The calendar has now been turned to its last page. If yours looks anything like mine, Friday and Saturday nights are filling up quick with holiday parties galore. Some you can’t wait to attend, while others you’re dreading. I get it. They may be dinner and drinks, a cookie exchange, or even those requesting that you wear your most festive duds — be it a tux or the ugliest holiday-themed woolen piece you can find.
To the vast majority of these functions, it would be impolite to show up empty-handed. Wine, once again, comes to the rescue.
I’d like to go over just a few basics of what I look for when shopping for bottles to bring to a holiday party, along with a few of my favorite bottles.
This is a touchy subject due to budgets, the type of party/party-goers and a whole host of other factors. Because of this, I like to give a fairly broad range — $15-$50 for a bottle. Without a doubt, there are wines under $15 that blow away bottles costing three times more. I love those gems. But this isn’t the time or place. Similarly, blowing a huge wad of cash on a bottle the host may or may not appreciate seems like a gamble, at best. Say they love it and go seek it out, only to find out that it’s well out of their wine budget. No good. Say they hate it; look up the bottle to see if you went cheap on them, only to find out how much you really paid. Again, this is no good. Lastly (and probably worst of all), mid-party, you notice that the guy minutes away from donning the lamp shade has your bottle in hand, open, and has somehow rummaged through the kitchen junk drawer to find a bendy straw… In today’s wine market, spending between $15 and $50 provides an almost endless amount of choices. I’m sticking to it.
A well-designed label and high-quality glass can make a bottle of wine so much more attractive. It looks better. It feels better. And therefore, to the host (having yet to open it), it is better. And of course, you’re going to need a sweater to put on it …
This may sound like a dumb question, yet it’s something I struggle with all of the time. I’ve been to some parties where all of the bottles brought by guests are opened that evening. While at others, the host has already stocked the bar with what he or she will be serving. Since it’s a bit uncouth to ask the host prior to arrival, you’re just going to have to be prepared for either situation. Now this is only a problem when you, like me, want to taste everything! So … “How good?” Here’s my general rule: So good that you’re happy if they open it while you’re there, but not SO good that you’ll be pissed if they don’t.
Is that bad manners? Oh well …
Oddly enough, I wouldn’t get too hung up on this. Taste in wine is such a personal thing; you’ll never guess right 100% of the time. The better buying bet looks to the season. Cold weather calls for more richly textured wines with slightly elevated alcohol and/or residual sugar. These wines make you feel downright cozy when you sip.
Here are a few bottles I’ll be bringing to events this year:
This Washington state take on a classic white blend from Bordeaux makes its way into my cellar release after release. The texture is pure silk. The flavor walks the line between rich and acidic, like the perfect lemon meringue pie. It even has just a touch of those “pie crust” flavors to drive home the holiday spirit that much more. It will have the most die-hard red wine drinkers clamoring for another taste.
This wine has all kinds of stuff going for it. It’s inexpensive (~$19) but thanks to an enormously heavy bottle, it feels much more expensive — ideal for gift giving. ;) Hailing from the Mendoza region in Argentina, the blend of Malbec and Bonarda is just downright delicious. Big fruit blast up front with oak and chocolate flavors following right behind. The luscious texture pleases just about everyone.
This is a CLASSIC example of a 20 year tawny port that, for my money, just can’t be beat. It smells and tastes of apricots, fig jam, roasted nuts, caramel and the Home Depot paint section. Weird, I know, but pure heaven. If you haven’t had this for yourself and bring one as a gift, you’ll want to insist on them having a glass with you. Trust me.
Head to the wine shop with these tips in mind, and whatever you come out with will be just fine. When push comes to shove, you’re bringing them wine! “How bad can that be?” (Thanks, Ina.)
What do you bring as a host/hostess gift during the holiday season? Any favorite bottles? We’d love to hear about them in the comments. Cheers!