Serious Grape: A Mixed Case of Wine for the Holidays

On Fridays, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 drops by with Serious Grape. This week, the wines to have in reserve for winter entertaining.

As running to the store for "last minute" items becomes more and more stressful, wouldn't it be nice to know that you had the right wine on hand this holiday?

Here's a shopping list for a mixed case of wine that will satisfy most needs for things that sparkle, refresh, warm you, and tickle your sweet tooth. What's even better is that only two bottles in the case will cost you more than $20, and most will cost you under $15. Hopefully, this means there's one less list you have to make, and you'll be able to stay within your budget this year.

3 Bottles of Inexpensive Sparkling Wine

By January 2, there is no sparkling wine in my house. I've used mine up at brunches, for toasting friends and family, and for sipping after marathon shopping sprees. Don't spend more than $15 on any one bottle--keep it inexpensive and you'll enjoy it more. Three wines that I've had lately that are widely available and fit within this category are the frothy, nutty NV Freixenet Cava Cordon Negro Brut, the citrusy NV Tarantas Cava, and the biscuity NV Mumm Napa Brut Prestige.

3 Takeout Wines

Hoping that you'll make a month's worth of homemade dinners is a lovely thought, but takeout preserves sanity during this busy time of year. Get yourself some affordable Chianti and Riesling for Italian and Asian food, and if you are a sushi fan look for a dry Chenin Blanc or Muscat. Bottles I've enjoyed recently include the 2006 Tiziano Chianti with its lively sour cherry flavors, the excellent value 2007 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Riesling with its off-dry apple and litchi flavors which just beg for spicy Szechuan food, and the 2005 Domaine Gardiés Mas Las Cabes Muscat with its aromas of Seville orange and citron.

3 Warming Winter Reds

As the weather turns gloomy, we're turning more and more to soups, stews, and roasts at dinner time. Be prepared with affordable reds from California and France that will be perfect partners for your meals. Syrahs are particularly versatile, and go equally well with lamb, beef, and roast chicken. So, too, do Tempranillo and Grenache. My recent favorites include the spicy 2004 Kendric Vineyards Syrah, any of the recent vintages of the rich and elegant Château Pesquié Côtes du Ventoux Les Terrasse, and the affordable 2002 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Reserva with its plum and blackberry fruit.

3 Special Holiday Wines

Finally, you need three wines that will sit on special holiday tables or can be had at special moments. You can get distinctive, great tasting bottles of wine for $30 and less, so don't think "special" means fantastically expensive. I'd look for a winter white, a bold red, and a dessert wine. For the winter white, consider the 2006 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Blanc which is made from a rich, mouthfilling blend of white Rhone varietals including Viognier and Marsanne. For the red, look for a wine like the 2005 Clos LaChance Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from the Central Coast. At about $30, this is an excellent value California Cabernet with currant, herb, and cedar aromas and flavors that should be decanted an hour or two before you drink it. Finally, for the dessert wine, look for the N.V. Osborne Pedro Ximénez Jerez-Xérès-Sherry 1827 Sweet Sherry. You can sip this wine, but those in the know drizzle the syrupy liquid, with its coffee, cherry cola, and molasses flavors over vanilla ice cream for an instant, satisfying dessert.

You can locate any of these wines at retailers near you by checking on wine-searching sites such as Vinquire and Snooth. And of course, if you have a good wine merchant near you, take their suggestions for alternative bottles.