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2000 – Champagne – Mead – Chocolate – 2K CA cab/merlot

Wines of
Color: 2000 California Cabernet and Merlot

It’s official:
The 2000 California grape harvest is finally over. And after one of
the longest and most nervous crush periods in memory, most vintners
ended up quite pleased.

Last to report, as usual, were
makers of late-ripening Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. These producers experienced more
anxiety than usual this year, as an uncharacteristically cool
October brought ripening to a virtual standstill, capped by a
potentially disastrous three-day rain at the end of the month.

In the end, most Cabernet grapes weathered the storm
relatively well. “Cabernet is thick-skinned, so it’s more impervious
to rot [than other varietals],” says Tom Mackey of St. Francis
Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma Valley. “This year the grapes got
ripe with lower sugar — we saw physiological maturity a lot earlier
than usual. But then the harvest really stretched out, so the grapes
got a lot of hang time for extra flavor and color development.”

As a result, Mackey says, “Even the color coming out of the
picking bins was deep red, as opposed to pink. You can predict a lot
about the quality of Merlot by how far from the press you can smell
the fruit. This year, I could smell it at a distance.”

Draper of Ridge Vineyards agrees that the color in the coveted
Montebello Cabernet grapes “is probably the most intense of the last
10 years. A number of times during the ’90s, we said, ‘My god, we’ve
never seen color like this before,’ but 2000 is probably the deepest
yet. I hesitate to make claims before January or February, but it
has the potential to be one of the finest vintages of recent years
— very powerful, without being harsh or austere.”

At Stag’s
Leap Wine Cellars in Napa Valley, winemaker Michael Silacci says
that the winery’s post-rain grapes (from Howell Mountain and
Calistoga in the northern part of the valley) still retained good
flavor, structure, and intensity. “It’s very unusual to find
Cabernet without any green character at 22 degrees Brix, but we did
this year,” Silacci says. Meanwhile, the flavors in his high-end
estate fruit, which was picked before the rain, are “very complex
and typical of the last few vintages. Some blocks are really
concentrated and intense; some are very elegant; others have a nice
balance between fruit, richness, and structure. I think 2000 might
turn out to blend the best qualities of the three previous vintages
— the boldness of ’97, the elegance of ’98, and the balance of

Michael Havens of Havens Wine Cellars, who makes
Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the Carneros district of Napa Valley,
thinks that 2000 “has the potential to be even better than ’99. Some
Merlot clones have performed the best I can remember, with lots of
color, richness, round tannins, and low herbal qualities. The Cab
Franc, if it came in early, is maybe the best I’ve ever worked with.
I use texture as a touchstone, and we’re much further along on that
pathway than we were last year — the tannins are sweeter, and the
wines will be supple, full-bodied, and rich. They’ll also be
appreciable early in their lives — delicious up front, with
longevity, depending on the local terroir and winemaking style.”

Havens says that about 1 percent of his total crush — four
and a half tons of Cabernet Franc — was picked after the rain and,
“like some late Cabernet Sauvignon I know of, is turning out OK at
best: washed-out red wine with no varietal character. So on the
whole, the vintage is schizoid. The big majority [picked before the
rain] is really lovely stuff, with the last few percent falling off
the quality cliff, depending on where it was grown. It’ll be a good
year to buy the best brands, though, because nobody will be holding
on to the marginal lots — those will end up on the bulk market in
the lesser brands.”

Wine with
Chocolate: Dry or Sweet?

The holidays are a time of
indulgence, and chocolate is pure indulgence. Pairing it with wine,
however, is a tricky — even controversial — endeavor.

“There are two camps: those who believe that dry wines like
Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are good with chocolate, and those who
prefer it with sweet wines,” says wine.com Senior Wine Merchant Tim Gaiser, summing up the controversy.

The dry-wine camp “thinks that the bitterness of tannin is a
good match with the bitterness of chocolate,” says Gaiser. It may
seem odd to be discussing dessert (which most people would consider
sweet) in terms of bitterness, but as Gaiser points out, “That’s the
flavor of cocoa, which is found in all high-quality chocolate.”

Gaiser believes that some Merlots can handle this assignment
“because of their soft tannins and the supple, seductive quality of
their fruit.” Wine.com’s sampler gift pack of Ballentine Merlot and Scharffen Berger
plays on this flavor profile.

The more
traditional palate prefers sweet wines to match the sugar in
chocolate and offset its bitterness. For this, Gaiser says the wine
“has to be really ripe and intense. High alcohol is almost
necessary, because it implies ripeness and richness.”

this category, he suggests that “port is probably best — especially
tawny port. Australian liqueur Muscats like
Stanton & Killeen are also terrific, as
are fine cream sherries, such as the 1972 Bodegas Toro Albala Pedro Ximenez Don Gran
Reserva (375 ml)
or the Emilio Lustau Moscatel Las Cruces 100 Anos.
Wine.com also offers a Decadent Dessert pack that pairs an
outstanding Schuetz Oles Port with melt-in-your-mouth XOX chocolate

Although he loves sweet German wines, Gaiser
steers away from them when it comes to chocolate. “You need the
depth of red grape varieties,” he says. “One very influential wine
writer thinks that the perfect wine for chocolate is Banyuls. It’s a
Grenache-based red wine, fortified to 18-20 percent alcohol.” For an
already-assembled combo, try our Banyuls and Chocolate Bars gift pack, which
includes the 1998 L’Abbe Rous Banyuls Rimage with six of the finest
chocolates available. Gaiser also points out that “Some Banyuls are
capable of aging, just like port”. As proof, try the 1993 L’Abbe Rous Banyuls Grand Cru Christian

If you want to stick to unfortified wine
from the United States, nothing could be more appropriate than
late-harvest Zinfandel, whose raspberry-tinged varietal character is
a classic match with chocolate.

When it comes to the final
ingredient, wine.com has several first-rate holiday chocolates to
offer. Some already have wine inside them — for example, Wine-Filled Chocolates and Chocolate Champagne Corks. For a delicious
Italian milk chocolate with hazelnuts, try Vineyard Chocolates.

Heidrun Mead
Adds Traditional Sparkle to the Holidays

If you’re
looking for something stimulating and different for the holidays,
consider a bottle of sparkling mead from the Heidrun Meadery.
Using honey rather than grapes, meadmaking is an ancient craft that
this Northern California company has elevated to an art. Fermented
from different blends of nectars — apple, blackberry, clover,
fennel, sunflower, morning glory, alfalfa — Heidrun sparklers are
refreshingly clean and delicate, suggestive of honey yet undeniably
dry; each varietal offers a range of floral, herbal, and fruity
notes, along with a woodsy, earthy undercurrent. Served chilled in
flutes, like fine Champagne, it’s a wonderful aperitif or
accompaniment to a meal (and an especially attractive one to
sensitive wine drinkers, as no sulfites are used in the process).
Try a bottle during the holidays and discover a delightfully new old
perspective on wine.

Champagne with
Popcorn, Potato Chips … and More

How did Champagne become the beverage of choice for
special events? Does it have to be so? Wine.com Senior Wine Merchant
Tim Gaiser tackles the tough holiday questions.

became a wine of celebration for one very logical reason,” Gaiser
says. “The Champagne region played a central role in European
history, with many coronations in the cathedral at Rheims from the
eighth century on. Naturally, the local wine (though not the bubbly
version at first) was served at these momentous occasions, and by
the end of the 16th century, Champagne had become the wine of choice
for the French court, with the rest of Europe soon following suit.
Champagne’s preeminence as a luxury beverage — the wine of
celebration — has been secure ever since.”

Dom Perignon, a
French Benedictine monk, was the first to preserve the tiny bubbles
in Champagne. Now that it’s moved beyond European aristocracy, says
Gaiser, “Sparkling wines don’t have to be limited to special events.
Their combination of light body, crisp acidity, and delightful
bubbles makes them wonderful aperitifs for any occasion — something
like Billecart Salmon Champagne RosÈ, for
example, is just right to rev up the palate for a good meal.”

Once the food arrives, Gaiser recommends a bubbly such as
the 1990 A.R. Lenoble Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru
as the perfect foil for fresh shellfish and
caviar. This is also an appropriate role for nonvintage sparkling
wines like the Maison Guinot Cremant de Limoux Brut Cuvee
. Such sparklers are surprisingly good with two
decidedly unroyal foods: potato chips and freshly popped (not
microwaved) popcorn. Sound ridiculous? Try it.

vintage Champagnes such as 1993 Charles Ellner Brut Champagne
work well with lightly sauced fish, chicken,
and veal,” Gaiser recommends. “One of the all-time great food-wine
pairings is a good rosÈ Champagne such as Billecart Salmon Champagne RosÈ with
poached salmon. The color match alone is worth the price of
admission, but the taste combination is utter

2000: The Wine
Year in Review

Presenting wine.com founder Peter
Granoff’s purely subjective rear-view-mirror look at the most
important developments in the wine year now coming to a close. For
an expanded version featuring Peter’s wine recommendations, click here.

sharpshooter eats our lunch

Glassy-winged sharpshooters
are insect carriers of Pierce’s disease, a nasty malady that kills
vines by choking off their flow of nutrients. This year, a bigger,
stronger version of this pest struck fear into the hearts of
winegrowers throughout California.

What’s in a name,

After the Bronco Wine Company bought Beringer
Wine Estates’ “fighting varietal” Napa Ridge brand (based on grapes
grown outside Napa Valley), the California legislature passed a law
requiring that 75 percent of the grapes used in any wine bearing the
Napa name must originate in Napa Valley. Who ever thought that
bottled grapes could constitute such a can of worms?

wine.com launches the vinnies
An awards
ceremony is a first for wine.com — motivated, we confess, by a
distaste for the scoring mania that dominates wine marketing in the
United States. But since we already have the uncola, why not the unawards?

Sierra Foothills
come of age

If you’re still clinging to a late-70s
stereotype about clumsy reds from the California Gold Country, it’s
long past time to set it aside. Better viticulture and committed, talented winemakers have brought
this beautiful region into the mainstream.

agriculture triumphs

After a grim discovery 15 years ago
that many of their soils were virtually dead from pesticide use,
Burgundian winegrowers have since reversed the scenario, with the
result that many of the region’s best wines now come from
organically farmed vineyards. Bravo!

Small wine
producers discover the Internet

Thanks to the Internet,
we at wine.com have been happily getting email, then samples and
smiles, from small wine producers in parts of the world
that have never before had a presence in the U.S. market.

The wages of Napa Valley land

Developed vineyard property in Napa Valley hit
prices north of $110,000 per acre. Yikes! Some California wineries
(especially in Napa, it seems) have remarkably short memories.
Remember the early 90s, gang? Think it can’t happen again?

wine.com comes to your palm
Wine.com has
just partnered with AvantGo.com to become the first wine
merchant on your handheld computing device. Now you can take “Bang
for the Buck,” “Top 10 Gifts,” our latest newsletter, and of course
“Peter’s Picks” with you on the fly.


American wine consumption per capita is only 2.44
gallons a year. Moreover, 10 percent of American adults drink 86
percent of the total table wine consumed — and three out of every
four say they never drink wine at all. What can it all mean?

Loire Valley rediscovered
Lots of wine
lovers are familiar with Sancerre and Pouilly Fume from France’s Loire Valley,
but the wine press and our customers also now seem to be discovering
the delicious Chenin Blancs and Cabernet Francs from the same region.

SOS cuvee rides again
Last year, wine.com
joined forces with Handley Cellars to help fund SOS, or Share
our Strength — a nonprofit organization that raises money for
hunger relief. We found this so rewarding last year that this year
we continued the tradition.

Nobody got to drink

Nobody’s presidential campaign staff, that is.
Can’t really say I feel sorry for them, but just the same, I’m
suggesting my favorite alternative wines to pair with armadillo
and wild turkey (the bird, not the booze).