As I have done every year since I moved to Texas five holiday seasons ago, I'll be spending Christmas eve on Cow Bayou in Bridge City, East Texas (about 20 minutes up the road from Orange, where my wife was born).
Uncle Tim will make his famous gumbo, spiked with his hard-boiled-egg-laced potato salad, Aunt Pam (not really our aunt, but she still kisses me on the lips) will bring fried boudin balls and I'll bring a mixed case of wine.
The get-together will include roughly 30 relatives and extended family friends, each with personal beverage preferences (Uncle Tim's is Chivas and diet Sprite).
As for many American families, Christmas isn't the occasion for breaking out my ten-year-old Nebbiolo or the single-vineyard Burgundy I've been saving. No, it's time for value and crowd-pleasers. No meditation wines here, ma'am, just some good ol' reliable grape wine.
Here's my list of what I'll be drinking on the bayou this year. Nearly every wine is under the $25 mark, and some can be had for less than $20. My top-priced splurge wine weighs in at less than $35. The emphasis is on food-friendliness, affordability and the fun factor.
And I've also thrown in a nonalcoholic syrup from a favorite organic Austrian winery (see photo above), a gift idea, and handy and inexpensive serving tool.
Merry Christmas, y'all!
Nicolas Potel 2011 Mâcon-Villages
Fresh, bright, fruit-driven and minerally balanced Chardonnay from southern Burgundy. A gorgeous, approachable, and affordable expression from one of the world's most famous appellations by one of its most respected producers. From wine snob to the "I like ice cubes in my Chardonnay" watcher of Real Housewives, you can't go wrong with this wine. (still white, Houston Wine Merchant, under $20)
Truchard 2012 Roussanne
Even before the "new wave" of California wines began to emerge a few years ago, Truchard was making food-friendly, balanced wines that are always welcome at my table. This stone-fruit-driven Roussanne, grown in Carneros, where proximity to the ocean and cool evening temperatures help to preserve freshness in the wine, is just right with roast turkey breast. (still white, Houston Wine Merchant, under $25)
Ecker-Eckhof 2011 Roter Veltliner
I've written here about this spicy "gray" (not red, not white) grape from Austria before. Its unforgettable spearmint note makes it ideal for the spiral ham my mother-in-law will bring to the Christmas eve table. (white, Houston Wine Merchant, under $20)
Pallus 2010 Chinon Les Pensées de Pallus
Red wine from the village of Chinon in the Loire Valley of France is made with Cabernet Franc, the food-friendlier cousin of the more famous Cabernet Sauvignon. This elegant wine, with its gentle herbaceous note, has just enough umph for the "Cab lover" in the family. (Spec's, under $25)
Donkey and Goat 2010 Red Wine Blend Five Thirteen
Every year, I give my father-in-law a bottle of his favorite Californian wine, Donkey and Goat, one of California's pioneering "natural" (i.e., chemical- and cultured yeast-free) winemakers and one of the leading members of the California's "new wave." So food-friendly, so wholesome, and so tasty, this meaty wine is a Châteuneuf-du-Pape-inspired blend of Rhône grapes with Grenache as its backbone. (red, Spec's, under $35)
Vietti 2010 Perbacco
"Per bacco" means for the Bacchus' sake in Italian. It's a euphemistic expression akin to our for goodness' sake. This wine is 100 percent "reclassified" Barolo: Vietti, the famous Nebbiolo grower, puts it on the market every year so that you don't have to spend $80 to taste one of the world's greatest red wines. Bottom line: It's a steal. (red, Houston Wine Merchant, under $30)
Nino Franco N[on] V[intage] Prosecco Rustico
I need a sparkler for our holiday celebration, of course, but we don't drink no Champagne down on the bayou. No, we need a value-driven, fresh, clean and balanced Prosecco that weighs in under $20. The thing I love about this wine is that it doesn't have the "banana-candy" note of so many commercial Proseccos on the market today. Its slightly salty character is balanced by earnest white fruit, just the way real Prosecco should be. (sparkling white, Spec's, under $20)
Le Creuset Corkscrew
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In his hilarious but oh-so-true holiday wine guide, the brilliant American wine blogger Levi Dalton wrote that he wanted a "double hinged corkscrew. Seriously. They work great. Why pay a ton more for something else?" He's hoping for a Pulltap (my favorite, too), but I wouldn't be disappointed if someone got me a wood-inlay waiter's friend lever wine key from Le Creuset. (Spec's, around $35)
Drop Stop Pour Disks
Sometimes the peskiest problems have the simplest solutions. I love Drop Stop Pour Disks: They are simple, laminated, silver-colored disks that you roll up and place into the neck of awine bottle. You'll never soil nanna's best tablecloth with a drop of dark red wine ever again! Seriously, these are SO HANDY at holiday parties, when all kinds of folks will handling the bottles and pouring the wines. (package of five costs around $7 at Spec's)
I'll have my New Year's Eve sparkling-wine recommendations for you soon.