By Rick Riozza

A year’s retrospective on our dalliance with wine, allows us to happily reflect on some of our favorite quaffs this past year.  Some wines will stay in our minds forever—or at least, we’ll remember the time we shared with them, with friends, and with other culinary emotions.  Oftentimes we’re simply glad if the memory brings a smile to our face.

So let’s casually think back and mention just a few of our favorite wines of the past year (we’ll keep it simple and mention just three). No one really likes to sound like a wine snob anymore—but, no matter how the name strikes you, one of the best Champagnes released is “Cristal”.  It’s full name is 2014 Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal, ($350).

So there are some interested wine enthusiast groups thinking about this French bubbly:  There are some of you out there, who’ve tasted some Champagne and realized how good that stuff is. We’re talking about some very good French that goes for around $60 to $160 bucks.


But paying for a Champagne that costs over $300, always sounds a bit much.  Well—we’re here to tell you, that if you only buy one “pricey” Champagne—ever! Or, for the next couple of years or so, this is the Champagne to experience.  And whether you go on to try some more or call it a day there—at least you’ve tasted historically world class wine—a Champagne made for kings; it’s one of the best out there!

With all of the fanfare going on, we’d best be describing this baby: This vivid Champagne has upfront and linear definition, thanks to rapierlike acidity, with finely meshed flavors of ripe black cherry and mandarin orange fruit, raw almond, anise and cardamom spice as well as a touch of honeycomb, which all unfurl and expand on the fine, creamy palate. Sleek acidity continues through to the finish, with additional racy character provided by a streak of minerally saline and chalk, which gains momentum through the midpalate and rings out on the well-cut, lasting finish. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This French bubbly is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

So we went on line to to purchase a line-up of freshly harvested herbs and spices from India.  We got around 13 different tins that included all of your favorite spices that included wild heimang sumac, Kashmiri chili, wild ajwain, and Tandori Masala, to name a few.

And we simply used chicken as the canvas to play and experiment with the fun flavors as we checked the internet to glean the best Indian-style meals; they were delish!!

Fortunately I’ve been holding on to a bottle of 2018 Landmark Vineyards Hop Kiln Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45)And look how patience paid off: enjoying the Pinot with the Indian-style meal was one of the best wine pairings I’ve ever had—professionally or at home!

Apart from the Indian spice dish pairing, here are the Winemaker Notes: “Medium ruby purple color, complex and aromatic with ripe black and red fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, autumn leaves, licorice and a hint of camphor. Moderate plus bodied, with black cherry, ripe strawberry and toasted oak on entry, the mid palate shows savory cola and leather elements with nicely balanced acidity and tannins leading to a lingering finish showing black and red cherry with baking spice notes.”

The 2018 Hop Kiln Estate Pinot Noir is a mix of complex, deep flavors beautifully balanced by structural elements that gives an elegance that is the hallmark of Russian River Pinot Noirs.

91 pointsWine & Spirits: “With sweet notes of pomegranate molasses over salty mineral tannins, this wine offers a playful harmony in its flavors, ending clean, without any excess weight. It’s a juicy pinot that could stand up to fire-grilled pork riblets.”

90 points Wine Enthusiast: “This is a sultry, brooding red wine, exuberant in black cherry, black tea, forest floor and rose petal. With a supple backbone of integrated tannin and toasted oak, it reaches a velvety finish of cola that accentuates its full-bodied style and enduring richness.”

Our final recommendation for this past year is one from—you guessed it: Sicily.  Sicilian is trending big time, but there’s no need to spend a bunch of bucks on the stuff. 2020 Alta Mora Etna Rosso Cusumano ($25).

James Suckling reports: “A good example of Etna Rosso showing hints of iron and minerals to the savory cranberries and dried oranges. Nice transparency on the palate despite the assertive, firm tannins that are well-chiseled on the palate. Shows structure and length.”

Even though from Sicily, this is a wine is made for the American palate.

100% Narello Mascelese, it shows fine spices, pepper and bright, blackcurrant and mountain herbs. Firm yet fine, an elegantly structured wine, long and sophisticated.

Nerello Mascalese is one of the most important native grape varieties across the vineyards of Sicily.  Ared grape variety that comes from Italy. It was first mentioned in the 18th century. It is indigenous to Etna, Sicily. It is a child of Sangiovese and Mantonico Bianco.

The name Alta Mora translates to “High, Black” representing the great heights and dark soils of Mt. Etna. The volcano itself is nearly 11,000ft high and vineyards are planted up to 4,000ft high! The Alta Mora project truly captures the essence of the Cusumano family. They believe in taking great risks to produce great, unique wines!

Saluti & Buon anno nuovo!