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I can’t tell you how great it feels to finally be able to put my body to rest, lay in my bed, wear pajamas, and just write. ‘Twas in fact the holiday season, and that puts behind me the busiest time of the year. I worked hard, and now it’s time to play–well, rather mellowly. Happy New Year.

Multiple times leading up to Christmas, I was asked by friends for wine recommendations for various people (family members, bosses, etc.). At this stage, it doesn’t feel half bad to be the token guy for such a staple of recreation; but at the same time, no one’s relying on me to save a life, meaning the reward is no better or worse than what you’d expect.

“Just a nice bottle of wine. You know, not too cheap but not too expensive.” 

“Okay, red or white?”

“Doesn’t really matter. I guess red.”

Sometimes I consider going on a tangent such as, “Okay, well, any particular region? America? Europe? A Bordeaux varietal perhaps? Or a grape less common? Lots of fruit? Lots of oak? Light or full-bodied? Organic? Any vintage preferences?” I could do that, but I never do. I leave that to the pros, whose bills get paid by their understanding and mastery of all these possible combinations.

While I could very easily throw a producer out there to someone and determine a bottle that squeezes its way in between their overtly specific price point, do I personally deserve even the most miniscule amount of credit if the person who receives this wine happens to enjoy it? I think not, because if the outcome is in fact a success, it’s nothing more than pure luck, considering I (assumingly) don’t know this person, not to mention the nuances of their palate. Additionally, while I do of course appreciate the amiability my friends express by consciously and comfortably confiding in me about wine (disregarding the more apparent “convenience” factor), I personally always find myself seeking out someone in a shop who is completely familiar with their inventory and enthusiastic enough to drop just a shred of knowledge, keeping me informed and diverse. Variation is key, as is learning, and in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know nearly as much as you may think I do.

More importantly, there was a large sum of wine consumed by me over the course of the last couple weeks, and I bet the same went for many of you, whether you were oblivious to the wine’s quality or perfected a match with Christmas dinner. I had two delicious Chilean reds, both under $10, on Christmas Eve. I used a little less than half of the Carménère in the reduction sauce with pomegranate juice and cream, and sipped away the rest while breading and frying pork cutlets and caramelizing apples. I just want to say that in whichever state your relationship with wine lies, you can’t tell me you deny the satisfaction of having a glass by your side while preparing a meal for family and friends during the holidays.

I decided to indulge the next night. Started with gnocchi made with whole wheat flour, sautéed a shallot, pureed wild mushrooms, added some cream, stock, a little dry vermouth, a few drops of my brand new white truffle oil that oozes tender love, mixed it altogether and finished it with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. At this point, I decanted the red wine to be served with the next course; the very red wine that could’ve won an Academy Award.

After letting my rack of lamb marinate overnight in oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary and black pepper, I seasoned it with salt and gave it a quick pan-sear. Popped it in the oven after that, heated some of the pint container full of house-made demi-glace given to me by my sous-chef at work, plated the lamb and coated it with the perfectly viscous sauce. I’m convinced a six year old could have done this, which makes it incomprehensible to me for it to have come out as beautifully as it did. (Shout out to Whole Foods for always having such high quality meat!)

Now, the wine. 2001 Marqués de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva. Made in Spain, made from Tempranillo. I’m going to avoid getting trapped in a state of convolution while discussing this wine and the entire gastronomic experience. So I will leave it at this: I’ve heard Rioja wine is a great match with lamb. A Rioja of Gran Reserva status has spent much more time in oak barrels and in its own bottle than other Rioja wine before it even hits the shelves, and that coupled with its eleven (going on twelve) year age made it a prime candidate for consuming with the lamb. The wine and the meat were somehow subtle and aggressive with each other simultaneously, extracting the clearest complimentary flavors at the onset and then by the end reaching into each other’s souls to expose flavors that may never again be revealed. A little psychedelic? Could be, but the fact is that these sensations occur only throughout the course of an excellent food and wine pairing. See for yourself.

The night after that just consisted of a lot of local wine, a hot tub, and a rainstorm. Have I mentioned wine and the holidays go hand in hand?

Finally, no matter how much I’d love to see my friends discover the intricacies of their likes and tastes on their own and realize that anyone can choose virtually any wine for their boss and successfully convince him/her that it’s expensive and world-renowned, I love talking to people about this stuff. So keep the questions and comments coming. Much love and Happy New Year.

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