G-d bless America, home of the brave, with its high-alcohol, oaky fruit-bombs bursting in air.
For more than a generation, we Americans have embraced a "big" and "bold" wine style and tasting profile that lean toward intense and concentrated fruit flavors, oakiness, high alcohol levels, and low acidity. That's because we Americans are bigger and bolder and better than anyone else on the planet. And it only makes sense that we build our walls bigger and bolder than any other country's and we make our wines with higher alcohol than any other country's.
But when it comes to Easter and Easter Sunday brunch, we can make America (drink) great again by serving wines that make more sense: wines with lower alcohol, higher acidity and more balanced fruit flavors that are calibrated by savory tones and a more judicious use of oak aging.
For most Americans, Easter is a time for a family gathering that starts mid-morning (if you don't go to church) or around lunchtime (if you do). And that's just one of the reasons that low-alcohol wines are so great for this holiday. Low-alcohol wines are intrinsically more food-friendly than higher-alcohol wines. That's partly because alcohol dehydrates Americans, just like all other human beings, and it makes it harder for our bodies to digest our food. It's also because unhinged alcohol levels can overwhelm the flavors in lighter and less-fat-driven foods. A 15 percent alcohol Merlot will work great with a charred rib eye, but it's not going to jibe with an asparagus Béarnaise, a classic spring dish that you will typically find at Easter celebrations across the U.S. Don't believe me? Just try it for yourself and you'll see.
As a rule of thumb, whites with 11-12 percent alcohol (as opposed to 13-14 percent) are considered low-alcohol, as are reds with 13-14 percent (as opposed to 15-16 percent). That single percentage point may not seem like a lot, but it really makes a difference in terms of the balance of the wines. And it also makes a huge difference when it comes to the effect the alcohol is going to have on you as the day progresses.
Sparkling wines generally have lower alcohol than still wines, and some, like Moscato d'Asti from Italy, can even have alcohol levels similar to those in beer (around 7 percent). Its extremely modest "kick" and its residual sugar make it an ideal wine for Easter Sunday brunch. And it also tends to weigh in on the lower end of the price scale. Spec's and supermarkets like Kroger and H-E-B offer the largest selection of sparkling Moscato from Italy. Just make sure that you are getting "current release" wines and not wines that have been sitting on their shelves for more than a year (don't be afraid to inquire and get a straight answer).
Lambrusco from Italy is another wine that fits this category: Low alcohol (usually around 11 percent) and sweetness make these wines great for the smoked, spiral ham that so many people will be enjoying this Sunday. Vinology on Bissonnet offers the best selection of cool, groovy and classic Lambrusco under $20. And Spec's also has a healthy offering of solid wines from Lambrusco country (although, again, make sure you are buying current-vintage wine; this cannot be stressed enough!).
But when it comes to Easter, what wine could be better than classic-style rosé? Part of the reason this category debuts in spring is that it's the time of year when traditional-style wineries release their rosés. It's also a style that pairs beautifully (and doesn't overwhelm) the bounty of spring vegetables that one hopes will appear at Americans' Easter brunch gatherings (asparagus Béarnaise, anyone?). And the best news is that rosés are almost always well balanced in terms of alcohol and acidity. While Spec's has a really solid rosé section, there is no better place in Houston to buy rosé wines — from France, Italy, California and Texas — than the Houston Wine Merchant.
Here are some great wines for Easter — white, rosé, red and sparkling — currently available in our market. Happy Easter, everyone. We can make America (drink) great again.
Tyrell's Wines 2016 Hunter Valley Sémillon
Around $30, Vinology
It's so great to see this excellent, value-driven white wine from Australia in our market (for the first time since our wine writer moved to Texas). Eleven percent alcohol, people. This wine has great character and depth, with nuanced white and stone fruit flavors.
Clos Cibonne 2015 Côtes-de-Provence Tibouren (rosé)
Under $30, Houston Wine Merchant
What a wine! One of the best vintages for this category in recent memory, with remarkable freshness and extremely vibrant fruit.
Montrose 2016 Côtes-de-thongue (rosé)
Under $15, French Country Wines
French Country Wines on Barlett is one of the city's greatest resources for old-school, old-country (low-alcohol, food-friendly) wines from France. This value-driven rosé from Languedoc-Roussillon is fresh and bright with chewy, delicious fruit.
Commanderie de Peyrassol 2016 Côtes-de-Provence (rosé)
Under $30, Houston Wine Merchant
Another French classic, with a richness of a fruit that is balanced by a bright, gorgeous floral nose and lithe texture in the glass.
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Paltrinieri Non-Vintage Lambrusco di Sorbara Radice (red, sparkling)
Under $20, Vinology
Low-alcohol, rosé in color (although not rosé in character) and sparkling? Sounds like a recipe for a great Easter wine.
Ventisquero 2015 Pinot Noir Reserva Valle de Casablanca
Under $20, Premier Fine Wine and Spirits (Bellaire)
Veteran Houston sommelier Sean Essex has taken over the wine buying at this newly opened shop in Bellaire. This modern-style Pinot Noir offers the best of both worlds: lip-smacking fruit, a kiss of oakiness and wonderfully balanced alcohol at 13 percent. Unbeatable for the price.