Wines for the Holidays and for Celebrations the Year Round

When the holiday season is upon us we begin to feel the need to stock the wine cupboard with a variety of wines. Wines for the holidays and for other celebrations like anniversaries and graduation parties move the event from a dinner out to a celebratory occasion. A selection of wines with great taste in elegant glasses will add that special touch that transforms the special event into a truly great celebration. Wines come in a price range from very low to outrageously highâÂ?¦.(You may want to spend a lot of money; I don’t.)

I know some wonderful California cabernet sauvignons from a vintage year 1997 in the $120. range. I, however, prefer the lesser known and much lesser in price wines that I can enjoy without thinking about the costs. At the other end of the economic scale is a 2001 cabernet sauvignon from Duck Pond Cellars that satisfies my need for complexity with fruity aromas of cherry, cloves, a rich burst of berries and the toastiness of oak; and to make it even more attractive is the price of around $12.00. There are many cabernets in between these two extremes and some wonderful selections can be found at www.winesnw.com .

That tricky little thing of pairing wine with those wonderful holiday foods used to baffle me. I wasn’t entirely sure I liked the wines often recommended in the entertainment section of the newspaper. I knew what I liked both in food and in wine so why not pair those tastes? If that is where you are, do not despair; the idea is not to follow some one else’s rule but to find your own style.

A winning wine and food combination is the pairing that makes both the food and the wine better in combination than either would be alone. This championship style of combining the elements of gourmet dining makes a meal a celebration. Here are some tips for those common foods we all enjoy and the wines that go well with them. These suggestions are only to get you started, find what you like and match your own food favorites with some wine favorites that your palette finds complimentary.

  • Fat bratwurst or spicy kielbasa with crispy fried potatoes and onions is complimented perfectly with a crisp dry Riesling. If you prefer a red wine, that’s ok, try a Barbera or Beaujolais.
  • The Christmas duck or goose roasted to perfection and surrounded by all the trimmings is complemented by a Merlot or red Bordeaux. If you prefer white wines try a Zinfandel or Riesling. I particularly like a pinot gris or a white zinfandel or chardonnay.
  • Pasta can be dressed in white sauces, extra virgin olive oil and garlic or a red tomato sauce. The character of the meal changes with the type of sauce so think Chablis or Chardonnay to go with the Alfredo sauce or the olive oil dressing and for the heavier meatier red sauces pair with a Chianti, or a Merlot. If you like a lighter touch in the red wines try Barbera or Bardolino.
  • Grilled or baked Salmon is richly flavorful and traditionally paired with a white wine but I particularly like a Pinot noir. You may like a Beaujolais or a Moulin-a-Vent.
  • When that roasted leg of lamb or the perfectly baked chicken or turkey comes from the oven you will have a houseful of guests. Have on hand a variety of wines as well to suit every taste. Be sure to have Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot noir, red Bordeaux, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I like to include Chablis and Chardonnay and perhaps some Syrah or red Zinfandel as well.

Getting to know the wines: It seems strange that wines from Europe are named by region, how do you know what variety of grape went into the wine? Vintners in the Americas and Australia chose instead to name the wines for grapes. How wonderfully logical that seems, then of course on the label you will find the region and the winery. A great guide to help you get started is the Better Homes and Gardens “Wine Guide”. You can find it in the magazine section of your grocery store.

Although a mystique has shrouded the fine wine culture the real truth is, wine is a simple pleasure. Books and movies may suggest that cellaring your wine will improve the body and flavor. This may in fact be true with a small number of select wines. Cellaring may improve Barolo, Barbaresco, red Bordeaux, and perhaps the French red and white burgundies. Most wines do not need any special attention and are ready to savor at the date they are released for sale.

The first time I heard about decanting I was too young to know what the fuss was about but as I grew older it seemed just the thing to do, especially with red wines. Decanting is pouring a wine into a second container. This is done to aerate the wine (it’s also called “letting the wine breathe”) This is to wake dormant flavors and let aromatic flavanoids become active after a long inactivity in the bottle. Another advantage of decanting is to allow you to pour slowly to avoid sediments from the bottom of the bottle. In reality experts cannot agree about any possible benefits of decanting except in the old, dense, intense wines such as red Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Delicate wines such as pinot noirs and burgundies should not be decanted because it allows the subtle flavors and aromas to evaporate into the air and flatten the taste experience.

Great wines come and go as the perfect conditions for production of any great wine will be within a limited area and the amount of the very best and highest rated wines will be limited. Wine tasters make notes and publish their lists of favorite wines and it is helpful to check with some published tasters notes such as www.avalonwine.com , www.cellargeek.com, or www.thewinedoctor.com .

A site that lists an astounding 27,000 tasting notes with more added daily is www.stratsplace.com. The site also discusses wine labels and wine and food pairings, has wine study courses and lists over 3000 wine stores. This is a must explore site for casual to serious wine lovers.

The best way to find your own personal favorites is to host a wine tasting party. Hey, it’s the season for parties and this is about as festive as you can get. Good friends, good wine, and an evening of good conversation followed by a late dinner of wonderfully fragrant gourmet food. The formula is great all year around, it does not need to be limited to the winter holidays.

A wine tasting party does not have to overwhelm either the budget or the guests with too many different wines. The professionals may taste thirty samples or more in one tasting session but that is too much for a simple gathering of friends.

For a small party six to nine wines are plenty. If this is more a casual wine and cheese party than a true tasting party you can forego some of the accoutrements but if this is primarily a tasting party in order to choose wines for your favorites list do it the correct way.

Provide pens and notebooks so your friends can write down their impressions of aroma, clarity and taste. A white table cloth is a must in order to hold the wine so you can look through it toward the white background to assess clarity and color. Small bottles of iced water so guests can clear the palette between tasting, and dump buckets and paper cups for the purpose of discarding wine if you do not want to drink it. A wine tasting is an event where it is perfectly appropriate and expected that you may not want to consume much alcohol but you still want to participate in the satisfying and sensuous process of sniffing, sipping and tasting. Just discreetly spit the wine into a paper cup. Provide a number of corkscrews. Take it from me, a single corkscrew can go AWOL during a party and nothing is more frustrating.

Take your time, find your favorite wines, and enjoy the holidays and the coming year.

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