Whether due to a true holiday spirit or to the expectations of social intercourse, your December calendar probably filled up fast with invites to cookie exchanges, dinner parties and tree-trimming gatherings. Between the expected and the impromptu invitations, along with anything planned at your own home, you may find yourself reaching to the very bottom of the wine barrel for hostess gifts or refreshments to offer your guests. “Hey, do you think this 1998 Sauvignon Blanc is still any good?” Rather than risk such social embarrassment (not to mention, assault on the palate), it might be a good idea to stock up on a case of budget-friendly, crowd-pleasing red wines. It will make getting into the holiday spirit much easier for everyone.
Keeping a few bottles of white (or even a box…gasp!) in the fridge is recommended for those guests who drink white exclusively, but reds make for easier hostess gifts (or dinner contributions) to grab because you don’t have to think about chilling them. With turkeys and hams around, every corner of the fridge becomes valuable real estate during the holidays. And any leftover bottles of red (whether you are the giver or the receiver) will become your everyday winter stash when the days are cold and 5pm comes early.
Which varietals should you choose for your holly jolly holiday case? Stay away from any controversial varietals such as Merlot, Norton and Cabernet Franc in lieu of sure bets like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Pinot Noir. I can hear it now: “Honey, can you believe that Bob and Irene brought us a Merlot? I mean, where have they been?” (Of course, I jest, and have to laugh at the nerdy wine irony of a Merlot being controversial these days, but thanks to Sideways, it is, so stick with grapes with a better public image.) One wine that I have never known anyone to dislike is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It is about as fun to drink as it is to say. It is fruity yet earthy, juicy yet dry, naughty yet nice. You get blackberries and black truffles for less than $10 a bottle. Seriously, I recommend keeping a half case of it alone on hand
SIX WAYS TO DECK YOUR HOLIDAY CELLAR
Dynamite Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. Cost Plus World Market. $11.99.
Hosting your own get-together and want to warm up your guests with something other than a few open bottles? Pull from your case and make a large pot of mulled wine. For each bottle of wine, add large strips of zest from one orange, 8 whole cloves, 2/3 cup honey or sugar, 3 cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon fresh ginger (or 2 teaspoons of ground ginger), and 1/4 cup of brandy if feeling grand. Gently warm for 20-25 minutes, ladle into mugs, and garnish with slices of the orange. The house will smell delightful and you might just find yourself roused into leading a drunken rendition of “Good King Wenceslas.”
I refuse to use the most overused prepositional phrase of 2009 (hint: “i.t.e.” would be its acronym) because ‘tis the season for good cheer and indulgence, no matter how little money we have with which to indulge. But, especially “i.t.e.”, we must hold tight to our blessings and remember that being together with a bottle of wine is more meaningful, more memorable, and less expensive than the new Zhu Zhu Pet Hamster.