The holidays are rapidly bearing down on us, with their mix of excitement and excess, friends and family, food and fun.
Wines are never more central to celebrations than at this time of the year, especially when matching them to the many occasions, both formal and casual, when you are hosting.
Whether you are planning a full-tilt holiday dinner or simply putting out some wine and appetizers for drop-ins, there is no reason to stress out over the wines. It is the rare food and wine match that really bombs and the best way to avoid any risk at all is to have at least one sparkling, one white and one red wine available for your guests to choose from.
Avoid the temptation to buy multiple bottles of the same wine. It’s much more fun to buy single bottles of different wines and let your guests find their own favorite combinations.
Here are affordable wine suggestions to go with a variety of events. The one splurge (if you so choose) should be on a bottle of real French Champagne, which is the most important celebration wine in the world. That’s the bottle you tuck away to share with just one special person.
Wines for casual entertaining
You never know when friends will drop by, so have a few wines on hand ready to go. Here are a couple of good options:
Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 2009 Dry Riesling (about $10) could be considered the perfect, all-purpose white wine. They make many rieslings, but I especially like the dry version (and it’s labeled dry so you can’t miss it) because its tart fruit flavors are versatile enough for a wide range of appetizers, salty snacks, poultry and even oysters.
For an affordable Washington red, try the Castle Rock 2008 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (about $10). Tannic and earthy, it nonetheless offers black cherry fruit and flavor highlights of licorice and black tea. Try it with burgers, hangar steak or pot roast.
Nothing gets a party started better than a bottle of bubbly. If you want to keep costs down, look for an Italian Prosecco. For $12 you can’t beat the Secco Brut White and Secco Brut Rosé, both beautifully packaged and really delicious. The white is a blend of Prosecco and pinot bianco; the rosé a blend of Prosecco and pinot nero.
France also makes very fine sparkling wines from outside the Champagne region. Look for the Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay and Brut Rosé Pinot Noir bearing the Cupcake Vineyards label. Both are produced by the Lacheteau winery in France’s Loire valley, made by the Champagne method and priced at $15.
For a splurge Champagne ask your retailer to recommend a grower Champagne, preferably from a Grand Cru vineyard. These are small production wines, produced and bottled by the family that grows the grapes, rather than by a huge Champagne house.
Importers Terry Theise and Robert Kacher bring in some very fine examples. Expect to pay $35 to $75 and be ready to hide the bottle!
Whites for the main course
With turkey you are well-served with an aromatic white wine, such as a dry riesling or gewürztraminer. If you are feeling adventurous, try serving a peppery, Austrian grüner veltliner. Prices range from around $12 up to about $35.
Try the 2009 Brundlmayer “Kamptaler Terrassen” Grüner Veltliner ($22) for a taste of the best.
A local option would be a Washington pinot gris. Most are vividly fruity, lively with juicy acidity and fermented in stainless steel, so they will match well with turkey and trimmings.
Look for the Latah Creek 2008 Pinot Gris ($11) – their first ever – light and stylish, with flavors of celery and hints of Asian pear. Also recommended: Northwest Cellars 2009 Goose Ridge Vineyard Pinot Gris ($15) and Willow Crest’s 2009 Pinot Gris ($10).
Reds for the main course
As you read this column, wine shops and grocery stores are welcoming the 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau. Because they are the first wines from the new vintage, they generate a lot of excitement.
But this year you will be better served to skip the Nouveau in favor of 2009 Beaujolais-Villages. It almost doesn’t matter which one you choose – 2009 has been rightly called “the vintage of a lifetime” for Beaujolais. An especially fine value is the 2009 Beaujolais-Villages from Paul Etienne ($10).
Another option is Oregon pinot noir. These days there is a surplus of grapes and some pretty good examples under $20.
The 2009 Acrobat Pinot Noir from King Estate ($18) sports clean varietal flavors and a pleasing finish with dusty, chocolate undertones. And Castle Rock chimes in with a 2009 Pinot Noir ($14) with a mix of tannic earthiness and mouth-coating vanilla cream and strawberry fruit.
Washington’s Pacific Rim winery specializes in rieslings but also makes a Framboise, a fortified raspberry dessert wine. It’s spectacular with vanilla ice cream or chocolate truffles. Half-bottles sell for $15.