This piece was written for Daily Hive by DJ Kearney, Director of Wine at newdistrict.ca and our resident wine expert.
The giving season is finally here – as well as the whirlwind of parties, dinners, office gift exchanges, and overall (delicious) indulgence!
You’ll probably have many occasions to bestow a bottle of vino, and receive the added dividend of making yourself look like a savvy genius, with superb taste, sophistication, and high wine IQ.
Whether you’re tasked with bringing a bottle to dinner, or you want to show off your wine pairing chops, or choose a fitting bottle to gift, you might find some of these general tips handy.
Many of us are bound to be thinking – what wine should I bring to dinner?
Try to do a bit of sleuthing first, like finding out what’s for dinner, or what might be an appreciated liquid addition to the feast. Is it a fancy-pants sit-down dinner, a serve-yourself potluck, or a kitchen party for a crowd? Ask a few questions and then make your expenditure line up.
The value wines that over-deliver: it’s great to have a few tricks up your sleeve that drink like a Ferrari, but cost like a Ford.
Look for dependable wines at affordable prices
Try to spot regions that make great wines, but are not so flashy that they have elevated their prices. Reds from Portugal’s Douro Valley are ripe full-throttle wines that punch above their price-tag, as do chewy/earthy Grenache/Syrah red blends from the southern RhôneValley.
Look for the appellation Cotes-du- Rhône-Villages for the very best price-quality ratio ever – and names like Seguret or Sablet. Sicily also makes reds and whites wines that are sultry and satisfying, and very fairly priced.
Certain grapes have certain price tags
Grapes have their price tags too. Cabernet Sauvignon tends to command bigger bucks than say, Grenache or Nero d’Avola.
Look for whites made from Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Cotes-du- Rhône white blends, or Muscadet! Streamlined and lemony, wines from the Muscadet region can taste like Chablis for half the price.
If you’ve got to go fancy, go blue chip
When you know you have to open the wallet a little wider for a fancier dinner invitation, go for blue chip grapes and regions that will immediately impress.
For white wine, that’s almost always Chardonnay (Canadian, Napa, or Burgundy), or tiptop Sauvignon Blanc from a place called Sancerre. Pinot Gris from Alsace can be rich and showy, or a powerful dry Riesling from Austria.
Folks always seem to feel spoiled when they receive Cab. So give them what they want, like Cabernet from classic regions like the Haut-Médoc, Napa Valley, or a premium Chilean.
If you’re the one hosting the party, flip the original question – what are you going to serve?
You’ve scrubbed the bathroom, fussed over the food, and now you need wine. How about the esoteric approach?
Opt for intriguing or uncommon wines
Be your own sommelier and dazzle your guests with wines that are ultra-geeky, off-the-beaten-path, and drop-dead delicious.
Croatia, the Jura or Savoie, Canary Islands, and Myanmar are all fashionable places for outside-the-box wines and styles.
Ask in the wine shop for whacko red grapes like Italian’s Ciliegiolo (say Chee-ledge-oh-loh), Frappato (Frah-pah-toh), or Baga from Portugal. If white is your steeze, then Furmint from Hungary, Moschofilero from Greece, and Rabigato from the Port region of Portugal will show of your wine smarts.
Champagne can do no wrong
The make-you-look-good gift of wine is your secret weapon, and knowing the right ones is essential knowledge. It’s well established that everyone loves the gift of a thoughtfully chosen gift of wine, and the right choice can say a lot about you.
Giving sparkling wine will never let you down, it’s a party-in-a-bottle that instantly ups the mood and fun.
Widely made around the world, there is massive choice in style and price. Dubbed ‘poor man’s champagne’ Cava from Spain is made just like the real thing, but for a steal – let price be your guide – look for $20-$35 price range to guarantee you are getting the premium, extra-aged ones.
Another fizzy strategy is to look for bubbles from less-known places like Luxembourg, or fashion-forward Rosé sparklers from anywhere. You’ll score huge wine-geek points when you gift bubbles, especially the real-deal Champagne. Look for small grower Champagne producers, (known as ‘farmer fizz’) rather than the juggernaut brands… just ask store experts for help.
Look for ‘Smaragd’ whites
If a gift of white wine is needed (mother-in-law, sister, dog groomer?) try something a little unexpected.
Forgo the usual Chardonnay and look for grapes that deliver similar richness and depth, like Vermentino from Italy, Gruner Veltliner from Austria (be sure the word ‘Smaragd’ is on the label), or a shapely white Rhône blend. Local wines always delight too, but go premium all the way!
When it comes to reds, commit to a price and ask an expert
Who needs a rich, glossy, top shelf red on your list?
Dad, sister, boss, valued colleague or client… a hefty bottle, explosive fruit, and a great backstory is what you want.
Stick to regions that already have a splashy reputation like Barolo or Brunello from Italy, Burgundy or Bordeaux or Hermitage in France, and of course the Napa Valley. Commit to spending $75+, and again, ask your store experts for help.
A 90 point or higher score can be a useful guideline too.
Sensible warning: make sure you’re well-acquainted enough with the individual in question before buying them booze, but generally, it’s the giving season and the gift of wine is pretty much as good as it gets!