Wherever you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, your calendar is going to fill up fast with cocktail parties, progressive dinners and tree-trimming gatherings. Between the annual and the impromptu invitations – along with any fêtes planned at your own home – you may find yourself reaching to the very bottom of the wine barrel for dinner party contributions or libations to offer your guests. “Hey, honey, do you think this 1998 Sauvignon Blanc is still any good?” Yikes.
This year, we’re arming ourselves with a collection of budget-friendly, food-friendly, crowd-friendly wines that’ll make getting into the holiday spirit much more fun for everyone.
If you’re throwing a party, narrow what you’ll offer to three choices: bubbly, white and red. This can be presented in the form of a question to guests as you take their coats and you (or your co-host) can have a glass in their hands in under a minute. And because you are selecting versatile, gap-bridging examples of each, it doesn’t matter if they are a buttery Chardonnay diehard or a meaty Malbec devotée. White drinkers will choose white. Red drinkers? Red. The switch-hitters will probably go for bubbly. If you’ve been tasked with bringing wine to a party, ask your host the same question.
Now, what are some examples of these magical wine diplomats?
The goal with white wines is to find one with enough fruit and acidity (that pucker on the sides of your tongue) to appeal to the Sauvignon Blanc set – yet not so much fruit and acidity that it turns off the oaky Chardonnay-ers. Serving wine with food (especially the cheese- and butter-enriched canapés at any cocktail party worth attending) requires a streak of acid to stand up to it all. Tendu White is an imminently likeable wine made with Vermentino grapes – an Italian-born varietal that adapts beautifully to California’s Yolo County. Chard-drinkers get their ripe pears and Sauv Blanc-ers get their lime zest. And it’s not lost on us that it comes in a holiday-friendly liter size sealed with an instant-access crown cap. Done and done.
Red wine drinkers tend to be a little less divisive. All reds have some tannins (the compounds from grapes skins that create that drying sensation in your mouth), but there’s still that group out there that wants a red wine so extracted and dense that you could stand a spoon up in it. (You know who you are, people!) Since ripeness correlates directly to alcohol content, we’d be wise to avoid serving anything too high-octane lest you want guests passing out on your bed atop the heap of jackets.
Bench Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir clocks in at 13.8% alcohol: higher than the more acidic versions from Burgundy that need a hearty plate of boeuf bourguignon and/or cellar time to be palatable, but lower than the 15% Zins and Cabs that obliterate any food on the buffet (slurring words in the process). Heady with smells of eucalyptus and currants and sugar plums (for real), this red satisfies those who want to taste the fruit and the forest floor in their wine.
Bubbles are a gimme (just seeing a glass makes us giddy). And few sparkling producers make it easier and more affordable to impress and delight than Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their Chardonnay-based Sauvage is made just as Blanc de Blancs Champagne is made, but at a sliver of the cost. With the perfect balance of toastiness and palate-cleansing acidity, this one beverage can transition seamlessly from pre-dinner sipping to post-dinner cheese platter revisiting. Keeping a bottle (or six!) in the fridge at all times means you can grab one when heading out the door. And, because it’s already chilled, chances are your host will pop the cork right away - no pregame necessary.Plus, rest assured that any leftovers from this carefully curated stash will come in mighty handy when the real (holiday-free) winter sets in and 5 pm comes early.