoting Dickens by the third sip. Caramel, malty, fruity, annual fun. $10 for a four-pack.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop IPA takes a different spot in the holiday lineup with this brew, with notes of citrus peel. $10 for a six-pack.
Troegs’ The Mad Elf Ale is Belgian strong in style, fruity with cherry, smooth with honey. There’s a little chocolate malt, too. Six-pack, $16.
YES, THIS WINE IS CREAMY
Round Barn Cream Wines are exactly that, suitable with desserts, or as an alternative to higher-octane Baileys Irish Cream, the standby flavored with cream, cocoa, and Irish whiskey.
The Michigan wines come in three flavors: mint chocolate, with a breeze of peppermint; black walnut, which has traces of toffee and mocha; and salted caramel, sweet-salty and smooth. They’re $24.99 each. roundbarn.com
It’s always time for 6 O’Clock’s outstanding, artisanal gins. You’ll be very fond of the London Dry and the Brunel.
The London Dry is 43% ABV, refreshing and smooth, with botanicals that include orange peel and elderflower. Try the London Dry in a gimlet.
Brunel is 50% ABV. There’s extra juniper and newer botanicals such as cassia bark, cumin, green cardamom, and lemon, all of which lead to a first-class Martinez cocktail.
The 6 O’Clock gins are handsomely bottled and are $35 each.
AND MORE GIN
“Gin: How to Drink It” (Mitchell Beazley/Octopus, $19.99) by Dave Broom covers 125 gins, the major cocktails, and variations on them. Informed and informative, for both the beginner and the veteran in the gin game.
HOLIDAY MOVIES, KINDA SORTA
You’ll find delightful stop-action Rankin-Bass movies airing this season, led by “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” with the voices of Mickey Rooney and Fred Astaire.
And Frank Capra’s beloved fantasy-drama “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) will be played and played.
Maybe you’ll catch Vincente Minnelli’s “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), if only to hear Judy Garland’s early “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.’
But there are others, traditional and not.
There have been numerous spins, for example, on “A Christmas Carol,” from musicals to cartoons.
Remember Albert Finney in “Scrooge” (1970)? Or versions of the story with Mickey Mouse, Mister Magoo, Bugs Bunny, the Muppets, and the Flintstones?
Or the serious, faithful, very good ones with George C. Scott (in 1984) and Alastair Sim (in 1951)?
Well, this year it’s time to return once more to see Bill Murray in Richard Donner’s “Scrooged” (1988) – for Murray, the humor, and the message, updated and delivered as if a feverish follow-up to Linus’s eloquence in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965).
And tune in for the supporting cast of Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Buddy Hackett, Alfre Woodard, John Houseman, and especially Bobcat Goldthwait.
Of course, it’s never truly Christmastime TV now without welcoming Will Ferrell in Jon Favreau’s funny and sweet “Elf” (2003), with Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Edward Asner, Mary Steenburgen, and Peter Dinklage, villainous pre-“Game of Thrones.”
But, while not exactly a Christmas movie, visit or revisit Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” (1960), set during this time of year.
While social distancing and working remotely don’t apply to it, the essential themes, from the bittersweet to the caustic, definitely do.
Ironic, sardonic, wicked, funny, sad, perceptive, and effective, here’s a black-and-white evocation of New York on the cusp of the “Mad Men” era, from the business day to night, and what decisions and concessions it might have taken to go from desk 861 on the 19th floor to an office with a window on the 27th.
Acting is exceptional, with pivotal performances by Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and a last-minute substitute, cast-against-type Fred MacMurray.
The screenplay by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond: sharp-edged and intricately constructed, leading to one of the movies’ supreme last lines.
“The Apartment” opened one year after Wilder and Diamond’s incomparable comedy, “Some Like It Hot.”
And, in the year of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” as well as a stunning range of foreign-language landmarks that included Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’Avventura,” Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring,” Luchino Visconti’s “Rocco and His Brothers,” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” it won five Oscars: for best picture, director, original screenplay, film editing, and art direction.
Three went to Billy Wilder.
He was one of the all-time greats, from “Double Indemnity” (1944) to “The Lost Weekend” (1945), “Sunset Blvd.” (1950) to “Ace in the Hole” (1951), “Sabrina” (1954) to “Ninotchka” (1939).
Toast the director, writer, and producer with a very dry gin martini.
ABOUT THE BLOGGER
For 34 years, Peter Gianotti reviewed wines, spirits, restaurants, and books at Newsday. He twice won Press Club of New York awards for food writing. Before he became a food critic, Gianotti was a Washington correspondent, a financial writer, and New York City reporter for the newspaper. His books include “Food Lovers’ Guide to Long Island” and “A Guide to Long Island Wine Country.” Gianotti received his B.A. from Fordham University, where he taught journalism; and his M.S. from Columbia University, where he also was a Bagehot Fellow. Harry, his Creamsicle-hued assistant, prefers the bouquets of riesling and pinot noir.