Each year, after deciding what to include in the holiday spread, the question always arises, "What the “&#$%” am I supposed to serve my guests with all these different dishes?" And this year, more so than ever, there is a need for a special type of wine, whether to serve or simply present as a gift. No, I’m not referring to Manischewitz (more about that later). Nor am I speaking of that barely quaffable swill that comes in a jug or goes by the name of “Two Buck Chuck” (no one, no matter how desperate, should have to drink such wines over the holidays.) The wines I speak of are ones that will still provide enough “wow factor” for your family and your guests, without cutting Chanukah a couple days short, or having to explain to little Johnny and Sally that Santa was too hungover from Two Buck Chuck to carry all their gifts this year from the North Pole.
Today, the market is flooded with fantastic value-driven wines from around the world (under $20 is the magic number this year). Usually this is a great problem to have, but over the holidays, the last thing anyone wants to be doing is sifting through a mass selection of wine, trying to figure out what goes with the ham, which white to serve with the first course, and where to find a respectable Kosher wine for their Jewish in-laws. To simplify the process, here are some guidelines to lead you in the right direction, as well as a selection of some of my top holiday wines under $20 for 2009.
1. Stick with the Theme of the Holidays
Holiday-themed wine? Rudolph’s Red Nose Cuvée? Not really. The idea of the holidays is to spend time with your friends and family, and have fun while doing so. When it comes to the wine, you want to seek out those really cool wines that you don’t have to fuss over and can just tip back and enjoy. But most importantly, you want to select wines that will impress your guests and give them something to remember.
There’s two ways of going about this. One, you can take the easy road and spend a fortune, selecting well-known, high-profile wines that are bound to impress, or you can take the path of the savvy vinophile and pick out some rockstar wines from the lesser-known regions of the wine world for a far less out-of-pocket expense. The latter speaks volumes of the host too, showing that they went the extra mile to select wines that no one mostly likely had tasted prior, making the occasion even that more special.
2. Think Big!
When I say “big,” I don’t mean the full-bodied, monster wines some people tend to enjoy with a juicy, fat-laden ribeye at a steakhouse (as do I). For the holidays, you want quite the opposite, especially when it comes to price. In regards to selecting food-friendly wines to serve alongside the various dishes in the holiday spread, you want to select wines that have big personalities with lots of versatility, and “get along” with numerous flavor profiles, textures, etc. This translates to richer styles of white wines such as barrel-fermented Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurtztraminer, and Riesling in some cases. For red, the Rhone varietals are awesome, including but not limited to Syrah, Grenache (a.k.a. Garnacha in Spain), and Mourvedre. Pinot Noir across the board can be amazing with its approachability, especially examples from Oregon and New Zealand. Priorato in Spain and Italy’s region of Sicily are particularly welcoming to the flavors of traditional holiday dishes, as are the dry red wines of Portugal. And last, but without a doubt not least, is Champagne or sparkling wines made in the traditional method of having the second fermentation occur in the bottle. Personally, I could drink pink bubbles throughout the holidays and the New Year without thinking a second thought.
3. Kosher? Think beyond Manischewitz.
Whether you’re Jewish or not, there will be a time where you come face to face with a Kosher wine, and most likely, it’ll be a decent one, if not better. Not to get to into what defines a Kosher wine (other than the fact that it is produced according to the Jewish dietary laws known as Kashrut), as there are varying levels and interpretations, whether Orthodox, Conservativ,e or Reformed. The point of bringing up the matter is that Manischewitz and similar styles of Kosher wines that have exceedingly high level of residual sugar are not the standard anymore in today’s world of wine, giving Kosher wine a bad name. If you do come across such wines, you’re better off not drinking at all in my opinion. Currently, Kosher wines of reasonable if not greater quality are being produced in not only Israel, but in wine regions in California, South Africa, Italy, France, and Australia. Or if you’re in need of something Kosher, don’t fret, because as it turns out, the Holy Land makes some pretty good wine after all.
Wines for the 2009 Holiday Season
So what are these wines and where do they come from? Here are a few that are sure to raise some eyebrows:
Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Cava, Spain NV - $18
Melville Syrah “Verna’s”, Santa Rita Hills, California 2007 - $19
Bodegas Borsao Garnacha “Tres Picos”, Camp de Borja, Spain 2007 - $15
Ramos Pinto Adriano, Douro, Portugal 2006 - $11
Morgante Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy 2007 - $17
Tikal Malbec/Bonarda “Patriota”, Mendoza, Argentina 2006 - $19
Helfrich Gewurtztraminer, Alsace, France 2007 - $13
Hermann J. Wiemer Semi-Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York 2007 - $16
Spice Route Viognier, Swartland, South Africa 2007 - $19
Yarden Chardonnay (Kosher), Galilee, Israel 2007 - $18
Cheers and Happy Holidays,