We are firmly in grilled hamburger season—at least, that’s the case with my family. Every chance we get these days, we toss a few patties on the well-loved Weber kettle in our backyard. Something about the ritual, the charcoal chimney, the scrubbing of the grate with the wire brush, the monitoring of the flames with the kids by my side: It feels as emblematic of late-August as anything I can imagine. And when it comes to pairing those hamburgers with wine, I hit some sort of highlight not too long ago with my red Wine of the Week from the new, limited-production Napa Valley producer Simon Family Estate: The Simon Family Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2019.
Simon Family Estate was founded by Nada and Sam Simon, an Iraqi Catholic immigrant who, over the decades, has gone from nothing to creating a huge business empire, including Simon Group Holdings, a private equity firm. The winemaker is Maayan Koschitzsky, originally from Israel and one of the most respected winemakers in Napa Valley who has, over the years, worked with a who’s who of producers, including Dalla Valle, Screaming Eagle, Lail Vineyards, Atelier Melka, and more.
His work with Simon Family is very impressive. He makes the two Double Blessings Cabs, each one an expression of the vintage but through the two distinct lenses of the two sons of Sam and Nada Simon: The “Michael” bottling is dense and rich, flecked with woodsy spices and has a long, kirsch and cassis-kissed finish, whereas the “Peter” is a bit more open-knit, with tannins that, while promising plenty of aging potential, make it seem a bit more generous right now. I also was very impressed with the “Tigress” Rosé of Grenache, the Golden Ore Sauvignon Blanc, and the Reserve Cab, which will be released in the spring of 2023: Its richness and depth were transporting, lively against its viscosity, with sweet tannins framing kirsch, sachertorte, allspice, clove, cinnamon, tobacco, vanilla, and a hint of something vaguely meaty.
But my red Wine of the Week is available right now through the allocation list: The flagship Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, a wine that balances crushed blue fruit with savory minerality at its core, flashes of kirsch and cafe mocha, and the perfectly charred top of a crème brûlée. Black licorice, a nod in the direction of cured black olives, and cassis linger through the long, elegant, powerful finish.
In a world of seemingly intractable problems, there is something heartening about absolutely fantastic wine being produced through a partnership between an Iraqi Catholic and an Israeli Jew, both of whom have found terrific success in the United States, and who have forged a beautiful friendship over the years through the always-uniting medium of wine.
My white Wine of the Week today is the Champagne Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle No. 25, a wine that embodies so much of what makes the entire portfolio of L-P, as its fans often call it, so special.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier was founded in 1812 and sold in 1939 to Marie-Louise de Nonancourt, née Lanson. Today, it’s helmed by her granddaughters, Alexandra Pereyre de Nonancourt and Stéphanie Meneux de Nonancourt. I had the great good fortune to share lunch and several excellent bottles with Lucie Pereyre de Nonancourt, daughter of Alexandra and the fourth generation to join the family business, and a few colleagues earlier this spring in New York, and came away beyond impressed with her passion, knowledge, and commitment to honoring the Laurent-Perrier legacy while also keeping her sights set firmly on the future. At that lunch, I was bowled over in particular by the range of Grand Siècle bottlings we tasted, the house’s tête de cuvée that, unlike so many other flagships, is non-vintage…or, rather, is an assemblage of great vintage Champagnes into what might be called a single super-blend.
The current release is the Grand Siècle No. 25, a distractingly delicious Champagne of serious length, freshness, and vibrancy whose notes of candied ginger, honeysuckle, and apricots are pulsed with incredible energy and kissed with notes of white strawberries, jasmine, persimmons, dried pineapples, and apple fritters. It’s a testament to the house itself and to the spectacular assemblage of vintages—2006, 2007, and 2008—that define it. Of note is its higher amount of Chardonnay than past bottlings of Grand Siècle, and its extended aging on the lees prior to disgorgement.
Finally, two spirits deserve to be highlighted this week. The first is the Rémy Martin L’Étape, a Cognac that highlights the great house’s commitment to the environment and to moving in an ever more sustainable direction with their production. It’s a Cognac that starts off with fruit from 19 separate growers, each of whom has earned, from the French Ministry of Agriculture, the High Environmental Certificate for their dedication to sustainable and responsible farming practices, spread through the Petite and Grande Champagne regions. Ultimately, 14 eaux-de-vies were identified and blended by cellar master Baptiste Loiseau to create a Cognac whose sweet baking spices and stone fruit aromas found dramatic expression in the palate, alongside touches of passionfruit and the suggestion of cloves and tobacco. (As an aside, L’Étape isn’t an aberration: Rémy Martin has increasingly focused on the environment, working with the soil health organization Genesis and striving to cut back carbon emissions on a per-bottle basis by next year: A reminder that it is often the largest companies that can have the most significant impact on the environment when they choose to, given their scale. This will continue to be ever more important in the years to come, and large firms like Rémy Martin are poised to have serious positive effects.)
And while this is fairly difficult to find—it’s a limited edition, with the emphasis on “limited”—the Rémy Martin Tercet is a great alternative, a Cognac of impressively silky texture and a sweetly fruited, generous palate full of membrillo, cinnamon-dusted chocolate, carob, and clove. Hints of candied oranges and figs make appearances, as do candied pineapples and lightly caramelized white peaches. As for the name, it refers to the trio of people at its core: Grape grower Francis Nadeau, master distiller Jean-Marie Bernard, and cellar master Bernard Loiseau. Together, they have created something really delicious.
And finally, the whiskeys of Cedar Ridge are well worth your attention. They’re distilled, aged, and bottled at the distillery of the same name in Swisher, Iowa, and they are fantastic. I recently swooned over the Port Cask Finished Bourbon, but it’s the Iowa Straight Bourbon Whiskey that I keep going back to. This is one of those whiskeys in which the corn itself is notably prominent and deservedly so. Flavors of lightly browned corn on the cob cooked over an open flame find a delicious counterpoint in cinnamon, chocolate, nougat, pralines, and just a hint of peanut fudge on the white raisin and subtly spiced finish.
Cedar ridge was founded in 2005 and became the first licensed distillery in the state since the end of Prohibition. The Quint family had been farming corn and making their own whiskey for decades, but when they released their first ones in 2010, it was the first time the wider spirits world became familiar with their work. They use their own corn, and embody the grain-to-glass philosophy that’s increasingly focused on these days. This expression is 74% corn joined by 14% malted rye and 12% malted barley. The results are tremendous: From this Iowa Straight Bourbon to the QuintEssential American Single Malt Whiskey, this is very much a whiskey producer worth keeping an eye on…and a glass full of.