A Vinous Holiday Survival Guide

holiday wines
Photo by Zach Dischner

The holiday season is in full throttle. Office parties, Pollyannas, last minute shopping. Looking out the window on a sunny winter’s morn as some idiot in a bathrobe unloads the septic tank of his SUV into a storm drain…..oh, sorry, forget that. It’s only cousin Eddie. What you really need are some tips to navigate the rocks and shoals of these final two weeks of annually enforced merriment, family get-togethers, and the angst that inevitably arises.

1. If you’re pairing wines with cheese, don’t attempt to impress your wine savvy guests with top-shelf wines unless you have a handle on how a good match works (or you patronize a cheesemonger who knows their stuff). I’ve been to too many such gatherings where budget-busting Cabs, Barolos, and Bordeaux were served with wedges of Crackerbarrel cheddar or the equivalent of individually wrapped slices of Velveeta. Better to spend on the cheeses and dial down on wine. That $25/pound hunk of lactic goodness won’t overpower a well-chosen $15-$20 wine; it may in fact elevate it. A vacuum-sealed supermarket Gouda, on the other hand, just might suck the life out of an otherwise well-crafted, high-end bottle.

2. What to get for the oenophile on your shopping list? For the love of Bacchus, avoid the gimmicky items you’ve seen in some of the 327 catalogs that have dropped through your mail slot the last few months, every one guaranteed to enhance the wine experience for that special someone – like that Elvis Presley aerator or swan-shaped “crystal” decanter. And don’t drop big bucks on a premium wine because well, you know, if it’s expensive it must be good. Unless you know a person’s “go to” wine, a safer and saner course of action is to give them a gift card to a local wine shop or the PLCB. You’ve removed the guess work and sometimes dubious recommendations posted on the shelves and given them a gift they’ll use.

3. Which brings up the other side of the gift giving equation – the recipient. If you’re a connoisseur, someone who friends and family view as a “wine person”, or just passionate about wine, face it, you will get wine related gifts or bottles that may not be up to your standards. Try to remember that someone thought enough of you to address your love affair with the fruit of the vine. Be appreciative, of course, but not too effusive in your thanks – or else you may receive something similar next year. And, there’s always the option of re-gifting, as long as you don’t forget who gave it to you in the first place.

4. As either host or guest, don’t be “that person”, the one who forgets that wine is, after all, fermented grape juice. Unless Michel Roland is at your table or you’re dining with the Mondavis, put aside your terroiristic geekery for the time being. Most folks won’t want a dissertation on the nuances and subtleties in their glass, let alone how the essence of the soil has been artfully expressed by the winemaker. There’s no need to come off as the vinous version of a nattering foodie by deconstructing every sip. It’s not a Thomas Pynchon novel, so don’t swirl, sniff and savor your way to boorishness.

Now you can kick back and enjoy a moose glass of nog with Clark and Eddie, listen for that funny, squeaky sound coming from the tree, and help your eccentric uncle adjust his toupee before the mealtime blessing. Cheers!