Usually on Christmas Eve I lead a team on a “party on the streets” in the city, but this year had a lot of experienced volunteers so I decided to stay home. If not going out, why not a dinner, so we invited a fun crew over for the Feast of the Seven Fishes (no one’s Italian, but what the heck). Mark brought the first two dishes, a great lemony shrimp dish we’d had before and his first (and quite successful!) gravlax. We started with bubbly:
1999 Andre Beaufort Champagne Brut
Quite nice, in a fairly full bodied style. Citrus and apple, a little gingerbread, I enjoyed this a lot. B+
NV Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve
Dry and crisp, sprightly, I thought this cut through the fat of the salmon better than the lovely but restrained Beaufort. B+
My first course was brandade, then a Batali recipe for eels Livornese (tomato/red wine/capers/olives)- I loved the flavors, but the backbones of the eels made hard to eat. Then Betsy fried some Asian accented calamari (Sichuan peppercorns), followed by my Amalfi-style zuppa di pesce (with lobster,mussels, monkfish, and scallops), the last fish dish was spaghetti with clams. Dave did creme brulee to close. So 7 fish dishes (with 10 different fishes- or 11 if you count the anchovy in the broccoli)- lots of fun, but lots of work.
Several wines made it around table, both red and white
2011 Chidaine “Clos du Breuil” Montlouis
Mark brought this, I really enjoyed, all orange marmalade and beeswax, pretty dry, thought 2011 was supposed to be rough in Loire but I really liked. B+
2011 Kofererhof Sylvaner
I think at 7 Fishes dinner I was only fan of this, but who cares- flinty, ginger and citrus peel, a hint of petrol, a bit like a dry Alsace Riesling. At following night’s dinner it had held up well and got lots of praise. B+/B
2010 Terre Nere “Vigne Niche” Etna Bianco
100% Carricante. Sturdy and stern, more structure than fruit at dinner. Following night much more giving, full-bodied with lemony fruit, delicious. B-/C+ first night, B+/A- night two.
1998 Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso
I should have decanted this (tons of sediment) but I was cooking more than I was sommeliering. Showed quite well, black cherry and leather over some earthy notes. Quite popular, and only bottle finished. B+
1988 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve
Seemed soft and quiet at first, a bit muted picked up steam at end of night and held well overnight (a rarity for Sangiovese for me). Blackcherries, smoke, orange zest and flower notes. Balanced acids, excellent length. A-
1982 Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon
Herby, a real menthol meets pot thing, sweet reddish fruit, more acids than one would likely find in CalCab today, B+/B
The cooking wines were a 2005 Moueix Encore Merlot (classic basic RB, what a deal at closeout) and an Piedmont Chardonnay that worked fine as cooking wine.
Christmas Day came too early (after doing dishes till wee hours), but I struggled out of bed, went to work for a half hour, then returned home for biscuits, country ham, and present opening. Whoops, time to get to work on dinner, another crew of guests arriving at 4 PM. Betsy and David cooked frantically, while I did tablesetting and wine prep, then took the tenderloin to SiL’s to quickly cook it as I did cat care. Back just in time, guests arrived on time (including a canine guest for Lucy).
Appetizers were smoked trout, gravlax, and pate (I had some smoked salmon, but decided to use Mark’s leftover gravlax instead). Another bubby was opened, the NV Ployez- Jacquemart “Marie Weiss” Champagne Brut. Fuller, some tropical fruit, but enough acid to keep lively. Good for a bargain priced Champagne. B
Then to table for beef tenderloin with basil oil, capon with gravy, arugula/pear/walnut salad, Brussels sprouts, roasted root vegetables, biscuits, and more. Some leftover wines from night before were sampled, plus
2007 Fevre “Bougros” Chablis Grand Cru
Long and classic, oystershell with lemon and green apple, flint. A-/B+
1997 Beringers “Knight’s Valley” Cabernet Sauvignon
Soft and plush, lots of black plum and currant fruit, a touch of herb, easygoing, some people's favorite of night. B/B+
1996 Bouchard “Vigne de L’Enfant Jesus” Beaune-Greves 1er
Baby Jesus seemed appropriate for Christmas, but this was my least favorite bottle of the holidays. Stern and woody, oak and dark fruits with a little raw celery. Tannic, not at all charming, reminds me more of a tough vintage Bordeaux than Burgundy.Tasted next day it was pure prune juice. C
1983 Ch. Leoville Poyferre (St. Julien)
Lovely classic Poyferre, midbodied, vibrant fruit with tobacco and cigarbox, good lenght. A-
Dessert was a cranberry bread with caramel sauce, plus a cheese plate with cheddar, Stilton, Cowgirl Mt. Tam, and Ossau Iraty. Fred brought the 1978 Cazes Vieux Rivesaltes- quite a good match with the cheeses, reminded me more of a old tawny than a VP - nutty, raisiny, ripe red fruits, quite good. B+
After dinner Betsy and Andrea led those who wished in caroling (half of guests were Jewish, but chimed right in- choir of Beth Shalom is pretty open-minded). Fun to spend holidays with such good groups of people, if a lot of dishes to clean! Hope everyone else had a fun, safe, and blessed holiday season.
Grade disclaimer: I'm a very easy grader, basically A is an excellent wine, B a good wine, C mediocre. Anything below C means I wouldn't drink at a party where it was only choice. Furthermore, I offer no promises of objectivity, accuracy, and certainly not of consistency.