Great beginnings deserve great wines. Whether it’s the start of a celebratory evening with friends, an eagerly anticipated first date, or an introduction to the future in-laws, the first bottle poured is part of the first impression made. Fortunately, there is an almost endless array of wines from which to choose, with selections to satisfy everyone from spendthrifts to those who splurge. One need only know where to begin.
Finger Lakes, New York; $16
When searching for a wine to get things off to a great start, riesling is a savvy selection. This oft-misunderstood grape is actually one of the most versatile, its abundant acidity making it a gratifying companion for food.
Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian immigrant and viticulturist, was the first to bring riesling to the Finger Lakes region in New York. Dr. Frank established his winery in 1962, and the family-run winery has been producing consistently well-rated rieslings ever since.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling is part of the winery’s Classic Series, which focuses on the purity of both grape and terroir. Produced with 100 percent riesling grapes, this cooler vintage wine showcases the racy acidity of riesling without sacrificing weight, the middling mouthfeel aided in part by five months of sur lie aging. Pale straw yellow in the glass, there is no mistaking the cloak of petrol, riesling’s telltale aroma, which slowly unveils a vibrant lime core accented by a hint of apricot. Granny Smith apple, Anjou pears, and a magnificent minerality join with lime on the midpalate, before ending in a tart, lip-smacking yuzu finish. Pair with brie and pear quesadillas, Thai food (not too spicy), German turkey weisswurst, and cheese plates.
At $16 a bottle, this is a great value wine. drfrankwines.com
When celebrating beginnings with a bottle of wine, consider the grape that began it all. It is generally recognized that muscat is the oldest cultivated vine in the world. Many Americans might know it better by its Italian name, moscato, which is often enjoyed sweet, is low in alcohol and fizzy, as in Moscato d’Asti.
A version of muscat can be found right here in Connecticut at Jones Winery in Shelton. Sixth-generation farmer Jamie Jones planted his first vines in 1999, and the winery now produces close to two-dozen styles of wine, the majority of which are produced with estate-grown grapes.
The recently introduced Jones Winery Muscat Ottonel is made from 100 percent estate-grown muscat ottonel, a 19th-century crossing that ripens faster than its relatives, a welcome trait in our short-season climate. Definitely not your millennial’s moscato, this complex wine is crafted in the style of the dry Muscats d’Alsace. It is pretty pale gold with water-white highlights. Although somewhat muted, one can detect the “grapey” aroma evocative of hyacinths that is characteristic of muscat, opening to honeyed melon nectar, candied oranges, and white pepper. The viscosity is luscious without being unctuous, with notes of honeydew melon and guava, finishing with a spicy tang. Like a rich dessert wine, sans the sugar. But don’t pair this with dessert. Serve with grilled fish, pan-seared scallops, chicken stew, and Alpine cheeses.
Due to limited production, this wine ($23) is currently only available at the winery’s tasting room. jonesfamilyfarms.com/jones-winery
Champagne, France; $75
There are wines the world over that could fill the role of great first impression-maker, but no single style of wine embodies that role more so than champagne. It is the quintessential party starter and a welcome guest wherever it goes.
Founded in 1729, Maison Ruinart is the oldest established champagne house. Although the first, it is not widely known in the U.S. But it should be. Like America, Ruinart shares a love affair with chardonnay, the dominant grape in all of their bubbly. That chardonnay truly shines in Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, their 100 percent chardonnay nonvintage champagne.
Power meets elegance in this sublime sparkler. Warm lemon-yellow in the glass, the frothy mousse finally succumbs to the persistent perlage, drawing you to a nose profuse in lightly toasted brioche, apple blossoms, green apple, and lemon curd. This bubbly is at once elegant and rich on the palate, summoning the sensation of silk organza. Redolent of quince and pineapple, with a hint of marzipan, this beautifully balanced bubbly envelops your mouth in a creamy shroud, then leaves it brightened and uplifted. In addition to its celebratory symbolism, champagne provides the perfect pairing for an array of appetizers and entrées alike. This is where champagne truly sparkles. Pair with cheese, fried oysters, raclette fondue, and miso-glazed Chilean sea bass.
Making this great of a first impression will cost you around $75. A small price to pay for starting off on the right foot. ruinart.com/en-us