Wine Ink: Tips for holiday wines
For 51 weeks each year, a wine writer can write about whatever wine whimsy that strikes his or her fancy. But there is one special week where the topic is pre-ordained. In America, wine writers are obligated each fall to pen a piece on wines for Thanksgiving.
I get it, of course. Not only is Thanksgiving our national day of gathering, one in which everyone wants to everything to be perfect, it is also the kick-off of wine buying season. Thanksgiving, the Christmas holidays, New Year’s Eve. This is the season when people who don’t go into a wine shop at any other time of the year make the pilgrimage to find just the right bottles to serve with their holiday fare and events. So rather than just talk pairings this year, I thought it best to take a broader view of the holiday wine experience.
First of all, relax. For those of you who are a bit flummoxed by the responsibility of wine buying, this is actually not only easy but fun. In fact, there is only one hard and fast rule to remember as a host. Ready? Don’t run out of wine. Nothing is sadder than holiday revelry being short-circuited by empty glasses.
So how much is enough? To be on the safe side, figure a bottle per person. Sure that may sound like a lot, but if you have it, don’t worry. It will either be consumed, held onto for the next gathering or given to friends to take home for their gatherings. Either or any way, it is a karmatic win for you and well worth the investment.
Next, not a rule but a serious suggestion, get a mix of white and red wines, and lean a little heavy towards the red side.
If you buy a case for example, consider mixing in a couple of bottles of bubbles to greet your guests when they arrive, four bottles of a medium to fuller bodied white and a half-dozen bottles of red. Remember you get approximately six glasses of wine in a 750m bottle.
Consider getting a mixed case. It is fun to have a dozen different bottles to choose from. Set them in one place, and let your guests pour for themselves. It is nice to know a little something about each wine if you can, but if not, let the bottles do the storytelling.
And you need not spend a fortune on your wines. If you want to impress with your best wines from the cellar, good on you, as the Kiwis say. But as long as you put a little effort into buying affordable, quality wines, people will appreciate it. No plonk, but you don’t need to break the bank either. For under $20 a bottle you can find fine wines for your holiday gathering.
Oh, and one other thing. I have long been a proponent of drinking American-made wines on this most American of holidays.
In the past, I have made recommendations for sparklers from New Mexico (Gruet), New York riesling (Dr. Konstantin Frank), and pinot noir from Oregon (Sineann).
But this year, especially, I am going urge that we all buy wines specifically from those areas in Northern California that were affected by the fires. Now, more than ever, they can use your support. And uncorking a wine from a region that underwent hardship is a great way to focus the mind and give thanks for our own good fortune.
So, here are a few suggestions. Begin with some bubbles. Domaine Chandon is a French-owned Champagne house, but their Yountville, California, outpost is a Napa Valley institution.
Start your holiday gathering with the sweetly packaged Domaine Chandon Limited Edition Brut. Around $30 a bottle, this crisp and clean sparkling wine is made using the classic Methode Champenoise from the three traditional Champagne grapes — chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
Let’s move on to a Chardonnay. La Crema in Sonoma is perhaps the most reliable producer of California Chardonnay from many regions, but I am partial to the 2015 Sonoma Coast Bottling. For around $20 a bottle, winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas produces a wine worth twice as much. Soft and round in the mouth, this is a rich, food friendly wine that will be versatile enough for the majority of your holiday offerings.
Finally, for a red wine, keep in mind that turkey, unless heavily spiced or perhaps fried, is a mild enough bird to pair well with many grapes. But because we all want a wine that impresses, I am going to recommend a 2014 La Follette North Coast Pinot Noir. While this Sonoma County winery specializes in pricey single vineyard pinot noir, this bottling is a blend from many of the small family-owned vineyards that they source. For $20, it provides a perfect medium-bodied pinot experience.
Whatever you decide to drink, have a joyous and grateful Thanksgiving.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at email@example.com.