December 15, 2004
My daughter expects a dog for Christmas, and my son wants a new bike. The Mrs. will ask for who knows what, but my guess it’s going to set me back a few paychecks.
With all the money being thrown around during the holidays, take solace in the availability of good inexpensive wines this season.
After Carter takes to the streets on his tricked-out ride, and Delaney drags the poor canine to the bathroom for its first bath, The Mrs. and I will be up to our elbows in Christmas Day brunch preparation: A ham, chicken paprika, dumplings, creamed spinach and more than a case of wine for the 20-plus guests we expect.
Hosting a large holiday meal can be expensive, but you don’t have to go broke in the beverage department. There’s no need to pour Two Buck Chuck either. Excellent, affordable wines abound, mostly from Australia, parts of Europe and parts of California.
You’re going to need a cross section of white and red wines — in contrasting styles and weight — to best pair up with the variety of flavors at the table. Our guests have been asked to bring an entree to our house as well, and we’ll need compatible wines.
While I usually don’t recommend oakened wines with holiday meals, Alice White’s 2003 chardonnay from southeastern Australia is too good a value (quality and price) to overlook. For a mere $7, you get luscious tropical fruit and green apple flavors in every glass. This is a great starter wine if you’re not serving bubbly, and pairs well with meat and cheese plates and paté. For something more elegant and bright, at just a few dollars more, invest in a couple of bottles of Clos du Bois 2003 North Coast sauvignon blanc from California. This wine exhibits crisp grapefruit, pear and grassy impressions with a nice floral nose, and is good to go on its own or with light appetizers such as shrimp cocktail and crudités.
When the main courses arrive at the buffet line, so should weightier wines. Save your expensive California cabs and gran cru burgundies (remember, you just bought a new bike, dog and something shiny), and opt for foodfriendly reds that won’t force you to send the kids to community college.
Gallo of Sonoma and Kendall-Jackson are two consistent California favorites. Gallo’s 2002 pinot noir is perfect for holiday meals, as its bright red fruit and smooth finish make it a natural companion for turkey, ham and pasta dishes. K-J’s delicious Vintner’s Reserve zinfandel is ideal for beef dishes. Both cost about $10 a bottle.
There are few good foreign plays here, but one Spanish rioja producer never seems to lose its touch, Marques de Caceres. For just $8 a bottle, savor loads of ripe, spicy fruit and earth flavors, all wrapped in soft tannins and a smooth finish. Great with beef, pork and turkey.
Also remember that most retailers offer a discount for purchases of at least six bottles. This can add up if you buy a case. Fry’s, Bashas’, Safeway and others offer a 10 percent price break. On a case of wine (12 bottles) at $10 each, you’ll save $12. Not bad. You’ll need every last dollar to pay for flat tires, vet bills and matching earrings.