By Rick Riozza

Happy New Year to all you quaffers! As we’ve come to expect, this column will no doubt continue its tradition to commence the year with commentary on the “Wine Game2024. And we’ll again preview the up-coming—the one and only—Palm Springs Pinot Noir Festival to be held this February 2nd and 3rd. (Note to self: Get your tickets now as the various culinary events sell out!)

But for starters this year, consider this: We know it happens in our zeal to grab some very nice wines this past year; many of us forgot to open that bottle during the past holidays. I guess we spent too much time on bubblies!

So I think we can reconcile this pressing situation and agree to simply open them up currently for the new month. Lots of folks always look for a special occasion to uncork a special bottle. And—we always counter that opening a nice bottle of wine is that special occasion we’re looking for. Enjoy it now—one never knows!


So here are some of the excellent wines that I had planned to open but are still patiently waiting in the wine bin:

2020 Beringer Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. ($49) Actually I did enjoy this wine last October and it was an absolute hit with both Rib Eyes and New Yorks that we threw on the grill. The pairing was so good—that I promised to open my other bottle for Christmas or New Years. Promises, promises—I messed up, but I promise to open my remaining bottle this month!

The Beringer Knights Valley has always been an appealing Cabernet Sauvignon. This deep plum colored 2020 vintage showcases a gorgeous Bordeaux-varietal blend, with sandy, fine-grained tannins, and a velvety-rich, plush mouthfeel. Built to age and develop further complexity over time, while in its youth, it pairs so well with grilled steak–really any beef dish such as brisket and flat iron steaks.

The wine is ripe and juicy with aromas and flavors of vibrant boysenberry, strawberry preserves, and cassis, alongside earthier notes of crushed stone, flecks of iron, Bay Laurel, and cedar. The baking spiced elements from the well-integrated oak work well with the more traditional Knights Valley tones of wild lavender and bittersweet chocolate. Poised and lively with a structured, juicy, mouthwatering acidity, with an elegant, long, savory, mouth-pleasing finish.

So always considered a “winter-type” wine is Amarone. It’s a bit pricey because it is one of the best northern Italian red wines historically. I’ve got the 2019 Allegrini Amarone Della Valpoicella Classico ($80), and I’ve written previously, “While still vigorous like most Amarone, this wine stands apart for its expertly balanced power. It’s slightly lighter, clean, and fresh feel make it a bit more universal, so it’s a great luxury gifting option. It displays notes of cherry, dark chocolate, and tobacco. Can handle a hefty holiday table, or, can be served as a dessert wine thereafter.”

For those who’ve never enjoyed an Amarone wine, a bit of heaven does indeed await you. Or, if you’ve not delighted in a bottle lately, hopefully treats are on the way. The full name of this Italian wine is: Amarone della Valpolicella; an Italian red wine that is dry, but enchantingly provides illusions of sweetness. The irony goes on by the fact that “amarone” [ah-mah-ROH-nay] translates to “(the) grand bitter”. So what is it? Sweet? Bitter? Fruity?—well, we’ll get to the fruity in a moment.

What adds to the romance in the production of this wine (apart from its vineyard home in Verona, where Romeo & Julietta traipsed passionate) is the unique style where the newly harvested grapes are laid upon straw mats in a wine cellar room and left alone well into the winter months in this semi-drying process known as “apassimento”.

This withering gives the grapes a thickness where the natural sugars are concentrated providing complexity but not an enhanced sweetness (the concentrated sugars will turn to alcohol). And to boot, the wine is aged in casks for no less than six years, creating a stable long-lasting structure and making it one of the longest-living wines in the world.

Okay—so that generally is how the world class wine Amarone is made: a stunning wine with aromas and flavors of bitter chocolate, cherries, coffee, dates, dried fruit & flowers, leather, licorice, plums, raisins, tobacco, spices & smoke. In this 2019 Allegrini we find distant whiffs of candied cherry that give more lift and intensity to the bouquet that is otherwise characterized by heavier tones of black fruit, candied cherry, red licorice and sweet earth or potting soil. It finishes with a well-balanced full-bodied style.

2020 Alta Mora Etna Rosso Cusumano ($20) We covered this wine last year, but it deserves another shout-out because it is one of the tastiest Sicilian red wines for such a reasonable price. I had one remaining for the holidays, but I lost track of it in the wine fridge. But Eureka! I have found it!

This is a fabulous wine for any dinner as it is medium-bodied and won’t take you down. Shows hints of iron and minerals to savory cranberries and dried oranges. Aromas of flinty red berries, red cherries and minerals have a bright floral overlay. Then very good inner-mouth perfume too, with exhilarating lift to the red fruit and stony flavors. The finish is long and clean, nicely framed by suave tannins and harmonious acidity.”

For a festive white wine, I anticipated opening the 2021 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($16). I had heard so much fanfare for this inexpensive wine: “Light floral aromas and bright, ripe tropical-fruit flavors give this wine a sunny personality. It emphasizes freshness, offering good acidity behind pineapple, melon and banana flavors.” Sounds great—can’t wait again to try it! Cheers!