The storm clouds of holiday stress are gathering forebodingly on the horizon. Many of our most important religious and secular holidays manage to be crammed into a period of just five weeks. But lest we forget, 'tis the season of love, happiness, family, friends, and spiritual renewal. And it's that spirit of conviviality—and the joy that comes from sharing a great experience with the people closest to you—that is the essence of wine.
For me, this is the time of year to take wine off its pedestal and set it on the table amid family and friends, where it belongs. And while I can't help with many of the anxieties that come with the season, I can recommend a few things to take the edge off. This month I have assembled a collection of six wines that ought to serve just about every occasion that may arise, from last minute hostess gift to massive family dinner to a well-deserved nightcap after hours of post-party clean up. Keep a mixed case of these suggestions on hand, and you'll be covered for whatever outbreak of joy (or stress) may occur.
One thing that is a guaranteed certainty during the holidays is that there will be toasts, and important toasts deserve real Champagne. (Apparently there's some shindig on December 31 that requires the stuff, too.) I'm a sucker for the pink ones, and I recently fell hard for the Henriot Brut Rosé (Henry Wine Group, $52). This wine is 58% Pinot Noir, of which 20% was vinified as a red still wine before its transformation into bubbly. The balance is Chardonnay, which lends the wine an intriguing sprightly elegance. It makes the wine exceptionally versatile; rich enough for heavy appetizers or main courses, yet light enough for sipping or washing down oysters.
Another example of finessed Chardonnay can be found in a bottle of Alain Normand Mâcon la Roche Vineuse 2005 (A Vintner's Selection, $22). I'm not going to collapse into paroxysms of ecstasy over the 2005 vintage like most of the market seems to be, but there is no denying it was very good year for France. In such a vintage even the humble wines like those from the Mâcon can shine, and this one certainly does. Juicy lemon custard notes abound in this wonderfully lush, textured white. Lively and vibrant, it is packed with flavor and actually sports the painfully clichéd long, creamy finish to boot. Not easy to find, but well worth the hunt.
One not so humble wine from this blockbuster vintage is the Domaine du Père Caboche Chateauneuf-du-Pape "La Mirande" 2005 from Jean Pierre Boisson (Monsieur Touton, $26). You'll need a glass just to restore your strength after getting through that mouthful. My only complaint about 2005 is its relatively low acidity, which is exactly why most people love it, and will love this wine. It's all about sweet ripe cherry and strawberry fruit here, with a touch of Provençal herbs. Perfect for slurping down hearty holiday roasts, boozy enough to grease the wheels of holiday cheer pretty quickly, it is a great all-around red wine for the season.
Decidedly less crowd pleasing, but in a good way, is R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo Rioja Crianza 2001 (Potomac Selections, $25). This is uncompromising Rioja, with ripe, almost candied red fruit notes all shrouded in a smoky, spicy intensity. It is Old World in a way that reminds me of some enormous wood-paneled hall with an imposing stone fireplace. The label is suitably old fashioned as well, and the whole affair seems to demand a succulent roast pig, consumed while wearing a smoking jacket. Or a red velvet Santa suit.
On the subject of red velvet, I found it in a bottle of Rosenblum Cellars "Rockpile Road Vineyard" Zinfandel 2005 (Constantine, $50). Red velvet wrapped around a hefty brick, anyway. This is blockbuster stuff, saturated with red and black fruit, brambly aromas, Chinese 5 spice, and dark chocolate. Thanksgiving dinner is not a meal that is well-served by any one wine, but since it is uniquely American, I like to serve an assertively American wine. There's plenty of vibrant, juicy fruit here to stand up to sugary things like sweet potato. Clocking in at nearly 15% alcohol, this Zin is best reserved for the heartiest of holiday meals, although I imagine it would work quite well on a bear skin rug in front of a roaring fire as well . . . just be careful not to over-roast the chestnuts, okay?
Finally, it wouldn't be a proper holiday season without plenty of desserts and the sinfully delicious wines that go with them. Consider keeping a few bottles of Steindorfer Eiswein "Cuvée Klaus" 2004 (Chesapeake Beverage Group, $32, 375ml) on hand for post-feast enjoyment. Eiswein is made from grapes that have actually frozen on the vine. They are then harvested and crushed; since much of the water content is suspended in ice, only the sweetest, richest nectar of the grape is extracted for vinification. This Welchriesling and Pinot Gris blend is a hedonistic fruit basket of sweet pear, candied citrus, and wild honey. Perfect for washing down Mom's pumpkin pie (or a dubious fruit cake), and even happier with bold blue cheeses.