Holiday 2022 Q&A
sAM NELOM | NOVEMBER 23, 2022
Q: When it comes to holiday dinners, which Spanish whites should I pour?
A: Well, I’m a believer that you should always drink what you like regardless of food! HOWEVER, in terms of great pairings, classic holiday meats like turkey and ham would be beautifully balanced with a barrel aged Viura-based wine from Rioja (think R. López de Heredia - if you are lucky enough to have those!). Then there’s always pure Godello or Godello-based wines from Galicia (Valdeorras particularly), and Priorat Blancos crafted from Garnacha Blanca, a grape that is a foundation for Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blancs. Those wines have a similar texture and lovely acidity that goes so well with anything on the dinner table!
Q: Which Spanish reds should I consider gifting to a friend who is a collector?
A: Always go with the classics for collectors. Único from Vega Sicilia, you will never go wrong there; but consider an older wine from C.V.N.E (Imperial or Viña Real) or an aged López de Heredia red or white also!
Q: For those uninitiated with Spain, where should I start that will get the point across about all the great things Spanish wines have to offer?
A: Start with the wines that most people are familiar with; ones they’re most likely to experience when they begin pursuing Spanish wines on their own. Rioja and Priorat are the first two DOQs (Denominación de Origen y Qualificada) and they offer fascinatingly different perspectives on both red and white wines.
Q: Any Spanish reds you’ve tasted that you’ll never forget? Where were you?
A: The very first older C.V.N.E bottle I had was unforgettable - a Viña Real Gran Reserva 1950! It was about 18 years ago at a dinner with a supplier. When I told him I had never had an older bottle before, he ordered it off the restaurant list. What a wine! I had no idea wines could age like that. Then again, nothing ever quite compares to your first “Aha!” bottle – and for me that was about 21 years ago. My Spanish wine mentors had me try a bottle of 1996 Finca Villacreces Tinto from Ribera del Duero paired with roast duck. It was my very first Ribera del Duero and the combination of the duck and the boldness and richness of the Ribera had me completely in love with this wine! Still carries through for me today!
Q: Could I choose cava as an alternative to Champagne?
A: Depends on the occasion. For casual bubbles with friends, sure! If you’re going out to dinner with clients or knowledgeable friends, go the Champagne route, always!
Q: What are you serving at your table for the holidays?
A: I’m a sucker for white Bordeaux and a particular California Chardonnay producer (Mark Aubert), and my partner likes a good white Burgundy. So for us, I think we’ll be having a 2001 Pape Clement Blanc, a 2015 Aubert Chardonnay Lauren, and 1990 Remoissenet Corton-Charlemagne. For me, great wines make the meal and cement lasting memories, so I always serve some of my best bottles during those intimate holiday meals. The splurge is definitely warranted.
Q: What was the bottle that made you fall in love with Spanish wines?
A: Continuing on the 1996 Ribera del Duero kick (a great vintage for these wines if you’re able to snag some, most likely at auction), 1996 Alión (another Vega Sicilia wine), and the 1996 Pingus, which was my first expensive wine purchase - and back then it was only $300 a bottle!
Q: You’ve traveled to so many amazing places over the years, what’s one of your favorite memories from your wine travel adventures?
A: My favorite memory was the experience that made me realize that I wanted to make wine my career. I had only been in the business for a year, and on my very first wine travel trip, to Bordeaux, on the penultimate evening, I had dinner at Chateau Palmer. The estate director gave the group a blind tasting of four different vintages. Of everyone, I was the only person to not only guess right, but to guess ALL FOUR vintages correctly! And on this trip with me were sommeliers and buyers who had worked in the industry 20+ years! My boss at the time told me I had a gift, and I realized that I really loved doing this! That was 20 years ago, and here I am today. 😊
Q: What is the most surprising food and wine pairing you’ve ever experienced?
A: White Bordeaux—particularly, 1999 Château Pape Clement Blanc—with lobster ravioli in pumpkin aioli. I had it many years ago at the old Le Cirque at a dinner with Bernard Magrez. I try to recreate this meal every fall. It’s always tasty, but never quite the same as the first time. It’s a delicious fall meal and I would highly recommend anyone try it, particularly with a white Bordeaux that has more Sémillon than Sauvignon Blanc in the blend.
Q: If you could host an event with anyone in the world – who would you invite, and what would you drink?
A: At first I thought this would be tough – but I guess, not so much! I am a HUGE fan (understatement of the century!) of Raúl Pérez, so it would be with him, and I would invite everyone in the world who hasn’t had the opportunity to taste his wines to do so with us. I’m a believer and I think the rest of the world should be, too. 😊
Q: What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
A: I make an incredible mac-and-cheese, or so I’ve been told by those who have had a chance to try it, anyway! It is a go-to in winter, and up in the rotation a lot because it’s my favorite comfort food. Definitely paired with Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Trust me on this. 😉
Born and raised in New York City, Sam is a private client specialist, and holds the title of Acker’s resident Spanish wine expert. Sam’s Acker tenure began in 2007, and his passion and expertise are rooted in the great wines of Spain, as well as the world’s great white wines. He has traveled to Europe (and particularly, to Spain) many times since beginning his journey into wine, and has written about his tasting experiences and adventures for Acker’s Wine Club program and beyond.