Magazine article Sunset

The Wine Guide

Magazine article Sunset

The Wine Guide

Article excerpt

Wines for the best of times

Since antiquity, wine has been the beverage of celebration, for it symbolizes joy, transformation, and togetherness.

Notwithstanding all this archetypal significance, however, wine has a purely pragmatic side this time of year: it is just about the best answer to the question of what to bring, serve, and give during the holidays. Here are a few sticky seasonal scenarios - and some delicious thoughts on how to solve them.

You're invited to a holiday dinner party and ...

IT'S SMALL AND INTIMATE. This calls for something that will be scrumptious and impressive if the host decides to open it on the spot - a lush Viognier from California. Viognier is a relatively new grape in America, but it already has a cult following. As white wines go, Viognier is expensive, but it's magnificent. Top choices (all 1997): Alban Vineyards Estate, $28; Calera, $30; and Pride Mountain Vineyards, $28.

IT'S A FAMILY GET-TOGETHER. Tap the special magic a family holiday dinner can possess, with a wine that suggests warmth and generosity: a big, velvety-soft Zinfandel. I mean, of course, the real McCoy - red Zinfandel (white Zin is another animal altogether). Among the most fantastic Zinfandels (all 1996): A. Rafanelli, $18.50; Folie a Deux Old Vine, $18; and St. Francis Winery Old Vine, $20.

IT'S AT THE HOME OF SOMEONE YOU HARDLY KNOW. Best to opt for something classic, such as a top Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. Three of the best (all 1995): Sharer Vineyards, $30; Spottswoode, $55; and Livingston Moffett Vineyard, $40.

You're throwing a party and ...

IT'S CASUAL. This is the time to abandon any "rules." Why not go out on a creative limb and put together a group of wines around a theme? One great possibility is "Up-and-Coming Varieties." Did you know, for example, that all kinds of new exciting varieties are being planted in California? Here are some up-and-coming whites (all 1997): Seghesio Family Vineyards Arneis, $15; McDowell Valley Vineyards Marsanne, $16; and Monte Volpe Vineyards Tocai Friulano, $13. Among reds, try Jade Mountain Mourvedre 1996, $20; Pepi "Colline di Sassi" Sangiovese 1995, $20; and Truchard Syrah 1996, $27.

IT'S ELEGANT. Nothing beats bubbles for making everyone feel special. My favorite moderately priced sparklers: Gloria Ferrer Brut nonvintage, $15, and Domaine Carneros Brut Cuvee 1993, $18 (both from California). And if money is no object, consider French Champagne: Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve nonvintage, about $25, or Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin Brut nonvintage, about $50. …

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