We spoke with Natalie Tapken – Lead Sommelier and Wine & Beverage Director to inquire about how well-heeled Marylanders and partygoers alike can help bring the festive spirit home this holiday season. Read on for this exclusive Pursuitist Q&A:
What are some top holiday beverage trends?
Agave-based spirits have led the charge this season. At The Wardroom, we love Clase Azul and feature their famous Reposado as well as Clase Azul Mezcals, which are one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets. The bottles are works of art and make for a perfect holiday gift. If you are looking to splurge, the Clase Azul Ultra is a collector’s dream with a 24-karat gold and platinum bottle.
Smoky Mezcals can be great for the colder months. I love Cinco Sentidos which represents small-scale mezcaleros that produce small batch mezcals. 5 Sentidos is named after the five senses that their mezcaleros use to produce their agave spirits. The producers of this mezcal do not use any modern machinery or tools, being guided only by their senses throughout the production process.
What wines pair best with a holiday cookie swap?
If you are looking for something bubbly and affordable, a Moscato d’Asti would be an excellent choice for a cookie swap. My favorite is La Spinetta Bricco Quaglia DOCG. It is a single vineyard Moscato with notes of peach, honey, and sage. It has a fresh and clean finish that could complement everything from gingerbread to a frosted sugar cookie.
I would also recommend a sweeter Riesling from the Mosel as the best bet for cookies. My favorite producer is Joh. Jos. Prüm. The Prüms have been making wine in the Mosel since the 1700s. The light fruity flavors along with a racing acidity make this wine perfect for almost any cookie. I would go for a Spatlese or Auslese when selecting a cookie-perfect Riesling as the riper fruit will pair best with sweet treats.
What should I consider when bringing wine as a host or hostess gift?
If possible, it is always best to bring two bottles of wines of different styles for a host or hostess gift. You should bring a bottle to be opened for the night and a bottle the host can keep for a future occasion. If you know what is being served for dinner, take that into account when picking your bottle. For example, if fish is the main event, a bottle of Napa Cabernet may not be the best choice. Obviously, if you know the likes or dislikes of the host or hostess, take this into account when selecting the bottle. If you are bringing a white wine, it is a nice touch to bring it chilled in case the host or hostess would like to serve it for the event. It is extra special to pick a wine that has a story behind it. This could be a note explaining a special memory of when you had the bottle, or a unique story about the winemaker, region, or wine itself. This shows you have truly put some thought into your gift.
What are some under-the-radar champagnes that I should think about to ring in 2022?
I love the world of Grower Champagne. These are champagnes from families cultivating the grapes on their own land. These champagnes emphasize the importance of winemaking and terrior.
Pierre Gerbais is a favorite of everyone at Bluepoint Hospitality. Pierre Gerbais is a fourth-generation domaine in the Aube. At Gerbais, there are old vines, organic vineyard management, intelligence, respect, passion, relevance, training, and drive enough to take this house to the very top of champagne.
Any Special Club champagne is a great splurge if you can find one. In 1971, a group of the best small growers in Champagne banded together to create their own version of the prestige cuvée. They formed the Club de Viticulteurs Champenois, an exclusive club resolved to making the highest quality possible from their own vines and then release it in specially designed and labeled bottles, vintage-dated only. All wines are tasted blind by the members of the club at two stages before they are allowed to be released to ensure only the best of the best are deemed a Special Club bottling. The standards that the group adopted are so demanding that there are currently only 28 members out of over 5000 growers in the appellation. That commitment results in stunning Champagnes.
Are there any great wines to consider as gifts? Perhaps a saver/splurge and investment piece?
If looking to save money, Austrian reds and whites always provide a lot of wine for the money. Even the entry-level Gruner Veltliners are refreshing with a lot of flavors. Bernhard Ott Am Berg is a great pick that is dry with notes of fresh pear. Schloss Gobelsburg is also a great choice with lots of lime zest and a crisp mineral finish. For the Austrian reds, you cannot go wrong with Blaufrankisch. The varietal has nice cherry or dark berry notes, great acidity, and nice tannins. Heinrich is one of my favorite modern producers for Austrian reds.
If you like Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, but cannot afford the prices, look at other regions. For example, Lake County reds are much less expensive and often just as tasty. For a value, the organic wines of Clay Shannon are an excellent pick for a bold winter red. The Shannon Family wines always punch above their price point.
If you are looking to splurge, small production wines usually are a home run for a great gift. Finding family-owned wineries that make limited production wines is a great thing to consider when giving a gift. You can go to a local retailer to get some advice when finding some of these gems. Finding a region or winemaker you love is a great start when selecting the bottle. You can then see how many cases are produced so the bottle is not something easily found.
Right now, the wines of Burgundy are a great investment. The prices are going for all-time highs on the secondary markets and the demand keeps growing. For Burgundy, it is best to find domains you love and buy them in any vintage. The best winemakers will make great wines every year. While most of us cannot all afford DRC, Rousseau and Leroy, there are plenty of great producers for everyone to invest in at any budget. Denis Bachelet of Gevery Chambertin is a classic. I love the whites from Hubert Lamy, Oliver Lamy is making the best whites in Burgundy now that can age for over a decade. Nicolas Rossingol in Volnay makes a wine for every pocketbook that are delicious and always a safe bet. It is also great to find the young up-and-coming winemakers as well, while they are still affordable. For example, David Moreau in Santenay is making some of my favorite wines right now that any crowd is sure to love.
If you are not a Burgundy drinker, Napa Valley cult Cabernet Sauvignons are also a safe bet as an investment. With small production levels, the demand is always there for Napa reds. Wines like Hundred Acre, Diamond Creek, and Dunn Vineyards are great classics to invest in. Again, I always like to look at the new generation as well that not everyone has heard of yet. In Napa Valley, The Setting, Chiron, and Nine Suns are some great new wineries to look at that are making some of the best Napa wines I have had lately.