Alright, three blogs left for 2014, so let’s focus on holiday wines. Today, we will start with red wines, with recommendations for all occasions. White wines next week, and we will finish with sparklers and sweet wines the week before Christmas.
1. Open Houses/Big Dinner Parties
In a lot of ways, this is the toughest category, because while you need to potentially serve wine to a lot of guests – and want it to be good – you also don’t want to break the bank. So you need to try and keep the wines to under $15 if possible.
My first “go to” region is the Cotes du Rhone in the south of France (and the regions around it). Even with the vagaries of exchange rates, there are lots of relative bargains out there. Most of these wines are blends – mainly Grenache and Syrah, with a smattering of Mourvedre and Carignan mixed in – but the big reason they are popular with many people is they lack oak. That means instead of cedary, woody aromas and flavours, you get cherries and berries, herbs, earth and pepper. Up here, my best pick is the Vin de Pays by Domaine la Bastide, a GSM mix that goes for $10.95 a bottle. The Ventoux by La Vieille Ferme is also a good bet for a few bucks more. And don’t worry about the vintage – the style is very consistent from year to year.
Spain is another obvious choice for value reds you are going to serve in quantity. My only caution here is that the main grape used in the cheaper wines – Garnacha (the Spanish version of Grenache) – is often oaked, which can take away fruitiness and add in woodiness. So be careful! A very consistent producer is Castano, which makes La Casona for $9.99 and Monastrell for $12.49. There is no oak in either that I can taste.
2. Small Dinner Parties
If you are having only a few friends over, you can afford to spend more per bottle (since you are going to serve few of them). If you want to keep the tab under $25 a bottle, I have a few suggestions.
Back to the Cotes du Rhone! The 2012 vintage is on the shelves and it is very good, better than the 2011 (if not as good as 2010). Most of the wines – again, made of Grenache and Syrah – are ripe, medium bodied, and have little evidence of oak aging. Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages will cost anywhere from $18 – $25. Look for Famille Perrin (the makers of Chateau de Beaucastel), Chapoutier (including his Bila Haut wines from the Roussillon) and Delas Freres.
If you like Shiraz, this is also a good price point, because you can avoid the overly sweet, syrupy cheaper wines. Personally, I love the blackberry jam and licorice you find in the best wines. Vintage variation isn’t that big a deal (because of the climate consistency). Recommendations would be the wines from d’Arenberg, Shotfire Ridge, Kilikanoon, and Penfold’s.
3. Special Occasions
Last but not least, some special occasion red wines. Here you either want to enjoy a great bottle with someone, or perhaps just show off a bit! The price tag starts at $40 and can go up – way up! The other thing to consider, though, is the maturity of the wine. If you open up a young Bordeaux or Barolo that cost you $75 or more, you (and your guest) may be very disappointed by the harsh, tannic wine.
Instead, I look to California. Cabernet Sauvignon can be a good bet, as most of the wines are made in such a fruit forward style that they drink beautifully when young (as well as aging well). Beringer and Caymus are two famous names to look for… their “regular” Cabs start at about $45 (and their reserves are over $100). But they taste fabulous!
Another option can be old vine Zinfandel. Young wines almost explode with ripe blackberry fruit, but without the jam you get in Aussie Shiraz. Ridge Vineyards is my favourite (look for Geyserville and Lytton Spring blends for about $50), along with Ravenswood. If you want a real treat, try to find a Turley, a cult wine for sure, but can be worth the $60+++.
So there you go…some red wine options.
Next week, the whites!