Argentine malbecs good choice for holiday

Heading off to that Christmas get-together with nothing in your hands?

Tsk, tsk.

There’s no reason to go empty-handed, even if the wallet did take a beating this season.

There are plenty of good wines priced around $10 that will enliven and relax that holiday party.

Argentine malbecs might be the best bet around right now. Originally carried into that country by French immigrants from the Cahors region, malbec offers dark spice and earth tones.

Look for malbecs from the Mendoza region, situated high in the foothills of the Andes, where the near-desert environment (irrigation comes from melted Andean snows) and high altitude give the fruit its special characteristics.

Some names to watch for include Trapiche and Alto Los Hormigas.

Argentina’s neighbor, Chile, is making a name with its carmenere, which because of its similarities and lost history was thought to be merlot. It wasn’t until 1994 that French ampelographer Jean Michel Bourisiquot discovered the difference.

Carmenere came to Chile also with French immigrants, these from the M&233;doc region of Bordeaux, France. Its name comes from the French word for crimson and refers to the autumn foliage. The grape produces deep red wines.

Like merlot, carmenere has soft tannins with a cherry-like flavor along with a hint of smoke, spice and dark chocolate.

Names to ask for include Terra Andina and Concha y Toro Casera del Diablo.

Rieslings always are easy matches with all kinds of party foods, from chips and salsa to meatballs and ham.

A good balance of sugar and acidity (not too sweet, something off-dry fits better) makes this a party favorite.

Names to look for include some of our local wineries — Plum Creek, Carlson, Whitewater Hill — along with Dr. Loosen and Chateau Ste. Michelle.

I’m always hesitant to suggest chardonnay, especially California chardonnay, because for so long there was this over-fascination with heavily oaked wines that were flabby, soft and simply not fun to drink.

Thankfully, that’s changing and you’ll find more and more chardonnays with a light hand on the oak, or even none at all.

Many of these are almost steely, tightly wound with fresh fruit flavors and good acidity, making them food and conversation friendly.

Some names to look for include Toad Hollow, Chalone and Kim Crawford (New Zealand).

Bubbly always goes over well at parties, and Christmas is sort of made for sparkling wines, don’t you think?

The caveat, of course, is that most of what’s out there labeled “Champagne” is going to devastate that holiday budget, unless you’re like the U.S. government and can make your own money.

My opinion is anything that’s drinkable under $20 is fair game, and this includes Spanish cava, Italian Prosecco, New Mexico Champagne (one of the few non-French sparkling wines that is so labelled) and an Aussie sparkling wine named Seaview.

Seaview offers full flavors, yeasty aromas and great acidity. It’s imported by Fosters and I’ve seen it for less than $6, but probably not this week.

Most Spanish cavas are made in the “m&233;thode champenoise,” the same method that is used to make Champagne. Codorniu and Freixenet (fresh-eh-net) are two names to remember.

Proseccos, Italy’s most-popular sparkling wine, has become victim to its own popularity. Today, with winemakers around the world claiming to make Proseccos, the name is protected under Italian laws to refer to sparkling wines made only in the Veneto region of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in the foothills of the Alps.

It is light and dry with a distinct lemony flavor and millions of tiny bubbles. The best Proseccos never make to Grand Junction, but good names to seek include Mionetto and Zardetto.

So, you ask, what am I going to take?

I found, while rummaging around the basement last week, a magnum (that’s two regular bottles) of a 2003 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateaneuf du Pape. It sounds more fancy than it is, although the French label and large bottle makes it a neat gift to put on the table.

Mostly grenache with smaller amounts of syrah, mourvèdre and possibly cinsaut, this was a good vintage for the area and the wine should be just delightful.

And I hope your Christmas is, also.


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