By Barbara Hay
One preliminary piece of advice: No matter how much wine you think you’ll need for holiday festivities — whether as a host or a guest — you’ll probably need a few extra bottles.
Before shopping, make a list of the wines, including champagne that you will like to serve. Next, you need to calculate how much you’ll need. For dinner, figure on two or three 5-ounce glasses per person or a half bottle per person.
For sparkling wine, figure on 3 to 4 ounces per person for a toast, or 6 to 8 ounces as an aperitif with hors d’oeuvres. In other words, you can use one bottle per 8-10 people for a toast, but if your guests love champagne, you may want to figure one bottle for every three people.
Then its time to make your selections.
There’s no reason to overspend when making a toast or offering guests an aperitif before dinner. A perfectly respectable alternative to champagne is Spanish Cava — a dry sparkling wine made in the champagne method such as Albet i Noya Brut Reserva (D.O. Penedès). Aged 18 months in the bottle, this traditional blend of Xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Macabeu and Parellada grapes This light to medium-bodied, high-quality Cava offers flavors and aromas of fresh brioche, orange skin, and lemon zest., with a surprising frothy texture, and a dry finish. Drink at the perfect temperature, a chilled 40 -45°.
If you do want to splurge on a real champagne — that is, a sparkling wine from the Champagne region north of Paris, Pol Roger Brut Réserve is always a personal favorite. The blend is equal parts of the three champenois grape varieties: Pinot Noir (bringing structure, body and power) is mainly produced from some of the best crus of the Montagne de Reims; Pinot Meunier (ensuring freshness, roundness and fruitiness) is issued from several crus from the Vallée de la Marne and from the Epernay area; and Chardonnay (adding its aromatic complexity, finesse, elegance and lightness) comes from Epernay and some of the best crus of the Côte des Blancs from 30 different crus. After four years of aging this golden straw colored wine is complex, balanced and has an abundance of fine bubbles. The pear and mango fruit aromas are followed by light flavors of honeysuckle, vanilla and brioches. On the palate, cooked fruit flavors of quince jelly, candied orange peel and apricot jam abound. The long-lasting aromas, fruity and spicy notes with a lingering finish is incredible.
For most soups, salads, seafood or poultry, you can’t go wrong with a California chardonnay. Even an “anything but chardonnay” drinker will find the medium-bodied Charles Krug Carneros Chardonnay delicious. This chard offers aromas of tropical fruit and citrus blossom with flavors of peach and pear and a hint of creaminess and vanilla throughout the palate. the sandalwood notes on the finish are delightful.
Another delightful choice would be Millbrandt Vineyards Traditions Pinot Gris from Columbia Valley, Washington. Cantaloupe immediately greets the nose with a lingering, subtle waft of wet grass and lemon zest. Bright, focused acidity refreshes the tongue with a crisp mid-palate. It finishes clean with glazed tropical fruit.
If you prefer sauvignon blanc, try the Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, a round, lush and vibrantly balanced sauvignon blanc. This translucent, mouthwatering, luscious wine overflows with flavors of ripe red grapefruit, tangerine, lemon zest, ripe, juicy pineapple, passion fruit, and, is that mango? It’s rich with a bright acidity and lingering minerality on the luxurious finish.
Katherine Goldschmidt Crazy Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley is a rich and robust cab full of aromas of blackberry, black cherry, spice, licorice and creamy vanilla. It is redolent with flavors of black currant, cherry, and raspberry accented with dark chocolate. This super smooth, red is soft with a supple finish perfect for any red meat dish!
Merlot lovers will be impressed by the Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot with its aromas of ripe red and black fruit followed by hints of spice. This enticing blend is comprised of 82% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec to create a supple body with medium tannins and berry and cherry flavors that linger longingly throughout the smooth finish.
When in doubt as to what to choose, a blend that combine two or more varietals will offer more nuanced flavor and be more apt to please a larger audience. Red lovers should check out Bogle Vineyards Phantom, a fantastic blend of 42% Petite Sirah, 34% Zinfandel, Petite Sirah 42%, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. This fully concentrated red is intense with ripe wild blackberries and brambleberries, relentless baking spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, black pepper, and a hint of toasty vanilla. Framed by the influence of oak aging, this wine will tease, tantalize and linger long after the last sip is gone and the new year has begun.