Vintage Beacon 11/09: Who to Serve on the Holidays

In the spirit of the holidays this week’s column will tackle such questions put forth as: Is it truly fair to pour the Good wine to those that know and the Bad to those that don’t? Which category does Nouveau Beaujolais appear in? And, finally, how can you get through the holidays without taking the edge off some of your less desirable relatives?

Magnum Veuve CliquotI have read that it is proper etiquette to thankfully accept a gift of wine at your holiday event. On the other hand it is not bad etiquette not to drink it at said event. I have done this myself for these two different reasons: One the bottle is too good; the other, not good enough. It may also depend on your menu, the guest size and/or the occasion. I have a magnum of non-vintage French Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne in my fridge waiting for the proper venue. I thanked my guest for the gift and set it aside for when I had enough guests over to be able to finish it.

Sometimes in the case of a gift that is apropos but not my choice, if I can swing it, I will decant it along with other bottles and let my guests decide what to try. Of course, if it is shamefully bad I will pour it into the gift giver’s glass first; let them choose if they would like to continue or to move on. I don’t correct, unless sincerely queried, but by having other bottles available it is entirely up to them. It’s a simple matter of taste; and we as wine drinkers all viva la difference.

Nouveau Beaujolais is a little trickier. This wine is produced in France, going from vine to bottle in the speed of grape to raisin, and has been specially flown over on the Concord in time for Thanksgiving. Years ago Ed and I were eating at La Fondue Bourgogne and in the midst of our meal a great hubbub occurred: the Nouveau had arrived! The flurry to adorn our tables with small menu cards, as there was only one brand from one French vineyard; a stage had been set. All present took a deep intake of air, pushed ahead and ordered. This annual release is supposed to be an indicator of what the Beaujolais vintage will produce that year. Its celebratory incantation perfectly fitted for celebrations!

It’s not such a big deal any more as our own local Napa wineries are doing their own versions. And if that’s not enough to spoil the thrill, it’s served chilled. It has lots of fruit. Like a dark White Zinfandel. Do we drink? Do we pass? As part of the festivities in a restaurant or holiday event at home we will always taste. And for your guests that like this offering both the domestic and the imported are very inexpensive. It’s a good compromise and a decent warm-up to your more resplendent selections.

For your turkey? I say go for it! Whatever is your current favorite red will suffice. When guests arrive with their offerings (Or ask what to bring) it’s a perfect opportunity to try different varietals like Spanish Riojas, Italian Barolos, French Burgundies and South African Shirazes. And, if you are entertaining chances are you will have more than one opportunity to learn by sampling. Try and do it like a wine bar: just give yourself a one once pour and then decide if you want to commit to a full glass.

The object is never drunkenness but education, satisfaction and sublime taste. (No one ever knows what I’ve coveted unless they check out the bottle closest to my place setting…)

For your pumpkin pies, holiday sugar cookies and left over Halloween chocolate be careful pairing with a dessert wine. Dessert wines, with their high sugar levels, can stand alone. A melt in your mouth dessert zinfandel or cabernet, doesn’t require chocolate. And a late harvest chardonnay or Muscat can so thickly drench your tongue in honey your pie will pale in comparison. Again, it’s your personal choice. For me, after a big holiday meal a split of dessert wine can cover eight guests. After that an excellent coffee is all that I think is required.

At the end of the evening consider that even your most undesirable “side effects” of the holidays can be dulled with the right wine selections. Including your mother’s friend that you didn’t invite but offers to wash all of the dishes if you keep her wine glass full. For that friend that breaks your wine glass every time try tying a large red ribbon on the stem.

It cured my friend’s bad habit pretty darn quick! And your own hot flash will dissipate if you relax and unwind with that magnum of champagne, the one you’ve been hoarding for a special occasion, all by your lonesome, at the end of your event, hidden by the cigarette smoke of those that have exited to your yard and once all of the dishes are washed of course.