Wine writer Paul Gregutt offers this selection of wines for holiday entertaining.
Here come the holidays, and with them the yin-yang of stress and celebration. Putting great food on the table is a big part of the fun, but finding wines to go with the food — that’s where the stress begins. So let’s make it easy. Here are 10 great wine ideas for all your holiday entertaining.
Wines for casual entertaining
Riesling is the universal white wine, especially when done in a dry style. Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 2009 Dry Riesling is listed at $10 but often sells for less. It’s loaded with tart fruit flavors of apple, pear, grapefruit and lemon, and it is versatile enough for a wide range of appetizers and snack foods.
Castle Rock is a California-based producer that makes a number of wines from both Oregon and Washington grapes. My favorite is the Castle Rock 2008 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Selling for around $10, it is a dark, tannic, earthy wine with black cherry fruit and highlights of licorice and black tea. It will take on anything hearty, from burgers to prime rib.
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Get the party started wines
Nothing says “party” like a bottle of bubbly. Champagnes and Champagne-style wines are also quite versatile, and especially good with salty appetizers from chips to caviar. My favorite budget bubblies this year come from Cupcake Vineyards — a Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay and a Brut Rosé Pinot Noir, both sourced from the Lacheteau winery in France’s Loire valley. These are non-vintage wines, made by the Champagne method, and priced at $15.
For your 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. I most recently enjoyed a 2004 A. Margaine “Special Club” Brut (imported by Theise) and a pair of Kacher Selections — the Lamiable 2004 Les Meslaines Grand Cru Brut and the Pascal Doquet NV Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc. Expect to pay $35 to $75 for most grower Champagnes, though during the holiday season you’ll often find the best deals.
Main course white wines
If you are drinking white wine with your main course, it is probably turkey. Why not push the envelope by opening a dry and peppery/spicy Grüner Veltliner from Austria? Look for the word Kamptal on the label — a prime growing region, with the hot day/cold night climate that gives our Washington wines their spark. The 2009 Brundlmayer “Kamptaler Terrassen” Grüner Veltliner is priced just over $20 and worth it, but you can find other good examples for less. Don’t worry about older vintages. If stored properly, they can improve for up to a decade.
For an equally delicious local offering, grab Willow Crest’s 2009 Pinot Gris. This is estate-grown from some of the oldest Pinot Gris vines in Washington, with vivid fruit flavors of pear and apple, emphasized with racy acidity. It retails for around $10.
Main course red wines
The third Thursday of November is when the Beaujolais Nouveau arrives from France. My advice is to skip the Nouveau and grab a bottle of Beaujolais from the 2009 vintage. This is the vintage that 77-year-old Georges Duboeuf called “the vintage of a lifetime.” Look for a Beaujolais-Villages from Duboeuf or almost any producer in 2009. An especially fine value is the 2009 Beaujolais-Villages from Paul Etienne ($10).
Oregon Pinot Noir is generally a budget-buster, but there is a surplus of grapes and wineries are scrambling to offer at least one wine under $20. King Estate has introduced a brand called Acrobat, and the 2009 Acrobat Pinot Noir, list-priced at $18, has clean varietal flavors and a pleasing finish with dusty, chocolate undertones. This is a wine you will want to decant as it is quite young and needs oxygen to open up the flavors.
Decadent dessert wines
Washington’s Pacific Rim winery specializes in Rieslings, in every style, but they also make a little-known Framboise. This fortified raspberry dessert wine comes in half bottles and sells for around $15. The raspberries are grown at a Mount Vernon berry farm; this is like a sip of summer. Drink Framboise from your smallest wine glasses, and serve it with vanilla ice cream or chocolate truffles.
The best value in a dessert wine that I’ve tasted this year is Forgeron’s 2008 Late Harvest Sémillon ($14 for a half bottle). A perfect ending to any holiday celebration.