December 26, 2006
Touches of Spring in Winter

I ate so much beef this year I decided to pass up the traditional roast over Christmas weekend for baked chicken with a Moroccan lilt - cumin, lemon, saffron, chickpeas, green and black olives.

This also meant bypassing the traditional cabernet sauvignon. No problem there, since I'd just received two of the more popular wines made by Vino Noceto in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley.

Both are full of character, vivid with fruit and great values, and I suspected their fruitiness would flatter the spirited and diverse flavors of the chicken. They did.

I also need to note that they aren't your typical winter wines. Both, in fact, are spring and summer wines, naturals for a garden party. If I put off writing about them until spring, however, that wouldn't do anybody any good because they typically are sold out by then.

Therefore, consider this a public service: The pink, floral and lean Vino Noceto 2006 Shenandoah Valley Rosato di Sangiovese ($13), a wine with refreshingly snappy strawberry fruit, and the sweet, floral and lightly spritzy Vino Noceto 2006 Shenandoah Valley Frivolo Moscato Bianco ($13) just have been released.

Even if you don't like to drink spring wines in the winter, grab them now and hang on to them until warmer weather - if you can. Actually, the unusual Frivolo is a perfectly fitting wine for New Year's Eve, not only for its gentle effervesence and low alcohol (7.5 percent) but for its body and sweetness, making it fitting as either aperitif before dinner, dessert after dinner, or accompaniment to assorted appetizers at the outset.

The Gullets are sangiovese specialists, so the rosato is a natural fit in their lineup. On the other hand, the Frivolo - Italian for "frivolous" - is a blend of underappreciated muscats that has such an enthusiastic following that the road to Plymouth is likely to be pretty busy this year-end week.

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