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Wines for Holiday Parties

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Getting through the holidays one glass at a time.
November 2011 Wine

Each passing holiday season allows the opportunity to imbibe our favorite seasonal cocktails. Whether it be hot buttered rum at the annual party, eggnog by the wood-burning fireplace or hot spiced cider while opening presents, these drinks become a part of our collective memory. As wide-ranging in style, size and cultural backgrounds as holiday parties can be, there are equally as many wines to suit each occasion.

“One of my favorite things during the holidays is going home to visit family and sitting around the fireplace,” says Rachael Lowe, beverage director of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago. “We start with Champagne, move to a white, and then a red while sitting by the Christmas tree at the dinner table.”

Affordable wines for large scale wine parties

The holidays provide an opportunity to share holiday cheer with coworkers. Without the proper execution, these moments can quickly turn sour. In a Christmas episode of “The Office,” manager Michael Scott ruined the yuletide mood after sabotaging a secret Santa gift exchange. To say that it resulted in an uncomfortable situation would be an understatement. His attempt to recover by plying his employees with cheap vodka created an even worse situation. In his own defense: “Stupid corporate wet blankets. Like booze ever killed anybody."

To avoid an awkward holiday party moment like this, make sure the wine is flowing so the conversation will follow suit. The ideal work party wine is something that goes down smoothly and is easy on the corporate budget.

“Look for affordable areas that people don’t necessarily recognize,” Lowe says. “I like wine from small regions where you can get good value, like southwest France, southern Italy and Spain.” She recommends Domaine La Croix Belle Vin de Pays des Cotes de Thongue Les Calades from Languedoc, France.

The dining room manager and sommelier of Kendall College in Chicago, Wanda Cole, advocates sparkling wine. “It serves many purposes,” Cole says. “It is food-friendly and provides an ambience of celebration and prosperity. You don’t just have to be celebrating New Year’s Eve to drink bubbly.”

She recommends either a Prosecco or a Cava that is approachable and not too sweet, such as Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco from Valdobbiadene, Italy.

Off the beaten tracks wines to impress even the wine snob

Wine doesn’t have to be intimidating or cut into your retirement account. It is a story. Whether that is about a family tradition, a unique terroir, or an off-the-beaten-track gem, the enthusiast wants to be surprised and delighted. Look for a wine with a story when you are debating your gift for the wine enthusiasts’ holiday soiree.

Lowe recommends Azienda Agricola Cos, Nero d'Avola from Sicily, Italy 2001. “It is really well-rounded and drinks beautifully,” Lowe says. “I have shown it to friends who are ardent Burgundy fanatics that loved it.”

The winery is located on the southeastern peak of Sicily on the plateau of Victoria. The vines are 50 years old and were historically cultivated before the birth of Vittoria in 1607. The wines are produced from the only DOCG of Sicily and located 820 feet above sea level.

“I recommend Pierre Péters Champagne because it is a smaller grower and is able to maintain its house style consistently,” Cole says.

The Pierre Péters Estate, located in the Côte des Blancs in Le Mesnil sur Oger, has a rich history and has been producing the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne since 1919. The 45 acres of chardonnay, located in Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant, average to be 30 years old. It is a grower-producer house, meaning it makes Champagne from at least 95 percent of estate-grown fruit. It produces 13,000 cases annually, in comparison to 1.4 million cases for the Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label.

Wines for celebratory occasions

The holidays are a time for family gatherings, celebration and lifting a glass to toast. What better than Champagne to enjoy moments of celebration with your loved ones? In the words of the Notorious B.I.G. himself: “Birthdays was the worst days; now we sip champagne when we thirsty.”

Cole prefers the Veuve Clicquot Rosé for a mid-range priced Champagne, although her favorite higher-end is the Fleur de Champagne by Perrier-Jouët. “The first time I had it was the day that I passed the level one exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers. It was very clean, had good fruit, nice depth, great acidity, and a beautiful mousse.”

Tan Huynh, CEO and sommelier of Crudo, a consulting firm for the Willamette Valley wine industry, recommends Argyle for a New World sparkling wine, but his preferred Champagne is Bollinger Grande Année 2000. “It goes well with Asian cuisine, and deep-fried, smoky, and salty food. It refreshes your palate and gets you ready for another bite.”

When pairing wine for an event, Huynh considers the main dish. He builds the food around that, taking sauces into consideration as well. Last year, he paired a 2000 Margaux with prime rib that guests are still raving about.

“My belief is that a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine,” Huynh says.