Impress your friends, family and host without breaking the bank!
It is that time of the year again… The Holidays… you have 12 holiday parties to go to, 2 dinners with your family and then New Year’s Eve. That makes 12 host gifts, 2 dishes or wine to bring to your family’s house for dinner and Bubbles for New Year’s. The obvious choice is to bring wine (at least for me). So how do you avoid bringing the same old boring wines that everyone else brings? I am here to share my personal holiday wine tips to help guide you while keeping it under $20 per bottle. First, “the only job of a wine is to be delicious” as my friend Tim always says. It does not have to be expensive. The part of your homework is to find a good retailer that can help you get these wines.
So let’s break it down:
White wines, Red wines and Bubbles (maybe Port) can all be good and inexpensive. I’ll put a list of specifics together at the end, but for now I will just rant about the grapes themselves.
It seems more and more that people tell me “no I don’t drink white wine, only robust reds”. My response is, “Well you are missing out on half of the great wines in the world!” I say this more for me I suppose. I digress, good interesting white wines that are good and different. I think people get bored with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio – you know the usual suspects. So let’s do something different this year! How about Riesling (dry or sweet) or Gruner Veltliner, maybe and Albarinio or Grenache Blanc, Viognier perhaps. So many white wines from all around the world to choose from…Scheurbe or Chenin Blanc. No need to be afraid of these wines because they are interesting and tasty.
Now let’s deal with sweet wines. I hear “oh my, I don’t drink sweet wines.” Again, why not? Sweet wines are tasty, generally low in alcohol and often misunderstood. First thing to get out of you head is: all German wines are sweet and all Rieslings are sweet. This is just not true, and so what if they have a little sweetness, it is like drinking peaches and apricots in a field full of flowers (who wouldn’t want to do that?) Ask any sommelier their favorite white wine. I would bet 9 out of 10 would say German Riesling. What? Yup! it is the best kept secret in the wine business. While everyone is obsessed with dry white wines, the wine industry is secretly drinking all the tasty German Rieslings. Why? Because they taste good and are great food wines. I would even argue the best food white wine in the world. Also, look for Sheurebe (a cross of Silvaner and Riesling) from Germany…so good!! You are still not convinced and you want a dry white wine? Well, how about a Gruner Veltliner? “Those are from Austria and are in the German section so they must be sweet” people may say. Nope!! These are some of the great dry whites in the world – don’t confuse them with wines from Germany. By law, Austrian wines are dry. So you are looking for more of the Chardonnay- style wines with new and unique flavors? One of my favorite white wines is Grenache Blanc, either from France or Spain! Grenache Blanc has been one of the staples for Southern Rhone whites for thousands of years! They are voluptuous and stylish!! Don’t forget about Viognier. Ah, and then Chenin Blanc – the great white from the Loire Valley (and of course California)…rich and flavorful – a must have! Don’t turn your back on white wines this holiday season. It does not make you more of man (or woman) or more sophisticated if you just drink Reds. You just miss out on half of the great wines of the world.
Now to Bubbles!!
Champagne you say is so expensive…there are great sparkling wines under $20 bucks. Let’s Start with Prosecco – Italy’s great bubbly wine… juicy and fruity made from the Gelra grape with just the right amount of sweetness. Cava from Spain…a wonderful Champagne alternative. Made in the Pendes from grapes no one has ever heard of (macabeu, parellada and xarel·lo) and Chardonnay. Cavas are produced in the Method Champenoise (or traditional method) or in layman’s terms: the same as they do in Champagne, meaning the secondary fermentation is in the bottle. You say “I am just into domestic wines.” Well how about a nice Bubbly from New Mexico? Gruet - a great domestic producer making stunning Bubbles from Chardonnay and Pinot noir. They have been in the Wine Spectator Top 100 and are always listed as a Best Buy. Gruet produces several styles and sweetness levels. There are other domestic producers making Sparkling wines from all sorts of grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Bubbles are a wonderful food wine, aperitif and a great way to start a Sunday, too.
Now, what you all have been waiting for… Red wines to impress your friends and family!!
Red wines can range from delicate to bold, from fruity to earthy, and from medium to full-bodied. How to choose, how to choose… First, figure out the style you enjoy. If you only like Cab and Zin, then you are most likely are in the bold fruit-forward, full- bodied camp. If you like Pinot, then you are generally in the delicate, fruity/earthy, medium-bodied camp. So let’s talk about wines you have never tried and where they would fall.
How about Syrah (I know not very creative). People generally are unaware of how great this grape can be – expressing full, bold flavors, meaty undertones, straight up rock ‘n roll. Cabernet Franc is a wonderful alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. Petite Verdot , Petit Sirah and Malbec will all fall into the bold and beautiful category. Let’s talk sleek and elegant…Grenache, Tempranillo, Zweigelt, and Blaufrankish are all some of my favorite varietals in that category. I think being creative in your wine selection is not only fun but it shows that you have put some thought into your selections versus just running into the grocery store and picking up whatever is on the end cap.
Don’t forget Port. I always enjoy a bit of port by the fire swirling it in a big snifter as the wood crackles and the snow falls. Generally, in the under $20 category, you will find Fine Ruby and Fine Tawny Ports. A Ruby is going to be more fruit forward with red fruit dominating and a Tawny can be more nutty and golden. Both are delicious and make great gifts. I find that very few people go out and buy Port just to have around, but I also have found that no one turns down Port on a cold and wonderful holiday evening.
My rant is all food for thought… not the Holiday rule. I will also quote the great comedic actor Kristen Wiig “When you go out of your comfort zone and it works… there is nothing more satisfying.” So this holiday season, explore some new wines and enjoy your time with coworkers, friends and family.
~ Jeff Hickenlooper, CSW
BTW Here is a list of wines I would recommend: