They’rrrrrre here! You can feel their chill in the air. You can hear their chants on the radio. You can smell their scent in the kitchens. You can see them creeping into displays on every street corner—all signs of the imminent arrival of that annual phenomenon we call “The Holidays.”
Don’t be caught off guard. There will be much festivity in the weeks to come. I have assembled a list of wine shopping hints that you can use to make sure you are armed and ready to tackle this time of year head-on.
Party Wines It is the season of parties. And if you are the one who is hosting, it is nice to have a good variety of “flavors” for your guests to choose from. For simple cocktail gatherings, I like to offer all three colors to please the masses. A crisp dry white is always versatile with finger foods. Keep it simple and serve a nicely chilled Finger Lakes Riesling, or an unoaked Chardonnay. These are easy to sip on, and not so heavy that they overpower lighter hors d’oeuvres. For pink, most folks expect a touch of sweetness in their glass, but you can also find lovely Dry Rosés. As for reds, keep the big heavies for the dinner table, and go with a lighter style Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc for aperitifs. If it is a self-server, keep the whites and pinks on ice so they stay refreshing! (Recommendations include Herman Wiemer Dry Riesling, Heron Hill Chardonnay, Billsboro Pinot Noir Rosé, Ravines Pinot Noir, and Hosmer Cabernet Franc).
Sparkling Wines Although they are far too often saved for the best occasions, there is no reason you can’t drink these throughout the entire year. But, since the celebrating kicks up a notch in the next few months, keep a convenient stash of good bubblies on hand for emergencies. French Champagne is the pinnacle of the stuff, but you can keep it more affordable with great values like Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, or Asti Spumante. To give each glass some colorful holiday cheer, add a few drops of cranberry juice and a slice of lime. (Favorite Finger Lakes sparklers include Glenora, Dr. Frank, and Atwater).
Dessert Wines There will be an extra-special emphasis on sweets in the coming weeks. If you are serving up a little buffet of cookies, cakes, pies, puddings, and fruit cakes, make sure to have a sweet wine on hand to pair alongside. The best matches are wines that are as sweet as, if not sweeter than, the dessert itself. Chocolate loves Ruby Porto. Try excellent versions from Fox Run and Lakewood on Seneca Lake. Fruit based tarts love ice wine. Wagner, Sheldrake Point, Casa Larga, and Hunt Country make divine ones. And candy canes love Schnapps (OK, not a wine, but still nice to nip on in cold weather).
Cooking Wines Some of the tastiest holiday dishes call for a spot of wine in the recipe. Sadly, the “cooking wine” that you find in grocery stores can be very salty and flavorless. Here is the big secret: the better the wine, the better the flavor. Buy something that you would drink, and then you can enjoy the rest of the bottle while dinner is cooking. Win-Win. Or, perhaps better said, Wine-Wine.
Gift Wines Every year, someone inevitably gives me an unexpected gift. That’s why I buy a full case of my favorite wine and a dozen decorative bags and keep them front and center in my seasonal gift closet. It takes two seconds to wrap, and no one is any the wiser: your friends will all feel so special. Also, remember that when you are invited to a party, it is proper to arrive with a gift for the host/hostess. And what better gift than…you know what!
Dinner Wines For the big meal you have a plethora of wines which will easily fill the bill. But here are two quick rules of thumb. The first is to go with wines that can cut through the richness of the food. In winespeak, you are looking for good acidity, like Champagne, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Rosé, Beaujolais, and any cool climate reds. Hey—it’s a celebration of the harvest, so why not go local? Try Anthony Road Cabernet-Lemberger, Bellangelo Bella Rosso, Lakewood Long Stem Red, and Sheldrake Gamay Noir. The second rule is to drink what you like. If you have a special wine that you have been saving, by all means pop the cork. The important thing is to savor each moment we spend with family and friends, and to enjoy the reason for the season…