Magazine article Sunset

Wines for the Best of Times

Magazine article Sunset

Wines for the Best of Times

Article excerpt

* 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, velvetysoft 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): Shafer Vineyards, $30; Spottswoode, S55; 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-andcoming 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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