I love this time of year. Some people complain about the colder weather or the hustle and bustle of crowded stores and long lines, but I focus on something different.
My attention turns to all of the potential and varied opportunities to serve different beverages throughout the holidays.
As if shopping for a bottle wasn’t stressful enough, now you have the responsibility to show up at drop-ins and holiday parties with a beverage that (guaranteed not everybody) maybe somebody and hopefully anybody will find palatable.
I stalk wine shoppers and watch them lament over these decisions in front of the foreboding floor-to-ceiling stocked shelves. Don’t fret, I will attempt to direct you to some “crowd pleasers” to ensure you look like a champion when guests fill their gobs with your holiday cheer.
If you know me personally, have been to any beverage events I’ve facilitated or read these columns, you are already aware of my love affair with Alsatian white wine. Influenced by one of the lowest rainfalls in all of France due to the rain shield of the Vosges Mountains, these grapes attain full ripeness and build complex aromatics.
Producer vineyards grow a gamut of different varieties, with their location determined by differing soil structures (one of the most diverse and complex in the world). Although most people admit not seeking these wines out as I do, I have always had positive feedback when slipping them into an event or pouring them at a dinner party.
I admittedly have been drinking my way through Spain lately and revisited a grape that many people overlook: Mencía. This variety, also known as Jaen in Portugal, can be found in its native northwestern Spain.
Not the easiest variety to grow, Mencía is wind sensitive, susceptible to mildew and can be a relatively low producer. That aside, when treated with dignity and placed in optimum growing conditions, the resulting wines can be extraordinary. The flowering herbal nature, along with the lighter body and soft tannin structure, leads me to dub this variety as Spain’s answer to Pinot Noir.
Some people refuse to drink anything other than an over-extracted, high-alcohol red wine. If I feel a bit cheeky and inquire how they like their wine (thinking to myself: stalky, tannic, over-priced that they opened a decade too early), the pretentious side usually comes out, and I get a reply of what the score was or what “famous” person thought of it. For those guests and friends, I have a solution.
The Tannat grape finds its origins in Southwestern France, more specifically within the appellation of Madiran. The tenacious stalky tannin structure relegated this wine to decades of aging or blending with other grapes to make it more palatable. With advances in winemaking (notably micro-oxygenation) and a trip across the ocean, we can see what potential this variety truly has.
Granted, not many people associate Uruguay with wine production, but in the near future you certainly will, especially with its most planted grape, Tannat. Heavily organic and conservation minded, these growers give a new meaning to terroir-specific viticulture. With this mindset and investments flowing in from some of the most well-known, quality-driven producers in Europe, great things are on the horizon.
This is one to try at a brown bag blind tasting with those snooty wine people you know. Not only will they be stunned at the quality for the price of these sexy wines, but they will remember you as the one who introduced them, long before their cultish wine leaders finally wrote about them.
I hope this helps your beverage selection process for your holiday events. Wine should not be pretentious or exclusive but rather appreciated by all without fear of some ponce chastising you for your choices. It certainly should not increase anxiety but rather relieve it during this stressful holiday season.
Worst-case scenario, the host and guests are not digging your selection. At this point, if you like it, then you have your own personal bottle for the evening. If, like your cohorts, you are displeased, then blame that guy who wrote the article, thus relieving you of responsibility. You’re welcome.
All kidding aside, I truly hope you and yours have a safe, merry and blessed Holiday.
Holiday party wine ideas
Wilm Pinot Gris
Alsace, France, $18.99
This Alsatian treat has overt aromatics of rich orchard fruit (pear, apricot), citrus component (key lime) and a floral citrus blossom element. The palate may seem off-dry, depending on the threshold of your perception, but I feel it’s from the ripeness of the aromatics. The textured full-bodied mouth-feel welcomes the bright acidity and the lingering slightly honeyed finish leaves you longing for the next sip. I drink this wine with Asian cuisine, heavier seafood dishes and creamy cheeses. Although the same grape as Italian Pinot Grigio, this wine has little resemblance and may change the mind of your red-wine drinking friends.
Descendientes de Jose Palacios Petalos
Bierzo, Spain, $21.99
In this 100% Mencía, one first notices the complex aromas of raspberry, black cherry, crushed dried herbs and a purple floral component (violet). The dry, medium-tart red fruit acidity and medium body give way to slightly stalky tannins and a mineral core. This medium-minus body and the herbal note will play to the Pinot Noir tribe, and the tannin structure, fruit aromatics and deep color should satisfy the other wine drinkers. I drink this with everything from herb-rubbed grilled chicken and earthy dishes to marinated flank steak or peppery barbecue.
One first notices the dark ruby color and aromas of black fruit (blackberry), baking spice (anise), moist tobacco and cedar box. The palate has a nervy acidity with flavors of blackberry, currant and sweet baking spice. The tannin structure is medium grained, silky and not overly mouth-drying. The finish has a slightly warming alcohol nuance and pie-spice component. This wine loves grilled meat, roast beast or simply a warm fire and contemplation.
Dennis Fraley is a local nurse anesthetist by day and a wine and spirits expert by night. He teaches wine classes, hosts in-home educational wine parties and consults for wine PR companies and local wine/food pairing events.Achieving the level 4 Diploma of Wine and Spirits via the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, he now contemplates making a run for the coveted master of wine. For more information about his services and upcoming classes, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.