“Bring the wine.” Saddleback Cellars Rancher Red 2013

Please don’t misunderstand — I enjoy cooking. It’s one of my favorite things to do. That said, since taking up my post as wine-writer-in-residence I also enjoy the fact that, nine and a half times out of ten, when I ask “what can I bring?” to my host in waiting, as I did my mother-in-law a few days ago, their reply is “bring the wine.”

And so again today I brought the wine. Christmas 2017. So much to celebrate. So much to think about. We had seen my in-laws just the night before, but of course, this time of year there’s no quota on family visitation. After the kids napped yesterday, we packed up the car with gifts, deviled eggs, and a diaper bag full of diapers and wine, and drove across Omaha to again be again with family for Christmas.

When we got there, Sonja’s brother, his wife, and their son — who is only a week younger than our daughter, were already there, sipping at spiced tea and watching some poorly-filmed documentary on escaping from Alcatraz. We sat around talking for the better part of an hour while the prime rib finished cooking, then rested. We talked about the NFL and neatly avoided the topic of politics, until he meat at last invited us all to dine with is succulent aromas.

If you know the name of the edges of a prime rib cut, please notify me. For those unfamiliar, a prime rib typically has a center that is cooked pink, surrounded by a layer of fat, and then an exterior layer of darker, denser meat that is as savory and flavorful as bone marrow. That is the edge I am talking about, and I could eat it as my only meal every day and be happy, probably forever. Of course, I would need a wine to pair it with.

When I am told “Bring the wine,” as was the case today, I take it seriously. I ask what is being served and try to take into consideration what I know about the palates of those who will be imbibing with me. For prime rib this time, I chose a familiar wine that had recently been given to me by a new friend.

The 2013 Saddleback Cellars Rancher Red wants for nothing on its own, yet I was impressed at how much those rich edges of prime rib helped coax out still more flavor, making this a food wine to be reckoned with. Deep, dark purple coloration, a subtle nose, this is a wine from the legendary Nils Venge. Now in his 80’s, Venge is one of the last of the old guard of Napa Valley, a vintner who apprenticed for the masters and made a name for himself while most of Napa’s current winemakers were still in diapers.

On the palate, this wine boasts deep, ripe purple fruits and ample leathery qualities, earthy notes, and undertones of brighter red fruits as it opens up. Refined tannins and good balance, the finish lingers. I recommend decanting it if possible, or cellaring it for a while as it is certainly age-worthy. This is a quality wine with “Napa” written all over it. It paired perfectly with prime rib, though I strongly suspect it would pair diversely with everything from beef to barbecue pork.

After dinner, we went downstairs and opened gifts. My in-laws gave Sonja and I a gift certificate to the restaurant of the hotel where we stayed for our wedding, and Titus — our two-year-old, ran gifts to everyone in his pajamas while wearing sunglasses and very much enjoyed being the center of attention.  I poured a stiff drink and we put the game on; relaxation came naturally. And now, as I finish writing this, I look up at the clock and realize that I need to go wake Sonja, hop in the shower, and load up the car so that we can drive three hundred miles and do it all again with my family. I do love this time of year.

Merry Christmas,



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