Monday, October 23, 2017

Rant: Two Rules Of Choosing Holiday Wines

As the holidays approach, it's time for wine blogs, magazines, newspapers, and more to present their recommendations for holiday wines, from Thanksgiving selections to Christmas dinner choices. The majority of these articles seem repetitive, presenting similar choices to what they presented in the years before. Originality is too often lacking in those articles yet they still garner plenty of attention from consumers, who are seeking advice and recommendations.

I am hoping to offer something different, to alter consumer's thinking rather than provide specific wines they should drink on the holidays. Let me provide two rules for choosing holiday wines, two rules which are intended to change your perceptions in selecting those wines.

First, stop being a cheapskate!

During the holidays, many people stock up on wine to serve their guests at various parties and celebrations. Often, because they are buying bottles in bulk, their primary concern is price. They generally want to purchase wine that costs $10 per bottle or less and usually end up buying the large, commercial "value" wines, such as the Barefoot or Yellow Tail. It takes almost no thought to buy such wines. Though such wines might be drinkable, they aren't going to impress anyone. You've chosen to take the cheapest route possible, in both price and time.

If you're hosting a holiday party, don't you want to impress your guests? Don't you want them to leave the party talking about the great time they had? It only takes a little extra work, and maybe price, to elevate your wine selections. Or would you rather be known as a wine cheapskate by your guests, who know you bought cheap wine with no real thought? They might not say anything to your face, but behind your back they will be talking about your poor choices.

I certainly understand the need to control your wine costs when you are providing for a number of guests. You certainly don't need to buy $50 wines to impress your guests. You don't even have to spend $20. I've brought a number of $10-$15 wines to parties that the other guests loved and wanted to know where they could buy them. There are good and interesting wines around this price point, if you know where to seek them out. If you want your holiday celebration to be even more popular, then you need to serve those type of wines. The extra effort will elevate your party and please your family, friends, and other guests.

What should you do?

To start, seek out one of the better discount wine stores. These places often carry a good selection of wines costing $15 or under, much more than you will find at a regular wine store. You can find plenty of variety in these inexpensive wines, whites and reds, domestic and imported. You will find wines comparable in price to those large commercial "value" wines but which offer much more character, taste and value. My top recommendations for discount wines stores, places I shop regularly, include Bin Ends in Braintree & Needham, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Make the effort and drive to one of these great shops and find better value wines. The investment of time will pay off, creating many happy guests at your next party.

If you some reason you can't make it to one of these discount wine shops, you still have options. At whatever wine shop you visit, it might be best to ask the wine store staff for recommendations of value wines. They should be able to direct you toward those wines inexpensive wines which will be more interesting and delicious. You should also remember that most wine stores offer a discount for bulk purchases, sometimes as few as 6 wines, which is another way to save money on your purchases.

But if for some reason you can't ask a store employee for some recommendations, then my best advice for selecting a good wine that is $15 or under, and sometimes even $10 and under, is to buy a Portuguese wine. At this time, I think some of the greatest value wines are coming out of Portugal, especially at the price point. Chances are that if you purchase a Portuguese wine costing $15 or less, you will find a delicious and interesting wine. And there are plenty of Portuguese wines available in that price range. There is probably no other wine region where you can find as many good wines at that price point.

You also should know that paying a few dollars more for your wine can make a big difference. When you start considering wines priced from $10-$15, your options increase drastically. You can find some interesting wines from all over the world in that price range, though they still offer value. And if you are buying in bulk where the wine store offers a discount for larger purchases, you can save enough money so that the wines end up priced closer to $10 per bottle.

So this holiday season, don't buy the same old cheap wines. It won't take much effort to select some better choices, and still very inexpensively. In the end, you'll impress your guests, make your holiday party more memorable, and drink better wines.

Second, stop buying that same old fruitcake!

Most of the wine articles you'll read right now offer very similar advice, recommending the same types of wines again and again. For example, you'll see many suggestions for Pinot Noir and Riesling for Thanksgiving, the same wines that have been recommended by these articles year after year. You might have served them at Thanksgiving last year (and previous years) but can any of your dinner guests actually remember which wine was served? Doubtful.

Because they are so ordinary, they usually become very forgettable. They are the "same old fruitcakes" the same old traditional wines that everyone serves and think little about. Wouldn't you rather ditch those trite old fruitcakes and serve wines that are more memorable? There is nothing wrong with these fruitcake wines, They can be tasty and fitting for your meal, but why just stick to such wines? You can do more and make your dinner or party even more exciting.

A Thanksgiving meal is diverse, with many different flavors, from savory to sweet, and many different textures. No single wine is a perfect pairing with all these different dishes. And you can serve whatever wines you want. There are no rules. As such, you have an opportunity to serve a diverse selection of wines, to serve wines that will surprise and please your guests. For example, I've recommended serving Sherry or Sake for Thanksgiving.

This same idea applies to when you are buying wine as gifts for family, friends, and others. Don't you want to give something memorable to the recipient? It is easy to give someone a bottle of Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. They are probably the same type of wines the recipient might buy on their own. Instead, why not splurge and buy something different, something the recipient might not buy on their own but which they would enjoy. Stop sending "fruitcakes" and go for something more exciting.

You have plenty of options for more exciting gift wines. Pick something local, such as a Massachusetts wine, or something from another New England state, or even from nearby New York. Or find wines from less commonly known regions such as Georgia, Moldova, Lebanon, Israel and more. Find wines with less common grapes such as Mencia, Assyrtiko, Petit Verdot, Grillo, Zweigelt, and Touriga Franca. Choose some different sparkling wines such as Franciacorta or Cremant d'Alsace. There are so many options available that it is easy to opt for something besides the same old fruitcakes.

All I want is for people to be more open in their holiday wine choices. Don't be lazy and choose the same old wines when there is an abundance of excellent choices out there. There are so many thousands of different wines available so why limit yourself to a mere handful? The holidays are a time many people splurge so splurge on diversity.

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