By Robert Whitley | WDD Wine Columnist
Over the years, I've come to realize I need a strategy for the holidays; a plan that takes into account the days in between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, when even a casual visit may require a festive beverage in keeping with the season.
That hardly means I have Dom Perignon on ice at any given moment, but I do like to keep a few delicious options at my fingertips for unexpected company.
Bubbly is always good in a pinch, for it is universally perceived as the wine of good cheer. I prefer Prosecco from Italy or Blanquette de Limoux from France for impromptu gatherings because they are wonderful bubblies at exceptional prices (below $15 a bottle is not unusual) in both categories.
And you can quaff these sparklers all day long because they generally have slightly softer acidity than the bubblies of Champagne, or even the good domestic sparkling wines.
Some of the slightly sweet, gently spritzy bubblies of northern Italy are good to have on hand, too. Moscato d'Asti and Brachetto d'Acqui are sweet, but not terribly sweet, and they can be served with cookies and cakes.
Also, around the holidays I tend to move away from crisp, aromatic whites toward more full-bodied wines. Chardonnay, Viognier and white Rhone-style blends work very well, and with slightly higher percentages of alcohol by volume, they can warm the body as well as the soul on a chilly autumn night.
They also make a better foil for heartier wintry appetizers.
And finally, I always stock a few bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau. The official release of Beaujolais Nouveau is Nov. 18. These are the first commercial wines from the most recent harvest. They have the advantage of being light and easy to drink, with plenty of fruity aroma to stand up to savory appetizers. They're cheap, too. If you pay more than $11 for a Beaujolais Nouveau, you've paid too much.
No matter what you decide to stock in your wine cupboard, know the most important thing is the fact that you thought about it at all and had something tasty to share when the doorbell rang suddenly and unexpectedly.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value.
Banfi 2008 Chianti Superiore DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($11) — Although the nomenclature of Chianti can be confusing, even relative novices sort of get the idea Chianti Classico (the region) is at the top of the heap and generic Chianti, including DOCG, is at the bottom. One step up from the bottom is Chianti Superiore DOCG, which has more strict requirements on yields and the use of oak and the length of aging.
Emiliana 2009 Eco Balance Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile ($9) — The Emiliana Eco Balance wines are made from sustainably farmed grapes throughout the better winegrape regions of Chile. This Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a luscious, juicy mouthful of blackberry, black cherry fruit, good balance and modest tannins. It is meant for easy drinking at an easier price, and it succeeds. Rating: 86.
Castello Banfi 2007 Belnero, Proprietor's Reserve, Toscana IGT ($39) — For reasons that aren't entirely clear, this lovely proprietary red from Castello Banfi's Montalcino estate isn't classified as Brunello or Rosso di Montalcino, although it is portrayed as "almost exclusively" Sangiovese. What small percentage, if any, of the international grape varieties that might be used in the blend hardly seem significant. The focus of this wine is the classic black cherry and spice aroma, structure and elegant, smooth tannins that typify outstanding Brunello — without the Brunello price tag. For my money, one of the best $40 wines around, and a solid candidate for extended cellar age. Rating: 93.
Sartori 2007 'Regolo' Rosso Veronese IGT, Italy ($19) — The dry red wines of Verona are among the most underappreciated in all of Italy, likely due to the cheap Valpolicella that was once the standard fare at many a neighborhood Italian restaurant. This is a wine that showcases the Corvina grape, which is best known for its expression as Amarone. Sartori Regolo is an ultra-smooth, medium-bodied red that exhibits bright cherry fruit, hints of spice and oak vanillin, and good length on the palate. Very good with roasted meats and tomato or cream-based pasta dishes. Rating: 90.
Glen Carlou 2009 Chardonnay, Paarl, South Africa ($16) — One of the greatest problems many wine lovers have with Chardonnay is the sameness from wine to wine, particularly among the everyday level wines priced below $20 a bottle. Glen Carlou's superb 2009 breaks away from the pack, delivering fresh pear and citrus aromas, a bit of floral on the nose, and a scintillating thread of minerality that separates it from others in this price category. There's also a beguiling spiciness that obviously derives from barrel aging. Clearly one of the most interesting and appealing Chards out there in this price category. Rating: 89.
To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.