December through February is high season for wine because of all the holidays and festivals. All wine shops offer some kind of promotion and there’s no shortage of selection. But which wines are recommended that won’t break the bank?
Bubbles are for celebration – champagne is always a safe choice for friends. If you opt for bubbly, try the smaller producers rather than the big-name brands. Another option is Franciacorta, a sparkling wine from northern Italy made in the same method as champagne. This wine is similarly priced to big-name champagnes, but your friends will remember it more as it’s not just another “big boy”. For something different, South African Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is just as good, if not better, than some champagne but at a lower price. A rosé sparkling wine adds a nice touch of colour to the festive season. If the bubbles are intended for casual parties, a few bottles of good-quality Prosecco will be welcome.
For white wine, German Grosses Gewächs Riesling (dry Riesling from Grand Cru sites, GG for short), Austrian Grüner Veltliner and South African white blends are my choices. At around $250–350/bottle, these good-quality wines appeal to both novice and expert wine lovers and are versatile with food.
As for red wine, Pinot Noir goes well with poultry, but pick a German Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir in German) to be different rather than another one from Burgundy or New Zealand. The other alternative is Nerello Mascalese, an Italian native grape from Mount Etna in Sicily, which is known as the Burgundy of the Mediterranean. If you prefer something stronger, try Syrah from Gimblett Gravels, New Zealand, or Swartland from South Africa – both are powerful but elegant. Red wine from the Douro Valley in Portugal also fits the bill. These wines should not cost more than $300–500/bottle.
There are lots of local grapes varieties – that is, not Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc – from European countries such as Italy, Portugal, Greece, Hungary and Georgia. We may not know them and may not even be able to pronounce their names, but they are certainly more interesting than some of the more mainstream wines. It will be a pleasant discovery to share these wines with friends.
And, of course, there is always sweet wine – late harvest, ice wine, noble rot sweet wine and port. Bear in mind that the secret of sweet wine is acidity. Otherwise the wine will be too cloying and heavy.
This holiday season, check out these wine shops for a good selection of reasonably priced wine: