It’s that time of the year when we head off to holiday parties, agonizing over what to wear or, worse, what wine to bring. Perhaps you will be gathering around a lavish family dinner when the host will put out her favorite bone china with carefully selected wines. Or, perhaps the get-together will be a more intimate gathering for which you have volunteered to bring a “nice” wine, meaning an “expensive” wine.
Choosing a wine always poses a dilemma for large parties. Do you bring a wine you would like the host to open so you can at least taste it, or do you bring a wine that will be hastily placed in a corner with the other gift wines to be opened on another day?
A while ago, Tom went to a rather large holiday party armed with an expensive cabernet sauvignon from his cellar for the host. He had hoped it would be opened so that others could enjoy its unique qualities. His mistake. Alas, it was quickly placed alongside a hoard of other gift wines, most of which were far less expensive. The next year he returned to the house for another party only to find his special bottle being poured indiscriminately alongside a cheap bottle of Menage a Trois. The host had accumulated so many gift wines that it made economic sense to just dump them at another party.
From that experience he learned a couple of lessons: first, assume your wine will not be opened by the host that night. That alone could determine how much you want to spend. Second, if the host saves your wine for a special occasion later, make sure they know who it is from by writing a short message with your name on the label.
We, too, have gathered wines at the end of our own party only to wonder who brought them once they were separated from their bags. Most guests, we found, don’t even put their names on the bags. Write your name on the label — unless you’re embarrassed by the wine!
What are good hostess gifts? Champagne is ideal because few people want to spend $50 on it, but they are glad to drink it if someone else does. Alas, champagne is in short supply this year with Veuve Cliquot especially hard to find. Reasonably priced champagnes include Pommery, Nicolas Feuillatte and Moet-Chandon. If you want an amazing sparkling wine, look for the inexpensive Gruet rosé from New Mexico.
French rosé, such as those from Gerard Bertrand or Domaine Ott, make wonderful gifts too.
Avoid sweet wines from your trip to North Carolina or something weird made from, say, bananas no matter how much you like it.
Beaujolais is a very versatile wine that won’t set you back and is a delicious pairing for Thanksgiving turkey. Look for a village cru, such as Morgon, Fleurie or Moulin-a-Vent.
There are some great, inexpensive French wines from the Cotes du Rhone that are well under $30. Some producers to look for include Janasse, Chapoutier, Guigal and Chateau St. Cosme. If you can spend a few bucks more, consider a red wine from Gigondas or Vacqueyras.
There are many inexpensive wines from Bordeaux that cost far less than most Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Consider the wines from the satellite districts that aren’t quite so famous. We like Chateau Les Trois Croix from Fronsac.
If white wine is your pleasure, look to Graves for delicious sauvignon blanc and semillon blends. We buy Chateau Ducasse by the case and it never fails to please.
If your host has a trip planned to Italy, you can find some inexpensive barbera from Piedmont, and chianti from the 2016 vintage is phenomenal no matter what the price.
Do you want a wine that will make a statement, a luxury wine that will leave an impression? Here are some recommendations that are sure to draw a few “wows:”
Ladera Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($75). Sourcing grapes from Howell Mountain estate vineyards, Ladera has a blockbuster wine. There is a lot of power and density with ripe blackberry and cassis flavors and hints of plums and spice. Supple tannins make it approachable in its youth but clearly it has a long road ahead of it.
Newton The Puzzle Napa Valley 2018 ($125). Newton has been producing this special edition since 1992 and remains focused on the noble Bordeaux grape varieties grown on hillside vineyards on Spring Mountain and Mount Veeder. Very concentrated and rich in style. Plum, blackberry and mineral notes.
Atlas Peak Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($50). Rich and ripe black cherry and blackberry notes with a dash of cocoa powder and spice, long finish and velvet mouthfeel.
Gamble Family Vineyards Family Home 2016 ($130). Using grapes from its 3.5-acre vineyard, Tom Gamble and winemaker Jim Close have made an impressive cabernet sauvignon. So confident are they in this Oakville wine that no other grapes go into the blend. Because the knoll-top vineyard faces two directions, the grapes are picked at different times and aged separately in French oak for 20 months. It opens with strawberry and herbal aromas. Very concentrated and structured to assure longevity with strawberry and cherry flavors and hints of tea and tobacco. Gamble’s 2016 cabernet sauvignon ($60) is a Bordeaux-blend that is more approachable in its youth but still complex and age-worthy.
Cuvaison Adda Pinot Noir 2019 ($80). Using three special clones, winemaker Steve Rogstad has crafted an opulent, extracted pinot with black cherry notes, fine tannins and remarkable aromatics.
Blackbird Vineyards Contrarian Napa Valley 2017 ($135). Using grapes from three elite vineyards — Stagecoach, Ballard and Crocker & Starr — this savory blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot exudes luxury. Plum and black cherry flavors dominate the palate and includes layers of cedar, mocha, vanilla.
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Goosecross Branta 2017 ($65). This is a juicy and extracted blend of zinfandel, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley. Dark fruit notes with lots of spice, color and rich mouthfeel.