Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday Wine Selections

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

The Holiday season is upon us, and with many thirsty guests parading through the house how will you spread Christmas cheer after Scrooge just put a lump of coal in your stocking?

This post is not about saving money on wine per se - there are many writers out there pitching inexpensive wines in these trying times. But beyond the challenge of serving buckets of wine to a hungry crowd without breaking the bank, Holiday gatherings require other important considerations:

Will your inexpensive wine taste good in a plastic wine glass?
Will it work at room temperature?
Will it pair with canapes and egg rolls, dips and cheeses, pizza slices, nuts, etc.?
And - most importantly - will it please the wine neophytes AND your snobby wine friends (especially when they know you have a fine, well-stocked cellar)?

There are no easy answers to these, but here are some thoughts on navigating these shoals:

1) Bubbles: Dry bubblies are food friendly with a variety of cuisines, and do not have to be expensive. Plus, nothing says 'party' like a glass of bubbly. I also expect that your wine snob friends will raise less of a fuss with good, inexpensive bubbles. Spanish cava tops my list for inexpensive "boules", but bubblies from the non-Champagne regions of France also offer some tremendous values (Check out Neil's blog for bubbles at a variety of prices)

2) New world and old world: Fruitier, modern-styled wines are great sipping wines and tend to be appreciated by recreational winos, but your knowledgeable friends may pass and switch to beer. I suggest trying to find a middle ground - try an old world wine maker with a more modern winemaking style, or a new world winemaker with a more traditional style. A good shopkeeper should be able to point you in the right direction, and if they look puzzled just leave (or see my list below...)

3) The "Red": Fruity Aussie Shiraz and Argentinian Malbec are all the rage, but my personal recommendation is for Cabernet Sauvignon as your red choice for the evening - easy to find, a well-chosen cab should be flavourful, reasonably versatile while and withstand the warm environment, and will probably better please both the rookies and the afficianados. A very close second would be a good Portuguese red (typically made from obscure, indigenous grapes) - these can be inexpensive, versatile and well structured, but availability for some readers may be an issue. Inexpensive Spanish wines made from Tempranillo would be a third choice.

4) The "White": Guests may pour the wine chilled, but in the heat of the party these will warm up fast so you need a versatile grape that will work at warmer temperatures. I love the versatility of Chardonnay in this setting, but I find the cheap stuff falls apart when warm. Thus, I have to go with a Sauvignon Blanc - South Africa and Chile have some nice, inexpensive SB, New Zealand will be a bit pricier, but there are some inexpensive French SB as well.

Here are some holiday picks that take into account my guidelines above, price and availability.

Cheap bubbly ideas:

Codorniu Clasico Brut Cava (Spain)
Freixenet Cava Cordon Negro Brut (as suggested by Debs) (Spain)
2004 Sieur d'Arques "La Bulle de Limoux" (a bit pricier) (France)

Cheap white ideas:

Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc (S. Africa)
Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc (Chile)
"Les Jamelles" Sauvignon Blanc (France)
Domaine du Salvard Cheverny
Carmen Chardonnay (Chile) (one cheap Chard that can take the heat)

Cheap red ideas:

Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile)
Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile)
Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon (Argentina)
Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignon Yellow Label (Australia)
Portuguese Reds (1,2)

If you are not hosting a party, note that many of these suggestions would make ideal good gifts to bring the hosts of other parties.

Feel free to post some of your own ideas for wine that works when served in bad glassware, at the wrong temperature, and paired with rather wine unfriendly foods...(or send me an email for more ideas)

And remember - drink in moderation and don't drink and drive.



Edward said...

The battle in Australia is what red wine to drink when it is 100 degrees F! Pinot is my usual pick. I tend to serve the cheaper more accessihble stuff early on and then open the more expensive bottles latter in the day, when only the hard core are still drinking and eating.

Other local challenge is - what to drink at the beach, which is the traditional Christmas family destination in Australia (especially as many local beaches ban alcohol consumption, because of loutish behaviour).

Joe said...

Yes, weather is an important factor - that is why Americans drink 50:50 red:white while Canadians are more like 75:25 - hard to sip a chilled glass of chardonnay on the patio when your feet are knee deep in snow. Funny that you serve the better stuff to the drunkards at the end when their palate is ruined - rather counter-intuitive, but I do the same - my hard core wine buddies stick around to raid the cellar. I've heard about those Christmas beach parties down under...

Barry said...

Joe..can you ban Edward posting on this 'Xmas' subject..!!!
100 Degrees..and here I ***** freezing...mind reds do suit more to the cold weather...
He is right about Pinot tho..and I think he's been at the bottles already..his spelling is getting wuurse!
I don't let anyone in who doesn't appreciate the good stuff(smile)
but if it happens..then the above in red..or a Viognier always pleases everyone. will soon be over..and we can get back to drinking normally..
I need to start planning for Easter..what goes well with a hard boiled egg...don't tell's white and from Burgundy..

Shea said...

I agree with your cab comments. Alamos is a good pick. I also go for Santa Rita's Medala Real cab. Cheap and tasted good in plastic :).

Beaches are great and all, but beaches on christmas? I have an Aussie friend here who I constantly mock about that. He has yet to convince me that the opposite side of the world makes any sense.

Oh, and Ed, don't you just drink VB down there when it's hot? ;)

David said...

I like the Cava and Tempranillo recommendations. Just picked up a good Cavathe other day for $8--acceptable at least for serving at a party.

Joe said...

Barry, I'm with you - he's probably going to post some beach picnic wine on Christmas day. But you don't know freezing... Is there any food or situation where you wouldn't suggest Pinot? ;) I like that Viognier suggestion, but I couldn't think of any $12 Viogniers (VdP Cotes de Gascogne could work here as well).

Shea - never had the Santa Rita Medalla Real cab - will look for it.

David - which Cava did you get?

Edward said...

The strangest thing about Christmas in Australia, is trying to eat a traditional lunch (which we will do) of Turkey, Ham etc etc when it is boiling hot outside. Will probably head to the beach on Boxing day. . .

Joe said...

I guess the Cranberry sauce gets a bit runny in the heat and the sand in the Turkey makes for a crunchy sympathies.