December is a good wine month ...
© by Linwood Slayton

December is a great month for enjoying wine. Then again, so is January, February and March.

I enjoy December because it is the perhaps the most festive month of the year. People are primed for having a good time and are looking to enjoy good food and wine.

We had the distinct and unique pleasure just prior to December to participate in a creative and festive occasion. The 100 Black Women of Atlanta annually host a Sunday-afternoon charity event aptly titled Gourmet Gents. This year over 300 men from Atlanta gathered to display their culinary wares for a crowd of over 500 people at The Atlanta Hyatt Regency Hotel. I have cooked for prior events and enjoyed a modicum of brief notoriety for my "Champagne Greens" (collard greens cooked with Champagne in lieu of water - can't tell you the rest of the recipe ...).

This year, however, I was asked to do "my wine thing" at the event. I contacted my friends at Kendall-Jackson and Lance Anderson graciously provided three cases of wine for the event. I poured La Crema Pinot Noir, Edmeades Zinfandel and Camelot Chardonnay.

Let me tell you that my station was an absolute hit as the patrons attending discovered that there was "free" wine to go with the tasty dishes prepared by the men of Atlanta. I had to pour into those little champagne glasses that you buy at party supply stores with the attachable stems. I figure that I poured somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 glasses of wine in a short span of two hours.

Predictably, the Chardonnay was the most requested wine that afternoon but I took a small measure of pleasure in noting that many attendees after tasting the Pinot or the Zinfandel did return for a second helping of the reds once the white wine was gone. I was further encouraged by the good reception of the Zinfandel. Many of the people present did not know that there was such a thing as "red" zinfandel wine. They soon discovered that the Edmeades was full-bodied and strong at 15.6% alcohol content. It seemed to go well with the spicy food offerings of ribs, lasgana, chile, brunswick stew and jerk chicken that were being served in my immediate area.

This was a wonderful experience for me in that I had an opportunity to "touch" so many people in such a short time frame and to expose them to wine- wines of which they had little, if any, prior experience. I was able to share some relevant information with some but I was simply happy to be able to see so many folks getting their "wine thing on." Kudos to Kendall-Jackson and The 100 Black Women of Atlanta for allowing WOOD ON WINE to participate.

On Dec. 3 I hosted a wine mixer at a local restaurant in Atlanta. ICON Bar and Bistro is a delightful little cafe which seats about 60 people. Sited in the heart of downtown Atlanta, ICON exudes casual elegance and understated style. The cuisine is quite good and the service is personal and straightforward. Their wine list is well rounded and boasts a balanced mixture of reds, whites and international wines. The owner, Eric Girault, is a young man with a vision. He sees ICON as Atlanta's answer to New York style bistros and cafes. It is a place that you need to visit whenever you happen to be in Atlanta.

One of the things that I am beginning to like about my wine experience is the opportunity to put together wine and people in a social setting and to expose different wines to wine enthusiasts. I have been communicating with the folks at Gallo wines in an effort to develop a relationship with them and to acquaint the folks here in Atlanta with their wines. I hope to have the opportunity to host a tasting or dinner in early 2003 with Gallo wines.

So, I was quite surprised to receive a package one day recently from Gallo which contained a sampler of their wines: 2001 Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir Russian River; 2001 Frei Brithers Reserve Chardonnay Russian River; 2001 Gallo of Sonoma Chardonnay; 200 Gallo of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon; 2000 Redwood Creek Sauvignon Blanc, and 2000 Redwood Creek Cabernet Sauvignon.

Since I don't profess to be a wine expert and I don't rate or recommend wines as an "expert," I had no qualms about accepting the wine and drinking it and sharing my thoughts. I have to confess that my experience with Gallo wines date back to "in the day" when we chugged wine from the big Gallo jugs in paper cups. I remember when we used to first drink all of the white and then we'd move to the red because that was what was left. Yet, I have nothing but fond and good memories of my early Gallo experiences.

With that background in mind, allow me to share a few observations about the "new" Gallo wines I sampled. Clearly, the Frei wines were what I'd call distinctive and worthy of exploring in further and greater detail. The Pinot Noir was excellent as was the Chardonnay. They are both priced in what I consider to be upper end at $20 to 24, $and they compare quite favorably with other wines in the same price range. Regrettably, I sampled both of these during an evening with friends and without a meal. However, I have no doubt that both will stand their own with a good meal.

The Gallo of Sonoma Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines were also good and held their own. Of these two, I liked the Chardonnay a lot better than the Cabernet. Priced in the affordable range($11-13), they are well worth the investment for a casual evening of wine drinking. The Redwood wines tasted were adequate and again are worth the retail cost of $8. Much thanks to Carmen Castorina and Tim McDonald for sharing their goods.

I have come to learn that marketing is a key for wines that are intended to reach the masses and are designed for casual drinking. Price and quality are obviously essential variables and people will repeatedly buy those wines that they like and that sell at an affordable price. This factor is even more essential when it comes to holiday wine drinking. I, for one, find that I am much more cost conscious when I am buying wines for a group gathering. A difference of $2 or $3 per bottle adds up quickly when you are buying a case or two for entertaining purposes.

No one wants to buy and serve inferior wines and one's guests will politely let you know when they don't like a particular type of wine simply by choosing not to drink all that you have to serve. I am reminded of the times when I used to serve mixed drinks and alcoholic stuff at my parties and I'd buy a bottle of gin, vodka, rum, bourbon, cognac and scotch. I was always amazed to discover the next morning (or afternoon) that all of the liquor I bought was gone except for the Scotch which remained unopened. I had about 3 or 4 bottles of Scotch on my bar after several parties when I finally realized that my folks just didn't like Scotch. So it is with wine that doesn't measure up. It pays to be "penny wise but not pound foolish."

So, I say again that I enjoy the month of December when it comes to the enjoyment of wine. It has been a good month for me thus far and I have 10 more days to go. As I savor the remaining days of 2002, I look forward to the ritualistic rites of passage from 2002 to 2003 and New Years Eve. I have deliberately avoided drinking Champagne all month as I know that I will catch up quickly with all deliberate speed. I am hosting a New Years Eve Dinner and Party at another of my favorite restaurants here in Atlanta - COMMUNE. The evening promises to be truly wonderful and I look forward to sharing the advent of the new year with about 50 of my close friends and fellow wine enthusiasts.

Here's hoping that you, too, enjoy your December wine journey and that you will end the year with a bang. Be safe and have a wonderful holiday season.

Dec. 21, 2002

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