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Shock and Awe of Holiday Parties

Even if you’re in no mood to sing carols yet, it pays to be prepared
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 28, 2012 10:30am ET

I'm not ready for Christmas. Not even remotely. I have Facebook friends who've put up their tree and decorations, bought most of their presents and even baked their holiday cookies. Clearly these people don't drink enough wine.

Shouldn't there be a one-week recuperation period after Thanksgiving before we even think about Christmas? I'd vote for that proposition. I'm big on Christmas, so don't mistake this for humbug, but I prefer easing into it slowly instead of the shock and awe we currently go through.

And yet while Christmas itself is still weeks away, the holiday entertaining season is thrust upon us, and chances are you'll be throwing or attending a party sometime during the next three weekends. So I guess I have to wake up and smell the eggnog.

We're pretty casual about entertaining in Sonoma County, so guests often pitch in with a bottle of wine and a plate of food for a buffet. Northern California cheeses like Cowgirl Creamery and Bellwether Farms are a favorite here. There's usually plenty of local Dungeness crab, whether still in the shell or in dips or as crab cakes. My wife likes to whip up chef Thomas Keller's easy Gruyère cheese puffs. Then there are the usual Buffalo wings, kabobs, meatballs, cookies, pumpkin bread and fudge and … OK, now I'm hungry just writing this.

If you're looking for food ideas for holiday parties, check out Wine Spectator's recipe database of hors d'oeuvres.

When it comes to big holiday parties, I prefer a buffet for the wine as well. When there are 10 or 20 wines open, I'm like a glassy-eyed kid perched over his stash of Halloween candy. Which should I taste first? Here in wine country, the gems usually outweigh the duds, even if—like me—most of your friends aren't in the business.

Bubbly at these events is a must. I prefer something tasty but frivolous. If someone offers a glass of Krug or J. Schram, I'll drink it happily, but generally I'm too busy catching up with friends to think I have to drink something serious or expensive. (I'll recommend California's top sparkling wines in a blog later this month, by the way.)

My annual California sparkling wine report is in the Dec. 31 issue of Wine Spectator now on newstands, and from my complete list of sparkling wines reviewed this year I've culled a few of my favorite festive bubblies.

Gloria Ferrer produces two sparkling wines that are made for a party. Its Blanc de Noirs Carneros non-vintage (90 points, $20) is lightly pink and lively, while Va de Vi Ultra Cuvée Sonoma County NV (88, $22) is crisp but still a touch sweet and spicy.

For those who demand super value, there's the latest release of Korbel Extra Dry California NV (87, $13.) Extra dry, is actually slightly more sweet than brut, but this bottle is still crisp and loaded with easy-sipping ripe fruit.

Sparkling rosés are my go-to entertaining wines and two of the best from California right now are Mumm Napa Brut Rosé Napa Valley NV (90, $24), which is floral and luscious, and Scharffenberger Brut Rosé Mendocino County Excellence NV (91, $23), which is sleek and bursting with raspberry and butter cookie.

So there you have it, my mini-guide to casual holiday entertaining. Do you have a favorite recipe or wine you'd like to suggest for the season? We can all use a little help this time of year. As for putting up your Christmas decorations, you're on your own.

William Matarese
Florida, USA —  November 28, 2012 12:13pm ET
The Mumm Napa Brut Prestige has been my "house" bubbly for years. Very elegant and only a few bucks more than the Korbel Extra Dry.
David Rossi
Napa, CA, USA —  November 28, 2012 3:16pm ET
You had me at Scharffenberger Rose. Had a great one last year at the tasting room.
Paul M Hummel
Chicago, IL USA —  December 4, 2012 3:07pm ET
Best Value - Gruet blanc de noirs.
Merry Christmas

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