December 17, 2008

Holiday Wine on a Budget

The most cost-effective way to put wine on your holiday table is to ask your guests to pitch in and bring a favorite bottle. But if that makes you uneasy, you can wine six people well for under $40.
How? First, some math: a 750ml bottle contains about 25 ounces, enough for six 4-ounce pours. That's plenty, especially when you're serving three or four different bottles. Next, think creatively: Doctor cheap sparkling wine with fruit juice; look for famous wines made in lesser- known places; decant box wines or 1.5- liter bottles into pretty pitchers and refer to it as the "house wine."

Start with a sparkling wine, and make a decent Spanish Cava (Segura Viudas Cava Brut Reserva, $8) festive with a hefty splash of pomegranate juice (Pom, $2.69).

You'll need something light and lemony to match the bright, vibrant watercress soup, like sauvignon blanc. Indaba and Sebeka make good versions in South Africa that run just $10. Or pick up a liter of Bandit pinot grigio, which gets its bright, citric note from a splash of sauvignon, and can be found for $8.

For the main, pinot noir has the right weight for the pork, the acidity to stand up to the cabbage, and the slightly vegetal flavors to match the sides. But since we can't afford Burgundy, scour the shelves for Beaujolais — whatever Nouveau is left from Thanksgiving will still be drinking well. Or, better yet, find J. Lohr's Valdigiue, a light but jazzy red from an obscure variety that runs less than $10. If you're really set on pinot noir, try Fat Cat ($8) or Bad Dog Ranch ($10) from California, or French Rabbit ($9 per liter, in Tetra Paks).

To finish, the caramel and nut notes of a tawny port would be just the thing for brown butter cake and sauteed pears. Find a bottle of KWV Full Tawny port ($11) from South Africa. It may not be as complex as the more expensive Portuguese stuff, but it has plenty of coffee-toffee flavor, and at 19.5 percent alcohol, a little goes a long way.

Total: $39.69 — although you'll probably only drink half the tawny, bringing the wine cost for this dinner down even more.

This appeared alongside an article on budget holiday dining with recipes in the Denver Post.

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