Here come the holidays, and along with them a cavalcade of parties, dinners and wine-friendly special occasions. Now is the time to stock up for entertaining, gift-giving, Thanksgiving and toasting the New Year.
Here in Walla Walla, we are blessed to live in one of the world’s great wine regions, where a wide variety of wines are available at dozens of tasting rooms. But on the flip side, compared to larger cities, the selection of wines available at retail shops is rather limited.
For that reason, I am going to focus on categories of wines rather than too many specifics. That said, there are also strategies — for those who plan ahead — for obtaining wines from outside of the region.
When planning to host an event where wine will be featured, it’s less important to worry about matching food and wine than to cover as many bases as possible and let your guests do their own choosing.
The truth is, very few wine and food matches can go horribly wrong, and if they do, well, that’s what we call a learning experience! What is most important is to have enough wine, to have a varied assortment and to stay within your wine budget.
When planning a gathering, consider how many wine-drinking guests are expected and how much food will be served. Will there be other spirits, beer and nonalcoholic beverages?
That will limit wine consumption. But if the focus is wine, you can get four to six glasses of wine per bottle, and it’s not unrealistic to buy a bottle per guest when purchasing.
So for dinner for six, buy six bottles, but make them different bottles. For example: one sparkling wine, a crisp dry white such as Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc, a barrel-aged Chardonnay, a rosé or nouveau-style red, a medium-bodied red such as Gamay or Pinot Noir, and a heavier red such as Syrah, Merlot or Cabernet.
It’s more fun and more work to find six different wines, but it ensures that every guest will have at least one or two choices that they know and like, along with a chance to venture into unknown territory. And it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Now is a good time to stock up, as retailers anticipate holiday sales by adding inventory, and distributors do the same. New releases peak at this time of year also, with red wines from 2017 in particular making an appearance.
One way to cut costs is to venture beyond the most familiar varieties and select at least a couple of wines from overseas. For example: Albariños from Spain and Muscadets from the Loire Valley are affordable, acid-driven white wines. Italian Chiantis are popular all-purpose reds and still quite reasonable, as are Argentine Malbecs.
The robust Côte-du-Rhônes from the south of France can’t miss if you’re a fan of Syrahs.
You can find examples of all of the above at some of the larger supermarkets here in town. With a little advance planning, you can put together a unique assortment of wines that will turn any party into a delightful treasure hunt.
A good way to expand your choices is to order online. Wineries, wine shops and wine clubs may all legally ship wines to you from anywhere on the West Coast. With few exceptions (cult wineries with waiting lists), almost any winery you can think of has a website and sells online. Retail shops do the same.
A favorite is Esquin in Seattle (madwine.com), originally founded by Walla Walla’s own Rand Sealey, with an exceptional selection of wines and spirits.
There are also quite a few vendors who sell principally online and send out regular offers via email — if you enjoy reading and learning about wine — with no obligation ever to purchase.
Right here in Walla Walla, consumers should definitely check out the offerings at our dedicated wine shop — The Thief — as well as some well-stocked wine departments at Super 1 Foods, Albertson’s and Safeway.
There is also a good selection of foreign wines for sale and takeout at Brasserie Four, a fine dining establishment in downtown Walla Walla.
Happy holidays, and happy hunting!