Buying wine for a gift or to serve at a party can be overwhelming. Cabernet or Pinot Noir? Riesling or Pinot Grigio? There are so many different kinds!
That's why I decided to ask CafeMom VineyardValues, a wine consultant for The Traveling Vineyard, for some tips about buying affordable wine for the holidays. She had some great-sounding suggestions—most under $15!
When buying wine, many people who aren't familiar with different varietals and regions tend to pick ones that have the prettiest label. Do you have any basic tips to help people choose wine for the holidays?
If you buy by the label, chances are you will not like the wine because the money went into creating that label and not the quality of the wine. When you go into your local wine retailer, let them know what you plan on serving, and they can help direct you to great matches for your menus. Take advantage of any local wine tastings that local stores/restaurants are holding as well, so that way you can try before you buy.
What do you tell people who are intimidated by wine?
There are 10,000 varietals of wines out there, so get out there and start trying them. Winemaking is an art. So much time, passion and heart goes into creating a each masterpiece. Sign up for a local community college wine class, join a local wine club or order your own wine of the month club and open yourself up to the world of wine. The best way to learn is to taste, so pop that cork and enjoy!
If you only have $10-$20 to spend on a bottle of wine, what are some good ones to choose that taste high quality?
Wines from Alsace France are a great value. Try Engel Riesling ($19.99) and Louis Refflingen Pinot Blanc ($14.99) from France. Also, right now wines from Chile (Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere) are a tremendous value. You get a fantastic bold wine at a much lower price than the more well known wine regions.
With respect to pairing wine with food, the old standby most people follow is red with meat, white with chicken or fish, etc. Do these rules still hold true today or are there other rules you follow when trying to pair wine with holiday food?
Although those rules are still a good standby, there are always exceptions. For example Beaujolais, which is a red wine, is served chilled and is excellent with turkey. It's always fun to experiment and try to find your own pairings, too. My favorite are the junk food pairings like Engel Riesling with Funyuns onion rings or Blair Red Zinfandel with oatmeal raisin cookies.
What's your favorite affordable wine to give as a gift?
I personally love to give more unique wines or wines from regions friends are more unfamiliar with, because it's like unwrapping a hidden wine gem! I love to give Cielo Torrontes ($14.99), which is the signature white grape from Argentina. It's a great change from the usual Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. A close second is a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc ($14.99) from Casas Patronales in Chile, another all-around great white for sipping, appetizers, or dinner.
What's your favorite affordable wine to serve at a party?
I prefer to use a Brut Sparkling Wine, for example Montbridge Brut Reserve from Australia ($17.99). When you purchase sparkling, you are saving money versus buying an expensive French champagne. Sparkling wines are the base for many cocktails so by simply purchasing some juice like peach nectar or cranberry juice, you can stretch that bottle of wine into many glasses and make Bellinis or my favorite holiday drink, a Berry Sparkler.
What's your favorite affordable wine to celebrate with?
I love to celebrate with Moscato d'Asti ($18.99), a dessert wine from Piedmont Italy. It is about half the alchohol content of other wines, and is very light and refreshing. It goes perfectly with a chocolate fountain and all the delicious fruit you dip into it. Very festive and delicious!
Any other tips?
Different growing regions around the world can make the same grape taste completely different. So just because you say you don't like oaky California Chardonnay, try an Aussie Chardonnay which tends to be more tropical in flavor. If you don't usually like earthy Cabernet Sauvignon, try a cab from South Africa for a more fruit-forward version of Cabs.
The best tip is to just try lots of different varietals from many different regions. There really isn't any right or wrong way to drink wine or even pair it. In the end, you are the one that is drinking that bottle of wine so enjoy it the way you like!
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