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Dinner can sparkle with holiday wines

Dinner can sparkle with holiday wines

This is the time of year when many of us start looking for unique, yet intimate entertaining ideas. Unique doesn’t have to mean elaborate ice sculptures or expensive cuisine.  Think about adding some sparkle with holiday wines.


It may not be to everyone’s taste, but Champagne or sparkling wine can be served throughout an entire meal or evening. Begin with brut non-vintage Champagne or sparkling wine as an aperitif as guests arrive. This wine will match with any food selection with a salty characteristic. For the main course, pair a fish (salmon, sole or sea bass), poultry or white meat topped with a beurre blanc, cream sauce or hollandaise with vintage Champagne or a premium sparkling wine. If a red meat or game dish is your preference, sparkling rose is an ideal match. When it comes to dessert, avoid chocolate or ice cream and serve a soft, creamy, fruity pastry with a sec (sweet) or demi-sec Champagne.


  • NV Treveri Cellars Blanc de Blancs, Washington (about $16 retail)


  • NV Moet and Chandon Rose Imperial, France (about $70 retail)


Offering a holiday party menu of dessert and wine pairings can keep the party planning minimal, and is ideal if guests will be attending other functions or dropping into several parties the same evening. One classic pairing is vanilla bean ice cream with the delectable rich and sweet Pedro Ximenez Sherry poured over the top. Nut desserts like pecan pie, chestnut mousse or walnut tarts match well with fortified wines such as Royal Tokaji, Cream Sherry or Australian Muscat. Cream- or dairy-based desserts such as cheesecake are complemented by late harvest Gewurztraminers. Egg desserts such as custards or souffles pair well with Tawny Port.


  • 2012 Hogue Late Harvest Riesling, Washington (about $12 retail)


  • NV Osborne Tawny Port, Portugal (about $22 retail)


A meat and cheese tray takes on a special flair when it is composed of locally cured meats and hand-made cheeses. The menu sets itself up for an easy drop-in entertaining opportunity with minimal preparation, zero cooking time and a fun casual setting. Salami, sausage, prosciutto, chorizo and jamon serrano each pair ideally with red wines as do many cheeses. Consider adding a cheese board pairing of blue cheeses, aged goat cheeses, and nutty sweet cheeses like gruyere, cheddar and parmesan. Wines that pair well with most charcuterie and cheeses include cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot, red blends, port and oloraso sherry. An added bonus — there’s no need to have specific individual wine and food pairing options. Let your guests (and yourself) explore the pairing choices.


  • 2013 Force of Nature Red Blend, California (about $17 retail)


  • 2013 Migration by Duckhorn Pinot Noir, California (about $43 retail)

The secret’s in the glass (and cork)

New Year’s Eve is the ideal occasion to savor Champagne. Whether it’s because of the intriguing, elegant bubble or the urge to raise a glass at the stroke of midnight, it is unquestionably the drink of celebrations. It has a long history and an extensive list of contributors along the way, Dom Pierre Perignon undeniably the most famous. But a few other discoveries had to come before Perignon could supposedly declare, “Brothers, brothers, come quickly, I am drinking stars.”

Two of the most important developments occurred around the same time – stronger glass for the bottle and an airtight cork for the closure.

Before the 17th century, wine was stored in casks and individuals took their own fragile bottles to local wine merchants to be filled. An oil-soaked rag acted as the cork.

Glass was made using wood-fired furnaces, and out of fear that there would not be enough oak for shipbuilding, King James I (at the urging of Sir Robert Mansell, an admiral of English Royal Navy) ordered glass-makers to stop using wood for heating the furnaces. The wood was replaced by coal, which allowed the furnaces to burn hotter, creating stronger glass for wine bottles. The stronger bottles contained the fizzy wine and didn’t explode as weaker glass did.

Around the same time,cork was discovered and replaced the oil-soaked rag. The English were the first to seal wine bottles using cork imported from Portugal and Spain. Most cork comes from the bark of the Quercus suber or cork oak, a species of oak native to southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa.

Once there was strong enough glass to withstand the pressure of the bubbly and a cork to contain the bubble, voila, the industry was on its way to what we think of as modern-day Champagne.

So whether you are chanting the midnight countdown on New Year’s Eve or quietly celebrating with intimate friends, bubbly is perfect for toasting the beginning of a new year.


  • NV Gruet Brut Sparkling Wine, New Mexico (about $19 retail)
  • NV Rosa di Bianco Sparkling Wine, Spain (about $14 retail)
  • NV Roederer Anderson Valley Brut Sparkling Wine, California (about $19 retail)


  • NV Iron Horse Brut Classic Sparkling Wine, California (about $39 retail)
  • NV J Brut Rose Sparkling Wine, California (about $37 retail)
  • NV Moet Chandon Imperial Champagne, France (about $50 retail)
  • NV Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Champagne, France (about $62 retail)

It’s the bubbles that make one bleary

Many people ask why one glass of champagne can make them feel tipsy and lightheaded — somehow the first glass goes straight to your head in a way wine never does. I set out to find proof or debunk the myth and found bubbles really do get you cheery more quickly.

Researchers at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, invited volunteers to participate in the task of mingling at a drinks party. The first week, half were given fizzy champagne, while the others got a “defizzed” wine. The next week they rotated. Each volunteer drank two glasses of bubbly per session, with the amount adjusted so everyone drank the same amount of alcohol per body mass. Next they measured blood alcohol levels and found they were increased in the volunteers drinking the fizzy. Their blood alcohol levels were measured at five-minute intervals. Fizzy champagne produced significantly higher levels of alcohol in the blood during the first 20 minutes than the flat champagne.

According to the research, in the first five minutes, they hit 0.54 milligram of alcohol per milliliters of blood compared to just 0.39 in the flat volunteers. The study showed champagne does affect your body more quickly but they also wanted to investigate if it had different effects. They tested reaction times, divided attention, vigilance and memory. The results showed neither had an effect on memory but both impaired reaction time. It was the complex tasks showing the most astounding results. The fizzy drinkers were much slower to react to stimuli and found it harder to identify series of odd and even numbers in the task.

The larger mystery is why bubbles make such a difference. Fran Ridout, whose team in human psychopharmacology conducted the research, has a theory that the alcohol must be absorbed more quickly from the digestive system, perhaps because the carbon dioxide bubbles speed the flow of alcohol from the stomach to the intestine.

So, the best advice is to sip your bubbly slowly and enjoy. Champagne anyone?


  • NV Seaview, Australia (about $13 retail)
  • NV Domaine Ste Michelle, Washington (about $18 retail)


  • NV Jean Laurent Blanc de Blanc Champagne, France (about $55 retail)
  • NV Pommery Champagne, France (about $49 retail)

Brides, say ‘I do’ to merlots, pinots

Many brides and bridegrooms today are looking at beverage options beyond traditional punch at their receptions. Wine is often atop the list and can play a significant part in the planning for the big day.

Champagne and sparkling wines are staples at most wedding receptions. Unfortunately, this can be the most expensive part of your wine budget, sometimes costing as much as $80 a bottle, so consider options outside of the traditional Champagne region. Prosecco is the Italian version with a refreshing light-bodied style.

For more Champagne alternatives look at sparkling wines from countries such as Australia or places closer to home like California. And, as most wedding budgets demand, if you are looking for additional savings, serve the bubbly only during the toast or cake cutting rather than throughout the entire reception.

Other than bubbly, you should also consider serving one red wine and one white wine, especially if the reception includes hors d’oeuvres or a meal. In white wines, don’t overlook sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio with their fresh, crisp and light-bodied flavor. They are much different than the typical white wine served at many receptions, chardonnay. But if chardonnay is your choice, look for unoaked styles which are much more refreshing than the buttery and toasty versions that overwhelm many foods. In red wines, merlot is usually the most crowd-pleasing style with its fruity, soft taste. Other options include pinot noir and dry rose.

How much wine to buy depends on a few factors: the time of day, the foods being served and of course, the number of guests. A standard 750ml bottle contains five servings, and most caterers plan on each guest consuming two glasses every two hours. This calculation usually allows for those who will drink less, more and some not at all. If your reception is during the day, guests generally consume less wine than at an evening reception. Guests at multiple course seated dinners will usually consume more than at a buffet style service.


  • 2007 Bodega Norton Merlot, Argentina (about $12 retail)
  • 2008 Villa Maria Unoaked Chardonnay, New Zealand (about $15 retail)
  • 2008 Brancott North Island Pinot Grigio, New Zealand (about $15 retail)
  • 2008 Banfi Centine Rose, Italy (about $14 retail)


  • 2007 Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot, Washington (about $24 retail)
  • 2006 Bell Merlot (Yountville), California (about $38 retail)
  • NV Zardetto Prosecco, Italy (about $22 retail)