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December 21-27, 2005

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

P.S. Please Bring a Bottle of Wine

By Heather Irwin

'Could you bring some wine?" The dreaded words that strike terror in the hearts of so many, so often, can be especially daunting at the holidays. Mom prefers a dry white; Dad digs the big, beefy reds. Aunt Mabel wants something sweet, and your cousins scoff at anything but biodynamically grown wines from Mendocino County. Not to mention trying to pair cranberry sauce, oyster stuffing and granny's Waldorf salad at a single sitting. Oy!

Put down the stress ball, relax your jaw and step away from that pan of fudge. This is easy stuff, if you have a little guidance. We'll walk you through picking some great local holiday wines that complement just about anything on the table—or at least have folks cheered enough not to care. It's our gift to you.

Sparkle, Sparkle: Sparkling wines and Champagne don't have to wait until New Year's. With light, crisp flavors, they pair remarkably well with many different kinds of food, and can be a fun way to start (or end) the evening. The 2000 Ironhorse Brut Rose (around $30), Domaine Chandon Holiday Sparkling Red ($20) or Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé ($35) are take-notice wines that dazzle with colors ranging from salmon to deep garnet.

Great White: With all the huge flavors and smells of the holidays, sometimes it's nice to have a slightly more demure wine with great aroma and a crisp, cleanness about it, like the 2004 Navarro Edelzwicker ($11). It's an Alsatian blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer with a bit of Muscat for good measure. Another stellar white, Matanzas Creek 2003 Sonoma Valley Chardonnay ($30), shows restraint in its oaking, making it another terrific food-pairing wine.

Big Red: Reds are some of the most natural wines for holiday foods. Hearty, savory meats studded with rosemary and garlic, earthy mushrooms and winter vegetables paired with stout sauces cry out for some serious wines—from gutsy Cabernets and Zins to slightly more restrained Merlots and Pinot Noirs. Recommendations: Three Thieves Cabernet (jug, $12); Pepperwood Grove Cabernet Sauvignon ($8); 2003 Plumpjack Estate Cabernet ($48); Carol Shelton 2002 Rocky Reserve Zinfandel ($32); Ravenswood Merlot Vintners Blend ($11); and 2002 Goldeneye Pinot Noir ($52).

Nature's Quaff: More wineries than you might think are producing organic, semi-organic or biodynamic wines. Among the most high-profile labels to look for are Benziger and Fetzer's Bonterra line of wines.

DIY: Several Northern European countries have recipes for traditional mulled red wine. You can make it with almost any kind of wine, but Zinfandel, with its natural spiciness, makes a perfect backdrop (try a Ranch Zabaco Dancing Bull Zin, for about $7). It's an imperfect science (you can find a million recipes online), but at the simplest level it includes the zest of a lemon and orange, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, brandy and wine heated (not boiled!) on the stove until warm, and served in mugs.

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