Wine Wisdom for the Holidays

By - Nov 1st, 2004 02:52 pm
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By Nathan Norfolk

How do holidays turn into horror days? You’re shopping for kids only to realize you don’t know the difference between Shrek and Sponge Bob. You’re making food for a million in-laws, each with different dietary restrictions. You’re buying wine and you don’t know Bordeaux from Burgundy. That first glimpse of smiling cardboard pilgrims and paper snowflakes can truly make you lose sleep. And while the only way out of most holiday stress is through the middle, here’s something to ease at least the pain of buying and serving wine.

Don’t get too fancy.
If you’re going to bring wine to a gathering and you won’t be pouring it yourself, do yourself two favors:  keep things simple and be frugal. It will only hurt your pride and your pocketbook when you see your unopened bottle of thirty dollar “chateau what’s it called” next to a half empty jug of red rot-gut. Just offer a red and a white. Holiday gatherings are usually not the type of affair where you’ll talk to your grandmother about the subtleties of French viniculture.

This is exactly where those wines that everybody’s heard of play a nice part. As far as reds go, Merlot is a good start. It’s on the heavier side, so it’s great for the colder fall and winter months. Most inexpensive Californian Merlots aren’t too dry either. Let’s face it – the stuff is popular for a reason. Castle Rock 2002 Napa Valley Merlot ($10) is a steal – it has a soft berry fruit and just a touch of warm oak and vanilla on the finish, and it won’t clash with most food. Pinot Grigio is Merlot’s white counterpart. Some still can’t live without Chardonnay, but most of the inexpensive stuff on the market is so woody and flabby, it ruins the food you pair it with. This is exactly why Pinot Grigio is so popular in restaurants – it can do what most Chardonnays only dream of. Placido 2003 Pinot Grigio ($8) is amazingly light and crisp with the faintest hint of refreshing lemon. It’s perfect for all poultry and pork, and even spicier foods.

For gifts of thanksgiving.
The pilgrims didn’t have an infinite array of gastronomic choices. This made things easy for them, but it also gave us turkey – for better or worse. You have the opportunity to spice things up by adding some great wine. One of the benefits of the jaw-dropping selection of wine available is the many that complement a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Shiraz is on everyone’s lips – it’s big, bold and spicy. Black Wing 2002 South Australian Shiraz ($10) is thick, unctuous and peppery. If you’re a fan of heavy reds, this is your turkey wine. Fuedo Monaci 2002 Primitvo Puglia ($9) is inexpensive and less acidic than Shiraz (Primitvo is like Chianti’s little brother) and medium-bodied, with an herbaceous fennel taste, pairing nicely with seasoned stuffing.

Holiday meals are also perfect for the guilty pleasure of light, slightly sweet whites. You can be elegant, frugal and please the sugar lovers all at once. Firestone 2003 Gewurztraminer Santa Ynez Valley ($11) has a viscous honey and pear fruit with a tiny dollop of sweetness. It is the medium-bodied white alternative to Chardonnay, although not as easy to pronounce.

No Need to pop your cork.
Some great wines are going corkless. Three Thieves 2002 California Zinfandel ($10) comes in a one liter jug with a screw top. It’s unoaked, plummy and soft and dry; a great Thanksgiving red and a good gift for introducing the skeptical to wine without corks. If you think heavy reds will scare off your turkey gobbling guests, Pinot Noir is the answer. Michel Magnien 2002 Pinot Noir Grand Ordinaire Burgundy ($14) is light and silky, yet as complex as any full-bodied red. This is great for turning the squeamish on to the subtle earthy flavors of French Pinot Noir.

All these wines are great inexpensive gift ideas as well – hopefully, the recipients will be thankful enough to share. VS

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