Party Spirits

By Steve Bjerklie

AH, THANKSGIVING, Oh, Tannenbaum!, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, and that insufferable office get-together. Like it or not, it’s time to warm the wassail. Warning: Lots of drinking ahead. Lots of food, too. And lots of people. And so, ah, that’s our problem of the day. With so little, how do you give so much to so many? Face it: Winston Churchill notwithstanding, the RAF you’re not.

Of primary importance–choosing a wine to accompany the jungle of flavors and textures presented by your typical party’s hors d’oeuvres tray. What kind of wine, for example, goes well with both goat cheese and tortilla chips? How about with slices of kiwi fruit and slices of salami? Or with Swedish meatballs and cocktail weenies? (Call me a traditionalist: I refuse to attend a party without cocktail weenies. I bring my own as necessity requires. Doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus once turned a cord of firewood into a bowl of cocktail weenies? I’m sure it does. But I digress.)

Fortunately, the wine industry provides a number of fine solutions to our problems, which are all, as it happens, providentially available right now. Here are three suggestions to get you through the grueling calendar of upcoming holiday engagements.

Lithos 1994 Napa Valley Chardonnay Barrel Select. The buttery, almost cheesy nose of this excellent value might be a bit strong for some, but the wine’s strong, full, oaken flavor makes it an ideal white-wine party choice. This baby will stand up to the toughest you can throw at it: guacamole, jicama spears, cheese niblets. Rather than fighting off clashing flavors, the Lithos diplomatically blends them. Another plus: At a party last year a gentleman who apparently had a disagreement with me poured an entire glass of this wine on my shoes, yet the next morning–no stain! Two stars. $6.47.

Davis Bynum 1994 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Turkey-based meals such as those served on Thanksgiving and Christmas are real challenges for wine. The old adage about white wine going best with poultry doesn’t work at all: the strong flavor of roast turkey knocks any white wine right out of the house. Not only that, but those damn cranberries are total wine-killers. I learned after several years that pinot noir is actually the best wine to accompany turkey, and this Davis Bynum–with a mildly cedary, brambly nose and a not-too-tannic, not-too-dense yet very smooth flavor–is my table’s choice this year. Try it with the yams. Three stars. $9.79.

Hacienda Brut, Methode Champenoise. Sparkling wine experienced a revolution in the 1980s and early ’90s, and we–meaning everyone who can’t imagine a party or reception without a tulip glass in hand–are the winners. Where once there were two kinds of bubblies, super-expensive and super-awful, now there’s a nicely populated middle-class of tasty, affordable sparklers. This Hacienda is very dry, so not only will it stand up to a wide variety of party food, but the dryness will discourage anyone from drinking too much of it without eating some food as well. But some of you will want to know: Are the bubbles small enough? How the hell should I know? There are bubbles, lots of bubbles. They look plenty small to me. Two and a half stars. $5.99.

Appearing on a regularly irregular basis, Spo-Dee-O-Dee explores $10-and-less wines fitting today’s real-life lifestyles, without bias toward snob appeal, rarity, or source.

From the November 27-December 4, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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