Now the fun begins. It’s time to polish the menorah, try to fit into last season’s Santa suit and practice opening the champagne without putting somebody’s eye out.
And it’s time to talk about wine’s role in all of this. Here are some Heloise-y wine hints for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and all the other occasions of the season.
• Right after Thanksgiving, buy several nice, medium-priced wines, wrap them gaily, put on a blank “to-from” sticker and hide them in a closet. When someone unexpected comes to call bearing a token gift, you can hurriedly write his or her name on the sticker and say, “I’ve been saving this just for you.”
• At your holiday party, hand your guests a modest glass of bubbly the moment they walk in the door to make them feel welcome. Prosecco, Italy’s trendy, inexpensive bubbly, is just the thing.
• Save the very best, most expensive wines for Christmas or Hanukkah dinner. We’ll get to that in a future column. For big parties, $10-to-$20 wines will be fine. Guests won’t be sniffing and gargling much anyway.
• Avoid powerful, tannic wines such as cabernet sauvignon or barolo unless you know some of your guests like them. For the crowd, serve merlot, pinot noir, mellow red blends, chardonnay. Have bottles of off-dry riesling, chenin blanc or moscato for guests who prefer sweet wines.
• Buy enough wine. Martha Stewart says to plan on one bottle per two people per hour of party. And one regular 24-ounce bottle of wine provides about five generous glasses. (See Martha’s website for beer, spirits and such.) If there’s some left over, save it for Super Bowl Sunday.
• Serve your wines at the right temperature. Wine Spectator says that’s 40 to 50 degrees for light dry whites, rosés and sparkling wines; 50 to 60 for full-bodied whites and light, fruity reds; 60 to 65 for full-bodied reds and ports. (That rule about serving reds at room temperature was born in chilly French Chateau cellars, not 85-degree Miami kitchens).
• Serve some kosher wines for your Jewish friends. They’re easily available. From California, Baron Herzog Wine Cellars and Hagafen Cellars offer them.
• For big parties, you can cut expenses by offering champagne punch, with inexpensive bubbly, two or three flavors of frozen juice concentrate and lemon slices. Drop in some frozen raspberries. To show off, fill a heart-shaped cake pan with cranberry fruit concentrate and sparkling water, freeze it and plop it into the middle of the punch bowl.
• Serve some alcohol-removed wines. Fre offers six – chardonnay, merlot, moscato, red blend, sparkling brut and white zinfandel for $6 each. Ariel Vineyards offers chardonnay for $9, a red blend called “Rouge” for $6 and a cabernet sauvignon for $9.
• Serve substantial appetizers to keep your friends from drinking on empty stomachs. Mini-beef rolls, hot cheese dip, chopped chicken livers. Again, check with Martha.
• Accommodate guests who want to be moderate by drinking a non-alcoholic drink between glasses of wine. A nice choice is sparkling water on the rocks in a glass with a dash of Angostura bitters and a wedge of lime. It contains some alcohol, but you use only a quarter teaspoon.
• Cut off wine service half an hour before the party ends. Offer coffee, caffeinated sodas and such. Pass around cookies. As you say goodbye at the door, check for tipsy guests. Quietly offer to call them a cab. Stay in shape to drive them home yourself if necessary. After all, you want them around for next year’s party.
Listed below are some nice wines that should fit the above categories.
• 2012 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir, Central Coast: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and coffee, smooth finish; $23.
• 2012 William Hill Estate Merlot, Central Coast: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries and black pepper, rich and mellow; $17.
• Nonvintage Menage à Trois Prosecco DOC Sparkling Wine, Italy: sweet-tart, crisp, with aromas and flavors of limes and green pears; $16.
• Nonvintage Jaume Serra Cristalino Rosé Brut Cava sparkling wine, Penedés, Spain (60 percent pinot noir, 40 percent trepat): bright pink color, very lightly sweet, aromas and flavors of strawberries and cherries, lively bubbles; $12.
• 2012 Las Rocas Renegado Red Blend, Calatayud DO, Spain (garnacha, tempranillo, syrah): hint of oak, rich and spicy, red plum flavors; $14.
• 2012 Fre Alcohol-Removed Red Blend, by Sutter Home Family Vineyards: soft, smooth and slightly sweet, with aromas and flavors of black cherries and cinnamon; $6.
• 2011 Baron Herzog Merlot (kosher), Central Coast: aromas and flavors of red plums and spice, soft and smooth; $15.
• 2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay, Central Coast: ripe peaches and apricots, spicy, $15.
• 2012 Folie à Deux Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast: light and crisp, with black cherries and cardamom; $20.
• 2013 Kendall-Jackson “Vintner’s Reserve” Riesling, Monterey County: floral aromas, ripe pears and Asian spices; $13.
• 2013 Mirassou Pinot Grigio, Calif.: light and lively, lemon meringue pie flavors, crisp; $12.
Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.