5 Novice Wines for Your Holiday Table


Lots of articles come out this time of year suggesting wine pairings for large, rustic holiday meals and dinner parties with many conflicting ingredients. Indeed, there are perfect food and wine matches to be discovered. However, I use holidays like these to pair the wines with the guests – especially wine novice guests. 

The holidays are a chance for someone to take their first sip of wine, or have a rare opportunity to open and try as many different wines as they may like. A person’s first experience with wine will set the path for their future relationship with the beverage, and I always want to make that experience as enjoyable as possible. So many people have horror stories from college involving neon colored jug wine and have refrained from wine ever since. Others are just intimidated by the subject and are scared of looking unsophisticated.
Unless you’re surrounded by fellow hardcore wine lovers, the holidays are not really the time to break out the 1995 Barolo, decant it, and argue over the vintage while dinner gets cold. There’s a time for serious wine discussion, and there’s a time for simply enjoying bottles as they were meant to be consumed.
Here are five international wines that you can share with your great aunt, your younger cousin, or that stray neighbor that didn’t have anywhere else to go for the holiday. Uncork, pour away into a variety of non-standard glassware, and celebrate the holidays with fermented grapes. 
Novice Wine #1: Easy Drinking Style
Vinho Verde (which literally means “green wine” but actually intends to indicate “young wine”) is not a wine grape; it is a style of Portuguese wine. While the style can have variations, the version I refer to here can be red, white, and rosé, low-alcohol, and slightly fizzy. This is the style most commonly known in the United States. For folks that don’t drink wine on a regular basis, something as low as 9% alcohol allows for responsible consumption without getting tipsy. And at $6, you can supply quite a crowd at a bargain. The little hint of sweetness doesn’t hurt either. 
Vinho Verde, Portugal
Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, and Azal
$6.9% abv.
Gazela, meaning "gazelle" in Portuguese, uses the tagline, “Sabe bem com a vida” – or, "Goes well with life". I've had this wine many times in the past and it's one of the best wines you'll find at the six dollar level. It is crisp, light and delicate, with barely any bubbles. It also has mild citrus notes with just a hint of flowers and tropical fruit. Easy and very enjoyable, you can ice it down and sip with appetizers. 
Novice Wine #2: The Starter’s Sparkler
I think every large dinner should include at least one sparkling wine, and I usually take the chance to teach someone how to safely open such a bottle. Make sure it’s not pointed at your face, hold the cork as tightly as possible, and gently twist the bottle until the cork eases out. Save the theatrics for later. Spain’s Cava  region provides a great quality-to-price ratio which appeals to a lot of palates. 
D.O. Cava, Spain
50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo
11.5% abv.
Brut (a dry sparkling wine style with a lower amount of residual sugar per liter) is more or less the standard sparkling wine level. It’s not bone dry but has no appreciable sweetness either. This wine shows tart lemony acidity with a hint of pear. It has great balance with a crisp finish. While obviously fun with appetizers, this bubbly can be enjoyed throughout the meal and will provide a refreshing contrast to a particularly heavy meal. If you have extra bottles, bring along some crème de cassis to make kir cocktails and let people know that, yes, wine cocktails are a lot of fun.
Novice Wine #3: Graduating to Red
Where to begin with red wine? Rioja offers up tremendous bottles with tasty fruit aromas that will provide a slightly tannic punch but not a heavy experience for those unaccustomed to wine. If you find someone in your group interested, pour a glass early on and then pour them another a few hours later to demonstrate how the aromas and flavors can change with exposure to air. There’s a lot of Rioja available in the US and it makes for an easy recommendation once you’ve got somebody hooked. 
Rioja, Spain
100% Garnacha
14% abv.
This wine delivers a dominant aroma of blueberries with elements of blackberry and red cherry. These continue on the palate with big berry flavors but low tannins and a soft finish. It served as a perfect accompaniment to my roast pork loin.
Novice Wine #4: The Dessert Wine Lesson
The holidays abound with dessert, and here’s the one high-alcohol wine I’ll submit. It’s a great reasonably priced Port that can be sipped slowly and carefully for hours after the plates have been cleared and everyone is groaning around the living room. I’ve served it as the first Port for many people and it’s always been a hit. 
Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão
Aged 5 Years
20% abv.
With this wine, you’ll find stewed fruit, luscious plum and fig aromas, bright blackberry flavors and a tart finish. It has big fruit flavors all around, but with a smooth and clean finish. The Founders Reserve is a good bargain, makes for a good gift, is easy to find, and is also quite enjoyable for someone who's just getting into Port. If you ever purchase cigars as a gift, consider including a bottle of Port like this as well. It makes for a great combination. 
Novice Wine #5: The Day After Wine
Personally, I think the best thing about the holidays is the leftovers. Always have wines ready for this vital snacking period! A light Pinot Gris will go easy on a full stomach that’s making room for just one more scoop of sweet potatoes. 
Pfalz, Germany                                                                                                             
100% Pinot Gris
12.5% abv.
Just 75 km/45 miles from the French border, this winery was established in 1756 but revitalized by Dr. Loosen in 1996. This particular bottle is crisp and tart with tangy green apple and pear flavors. It’s dry and refreshing with a short finish. The body is light and mild, meaning that it will appeal to folks who have been scared off by highly oaked or acidic wines in the past. 

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