Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Essential Party Cellar

By Toni Ketrenos
New Seasons Market Wine Buyer

Save a bundle and fortify your wine collection! New Seasons Market will take 20% off of your purchase of 12 or more bottles of wine. Savvy wine shoppers can take advantage of this discount and stock their cellar (or wine rack, closet or pantry) now for the whole season. Here’s a buying guide to make it easier than ever this year:

1-3 bottles of bubbly:
How I love Champagne! But not everyone loves the astringency and yeasty quality of these cool-region wines, and I can empathize with anyone turned off from their $30-plus price tags. Fortunately there are dozens of alternatives under $20. Most folks will want a bottle of bubbly for the moment the clock strikes 12 at the start of a new year--but don’t stop there. The spritz cleans the palate nicely, so I find sparkling wines an ideal fit for any meal. I adore them with cheese (the acidity cuts through cream like nothing else!), and the crispness also plays well off of seafood. If you feel like something festive Christmas morning, make sure to get an inexpensive Cava or Prosecco for mimosas. (Fresh-squeezed blood oranges are outrageous, or put a spin on it and use pomegranate juice for something different.) Keep one bottle in the refrigerator to elevate any everyday occasion. Pop it (and sparkling cider for the kids) as you decorate the Christmas tree. Savor it as you wrap presents late at night. Open it when a friend drops by unexpectedly and they will never feel so welcomed! Prosecco has been big this year, as people discover that the flavors are softer and slightly peachy. The Mionetto “Il Prosecco” is down to just $9.99 this year if you’re looking for a budget-friendly choice, or try Riondo or Toffoli. The $9.99 Trocadero Blanc de Blancs from France (although not Champagne) is another great value. You’ll find lots of treasures from the Cava district of Northeastern Spain – from $7.99 standards that make a great mimosa to more sophisticated bottles like Mont Marcal or Rimart that could fool some connoisseurs into thinking they’re drinking Champagne.

1 special bottle to give as a gift
There’s usually someone on your list who appreciates at great bottle of wine. With 20% off, you can splurge a little extra this year on your boss/father-in-law/child’s teacher/brother. If it’s someone who lives out of town, I’d urge you to explore the wines of our small local producers. These wines are in very limited supply and aren’t available in most states.

2 bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is one of the most food-friendly varietals. Being of medium body, it almost never overwhelms a dish. It deftly walks that middle ground to balance between poultry and red meat – you can serve it with either without ruffling a sommelier’s feathers. It also pairs incredibly well with salmon because of the soft tannins. Oregon has built an international reputation for its Pinot Noir, so your out-of-town guests may hope to try some of the smaller wineries not available in their hometown. Prices have actually come down a bit this year. My quick picks at the $20 mark include Illahe, Broadley, Ayres, J. Christopher “Floyd’s Cuvée” and the Ponzi “Tavola.”

2 bottles of aromatic white wine
Neither heavily oaked nor overly sweet wines play well with a wide range of foods. With all the potlucks and buffets over the next month, go for the most versatile wines you can find. Look for varietals like Chenin Blanc, Albarino and Verdejo. Although it’s not an “aromatic white” according to wine-geekdom I also find Pinot Gris to be a good choice due to the round fruit, balanced acidity and traces of minerality. Some bottles to look for: MAN or Dry Creek Chenin Blanc, Morgadio or Martin Codax Albarino, MartinsanchoVerdejo, and Eyrie or St. Innocent Pinot Gris.

1 bottle of basic white
Brining your turkey? Many recipes call for anywhere between 1 cup and 1 bottle of white wine. Some chefs swear by basting their turkey or ham with 1 cup of white wine just before it comes out of the oven or deglazing the pan with it as they start to make the gravy. I find it brightens the flavor and makes the turkey flavor pop. I stand by the rule “Never cook with anything you wouldn’t drink” so stay away from the monster brands. (After all, if you hate parsnips, you’d probably substitute carrots, right? Think of wine the same way – an ingredient that adds a layer of flavor.) Besides, the rest of the bottle won’t keep so plan to share it with your sous chefs while the entrée cooks. Check out the Oisly-Thesee Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling or Domaine Maubet Côtes-de-Gascogne Blanc.

1 bottle of fortified wine for cooking
Go through all your recipes in advance to find out what you might need. Many festive recipes call for Port, Sherry, Madeira or Marsala. Our 20% mixed case discount applies to these, too, so be sure to get them now. These wines will keep for a month or if kept away from light and heat. If you don’t remember when you bought that bottle in your pantry, it’s time to replace it. It might not make you sick, but the flavors won’t be what the recipe needs. Even if you don’t need any to cook with, nothing beats a nip of Port on a cold night. Plus, it pairs great with all those cookies and chocolates.

Fill the rest of the case with your favorite everyday wines. Having some of your favorite on hand will bring a welcome treat after a hectic post-work shopping trip. It’s also best type of wine to give as a hostess gift, especially if you don’t know what that person likes. After all, if you enjoy it enough to keep coming back to it’s not a stretch to think that your friend or coworker will like it as well. Plus, if you have a story to tell about the wine, like a visit to the winery or your first taste at a favorite restaurant, it makes the wine seem like an even more special treat. And if you don’t give them all away, you’ll have a few bottles left for yourself in January when the holidays are just a memory. Cheers!

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