A Basketful of Bottles for Easter

(By Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
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By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Wednesday, March 19, 2008; Page F05

The first public miracle Jesus was said to have performed was turning water into wine at a wedding feast. (The wine was well reviewed, deemed to be the "choicest" served at the event.) This Easter Sunday, it's fitting that wine have a place of honor at the table.

On Easter that table is popularly graced with an elaborate brunch, and later in the day with ham or lamb accompanied by an array of spring vegetables, then often with chocolate for dessert. We've got just the wine for every course.

Brunch: Reach for a sparkling wine with a hint or more of sweetness that will mirror the sweetness in many brunch items. We loved discovering the NV Chateau Frank Célèbre Crémant New York Sparkling Wine ($20), from the label affiliated with the Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in New York's Finger Lakes region. Made from 100 percent Riesling grapes, it has a flavor reminiscent of honeyed apples, and it is delightful with anything in the French toast, pancake or waffle family. Those who favor red sparklers can opt for Brachetto d'Acqui or sparkling shiraz.

Spring vegetables: Whether they adorn the table as crudites, salads or side dishes at lunch or dinner, spring vegetables -- such as asparagus, peas and new potatoes -- typically are best accompanied by a lighter-bodied, high-acid white. All the better if such a wine provides you with a conversation starter to share with your guests, as does the 2006 Fontana Candida Frascati ($13), which is refreshingly crisp with almond notes. One of Rome's best-selling varieties from one of its leading producers, this is touted as a wine that historically was drunk daily by popes and shared with the public on special Vatican occasions. Greet your guests with a glass, and let it carry you through any lighter dishes featuring poultry, seafood or veal.

Ham: Riesling is a classic, time-honored pairing with ham. Karen's pick this week is the 2006 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling ($21), whose sprightly honey-kissed grapefruit flavors also bring out the best in shellfish and lighter fish dishes.

If you prefer your Riesling with a hint of sweetness elegantly balanced with bright acidity, opt for the 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica ($25). Named for Beethoven's Third Symphony, it is the product of a collaboration of winemakers from Washington state's Chateau Ste. Michelle and Germany's Dr. Loosen. It harmonizes Washington state grapes with Old World winemaking traditions, resulting in an exceptional Riesling worthy of a celebration.

Other options for ham include Gewurztraminer or chardonnay. With an aroma and elegant flavor featuring hints of ripe peach, the 2006 Tapestry McLaren Vale Chardonnay ($17) is a bargain. Prefer a red with your ham? Stick with lighter-bodied, fruitier reds, such as a cru Beaujolais or a pinot noir (including the one mentioned next).

Lamb: Pinot noir is to lamb what Riesling is to ham: a Holy Grail pairing you'll want to sample at least once in your lifetime. Andrew's pick with lamb is the 2005 or 2006 Jacob's Creek Reserve Pinot Noir (a steal at $13). It has loads of fruit (the flavor of juicy black cherries and plums), soft tannins and a long finish.

Two other recommendations from down under spotlight Australia's native shiraz. Their fruitiness made both a pleasure to enjoy on their own -- and sent them off the charts when played against the slight gaminess of lamb. We found the rich and velvety 2004 Tapestry the Vincent Shiraz ($50) mind-blowing with lamb: Its own slightly gamy nose and flavors mirrored those of the meat, while its spicy cooked-fruit (cherries and plums) flavors complemented it. (Decanting is recommended.) At half the price, the slightly leaner and brighter 2006 Tapestry McLaren Vale MV Shiraz ($25), ripe with cherry and blackberry flavors and cocoa notes, was stunning with lamb that had been seasoned with rosemary, which echoed hints of herbaceousness in the wine.

From Spain's first DO Calificada region, the rich 2004 Marques de la Concordia Crianza Rioja ($13) drove us wild when we tasted it with lamb. If you're a wine drinker who prefers your fruity reds anchored by Old World earthiness, you'll find a hint of mushrooms and a bit of smokiness in this one to balance all its cherry fruitiness. It is made from 100 percent old-vine tempranillo grapes, aged for 18 months in new French and American oak barrels.

Other options to keep in mind for lamb: merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel.

Chocolate: Whether you're merely nibbling the kids' chocolate bunnies or indulging in a more grown-up dessert (such as Marcel Desaulniers's seven-layer Death by Chocolate extravaganza; the recipe can be found at, your pleasure will be intensified with the right wine. Pour an NV Osborne Premium Pedro Ximenez 1827 Sherry ($16), whose Goobers-meets-Raisinettes sweetness is a fantastic accompaniment to chocolate.

If you mark Passover rather than Easter, stay tuned: We're planning a column next month devoted to wines appropriate for Seder meal. E-mail your questions to us at the address below.

As for this Sunday, no matter how you choose to spend the day, we hope that you (in the words of Ecclesiastes 9:7) "Eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart."

Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, award-winning authors of "What to Drink With What You Eat," can be reached through their Web site,, or at

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