Wine for the Holidays
December 20, 2003 5:23 AM   Subscribe

I've been tasked with providing the wine for a holiday dinner. I know nothing about wine and the dedicated sites are pretty heavily loaded with jargon. [more inside]

Can anyone provide me with specific recommendations? We're doing a traditional goose thing but there may be a fish course so I suppose a couple of reds and a couple of whites would be in order. Dessert wines are not needed, my family moves on to the whiskey course pretty quickly after dinner.

An additional caveat is that they must be easily obtainable in a relatively small store. Price is not really an issue, within reason of course.
posted by cedar to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, a lot depends on the tastes of your group, which you may not be in any position to know, of course. In my experience, any average sample of people will include some who like a fuller, drier wine and those who like a lighter and somewhat sweeter one. So a safe covering-the-bases approach might include:

--a sweetish light white, like a Chenin Blanc, or maybe a German Rhine wine;
--a good Chardonnay (there are lots of good Californian ones in the $15-20 range);
--a light red--you might try a nouveau Beaujolais here;
--a fuller dry red, something like a cabernet or a zinfandel.

Goose, although a fowl, is rich enough stand up to a good solid red wine.

Also, though it's hard to make specific recommendations not knowing what's available in your store, I will say I've had extremely good luck with Australian wines--Rosemount, for example--which are inexpensive and reliable.

(And it is my humble but firm opinion that a good champagne goes with everything.)
posted by Kat Allison at 6:51 AM on December 20, 2003

I'm of the think global/drink local variety. Even though there are tremendous wines from all over the world, why not check out some wines from New York? Your local wine/liquor store might surprise you, and shopping there is far less intimidating than it used to be. I find that baring my ignorance to a sales clerk usually beats trying to explain why my whimsical choice with the great label (and low Wine Spectator score) tastes like antifreeze.

Don't forget dessert - besides some of your local lovely Saranac Beers, why not look for some nice hearty seasonal ales (Brooklyn Brewing's Chocolate Stout comes to mind) to finish off the meal?
posted by TomSophieIvy at 7:36 AM on December 20, 2003

Is there a good wine store (not a liquor store or supermarket, but a store that specializes in wine) near where you live? Try popping in and asking them this question. Most wine shops live for this kind of thing (i.e. introducing people to new wines) and will ask you what your budget is as one of the first questions. Often, they will walk you through the options, and even give you samples of some of the wines. It can make for a fun afternoon, and an education!
posted by anastasiav at 9:11 AM on December 20, 2003

I find Trader Joes grocery stores have great selection of wines and are inexpensive, as well. I hate wine for the most part (living in Oregon with microbrews a plenty will do that to you) but I can randomly pick any $4 red or white @ trader joes and it turns out really good — much better than the $20 and $30 varieties.

There are 8 TJ locations in new york. Is one of these cities near you?

And I second Kat on the whole australian wine thing. Those folks from down under know their grapes.
posted by Happydaz at 9:56 AM on December 20, 2003

Australian reds are very nice, but I would avoid their whites. New Zealand reislings, chardonnays and sav blancs are always excellent, but they may be expensive in your neck of the woods.

If you do buy a red get a mellow one, like merlot or pinot noir - shiraz will make you feel like ten shades of shit the next day.
posted by malpractice at 12:31 PM on December 20, 2003

what anastasiav said.
talk to some real experts.

for what it's worth, the oft overlooked cabernet franc is tasty.
posted by juv3nal at 1:23 PM on December 20, 2003

Several years ago, I dropped the crack pipe and picked up a corkscrew for the Merlot made by Clos Du Bois.

(not really--I still smoke crack (not! Mom, quit reading! You're spoiling all my fun!), but this stuff is like drinking liquid, jammy-flavored velvet to me).

It can be anywhere from $8-19/bottle depending on where you buy it. Liquor stores are the most expensive, a Costco or similar has it the cheapest.
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:55 PM on December 20, 2003

Response by poster: Thanks, anastasiav.

It may be a few miles out of the way but the wine shop idea seems like the best way to go. I at least have an idea of what to ask for now.

HappyDaz, Traders Joes sounds great but all the stores are downstate, I'm a good 300 miles from the closest.
posted by cedar at 8:03 PM on December 20, 2003

you normally get what you pay for with wine, but there are diminishing returns, so don't spend silly money. can't someone from the usa recommend a price point? otherwise, pick the top end of the middle range of prices(!).

my recommendations for 2 red, 2 white would be: if the people you're serving don't drink a lot of wine then you probably want at least one rather sweet white (ie something german). for the other white, chardonay is pretty much the standard (if they're all seasoned wine drinkers with no old aunts or grannys, then replace the german white with a sauvignon blanc). for the reds, get a cabernet sauvignon (more-or-less the standard) and "something else" (a merlot or shiraz/syrah or tempranillo/rioja, for example ("/" are alternative names, ignoring a few details) - from wherever you like). serve the whites cold (the chardonay very cold, the german white doesn't matter so much) and the reds room temperature or slightly chilled (temperature of an unheated room in your house). there's no need to let them breathe or decant them or anything. that's all there is to it really - as long as you pay a reasonable price, they should be fine. if you particularly like something, buy it again. repeat until you become an opinionated wine snob. :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 9:22 AM on December 21, 2003

Whoa whoa whoa. "If they're all seasoned wine drinkers with no old aunts or grannys, then replace the german white with a sauvignon blanc"? Excuse me, but a good German riesling (Moselle by preference) is the best white wine in the world in my opinion, and scandalously underpriced; just ask your wineseller for a good one (if there's someone you trust). They used to be slightly sweet (or more than slightly if you went for an Auslese), but in the last decade the Germans have decided foreigners want dry dry dry wines, so a lot of them have overcompensated. Again, ask. With sauvignon blanc, you run the risk of getting something with an unpleasant "grassy" taste, and even if you don't, it's not that wonderful a wine (again, in my opinion). If you want to be safe, get a chardonnay (hopefully not one of the over-oaked Calif or Aussie ones) and/or a pinot grigio -- nobody will object.

For red, I highly recommend an Argentine malbec -- not only are they cheap ($10-12 on average, though you can get a really great Catena for $20) and delicious, but you get extra points for connoisseurship because nobody else will have heard of them, and when someone says "Mmm, this is really good, what is it... shiraz?" you can look smug and say "No, it's a nice little malbec from Mendoza [the Argentine wine province]." Malbec is originally a French grape (it's the basis of Cahors wine, though they call it something else there), but the Argentines have brought it to perfection.

And have a great party!
posted by languagehat at 12:25 PM on December 21, 2003

What languagehat said. I also like Alsatian Gewurztraminers. No one objects to a dry white Burgundy or a Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris.

For reds, there are loads of inexpensive but good Cotes du Rhones. Also Australian Shiraz, of course, and I like California Zinfandel. Ravenswood's "Vintner's Blend" Zin is great and inexpensive, and their individual vineyard Zins are really really good. (I'm enjoying a glass of the Ravenswood Lodi Zin right now.)
posted by Vidiot at 3:04 PM on December 21, 2003

L'Ecole makes great merlots and cab-merlot blends. Their label looks like a child's painting you might find on a refrigerator. Avoid their "Big House" red table wine, though. The cab and cab blend run about $18 to $30 here in Washington and taste splendid.
posted by vito90 at 3:47 PM on December 21, 2003

Second Vidiot's zin recommendation. I don't think of it because I went through a heavy zin phase and got kind of, well, zinned out (forgive me, Lord, for I have zinned!), but I can see that Ravenswood bottle before my inner eye and it's making me thirsty...
posted by languagehat at 7:57 PM on December 21, 2003

I can also recommend Ravenswood's other wines (they have a pretty good Petit Syrah and a not-bad Chardonnay), but the Zin is best.

Have mercy on me, a poor zinner...
posted by Vidiot at 8:29 PM on December 21, 2003

I'll third the Ravenswood zin recommendation. very reasonably priced and reliably good.

Marques de Riscal Reserva rioja ought to be reasonably priced as well. Don't let the cheezy looking wire mesh throw you off, it's actually pretty good. Occassionally I've gotten some sediment, but just be careful pouring and you should be ok.
posted by juv3nal at 9:02 PM on December 21, 2003

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