Celebratory swigs

Holiday bottles that don't break the bank
By TODD RICHARD  |  November 12, 2008

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DRINK UP! Imbibe inexpensively.

As the holiday season creeps closer, the one preparation everyone seems to be making is tightening the belt a few notches. How do we celebrate the holidays during a global financial fiasco? The idea of a humble holiday may bring disappointment to revelers, but we can buck the trend and bolster holiday cheer by unwrapping a few presents early. There are quite a few libations that pour like a generous gift, but price out like a stocking stuffer.

I go right to the value bottles in every wine shop I visit, and work backward from there. During a recent visit to RSVP on Forest Avenue in Portland, resident wine guru Chris Ziakos offered some recommendations. This holiday season, the familiar takes a new face, and an unexpected Mediterranean cousin pulls up a seat at the holiday table.

While the celebration feels different this year than last, one thing has remained constant; Cava is still the price point to beat for sparkling wines, according to Ziakos. Often hovering right around $10, it has been a favorite of mine for several celebrations, and the bubble hasn't burst yet. To visit a ghost of Christmas past, Cava is Spain's answer to champagne, and the Conde de Subirats is a great bottle at a great price of $10.99.

For non-sparkling whites that still shine, the 2007 Mantinia Cambas is a dry white table wine grown in the Mantinia region of Greece, offering high-end quality at an astoundingly reasonable $10 a bottle. The grape, Moschofilero, is a gorgeous fruit that makes a wine with light floral notes and perfume, but dry and minerally. It resembles a cousin of dry Riesling and sauvignon blanc, and will marry well with your turkey day spread. If Greece is too exotic for Grandma, Austria may not be the answer. But, the Loimer Gruner Veltliner's one-liter bottle and low price of $12.49 ensure there is enough to go around.

Not everybody appreciates the white meat-white wine pairing, and many choose red meats for their holiday tables. Argentina consistently puts forth great reds, and Malbec is no exception. This grape, originally imported from France via Hungary, has settled into South American soil nicely and has gone from its humble origins as a part of blends to a varietal deserving of the spotlight. The Conquista Malbec, at $8.99, is affordable enough to be a "pizza wine," but classy enough to be a guest at your holiday parties. It's soft with lots of ripe fruit and truly a delight.

To finish the meal, opt out of pricey spirits and liqueurs and stay with the grape. There are several value-minded ports and sherries that offer holiday cheer and no tears at the cash register. These two fortified wines are very similar, though sherries are naturally dry and ports have more of an inherent sweetness. The entire line of Lustau Sherries offers a variety of options for your personal tastes in the $11-$14 range. Sandeman's Tawny Port (under $15) is a great way to celebrate the holidays thoughtfully and frugally, without feeling like Scrooge. And just like Dickens's epitome of miserliness who becomes the largest proponent of holiday generosity, it can be said that you also "knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

Todd Richard can be reached at tmr@maine.rr.com.

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