A Holiday Splash Of Fine Wine

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - November 30, 2005

My mission today is to give you a hand this holiday season in finding the gift for the person who has everything, serving the perfect accompaniment to that special meal or bringing the ideal accessory to a seasonal celebration. Here it is.


Yes, it’s just that easy. Now, if you are looking for that perfect gift for a rigid teetotaler, then a bottle of pinot gris may not be the way to go. However, except for a very few, vino says so much. I think a good bottle of wine tells the recipient you were very thoughtful in poring (pun not intended) through all the labels and selecting this special one. A bottle speaks of fellowship and camaraderie - a perfect combination during the holidays.

I admit, I am not a wine professional, I am simply an enthusiast. I delight in the exploration of wine. I enjoy the tradition of wine, from the presentation to the pour to the tasting to the drinking. If the mood is right, it is difficult to find a sexier sound than the pop of a cork. Wow, I think I need a glass.

Wine is not a snobby drink. Although you could spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on one bottle, the stuff I’m talking about can be less than $10 a bottle. I think the preconceived notions of wine could be dispelled if more people gave it a chance. Instead of a beer with sushi, how about a nice sparkling wine or champagne? Pass on the cocktail before dinner and try a sauvignon blanc instead.

Wine can be simple or wine can be tremendously complicated. If you are so inclined, you can delve into appellation vs. varietal, agricultural engineering, fermentation, blending, aging, methode champenoise, etc. I think we’ll side on simple.

Wine comes in basically two colors, red and white. Sometimes it’s pink or almost black. But, we usually speak bi-color.

The most popular white varietals are Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The most popular red varietals are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, there are literally hundreds of other grapes besides the four or five which comprise the most popular flavors. Don’t be shy to try a Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Semillon or Chenin Blanc instead of a Chard. On the red side, why not give a Malbec, Petite Syrah, Nebbiolo or Zinfandel a run in lieu of the usual Merlot? If variety is the spice of life, then wine is the cayenne pepper.

OK, so you have to give someone something thinking they have everything. Here we go. Champagne. You simply can’t go wrong with a decent bottle of bubbly for an ideal holiday gift. Most wine shops like Tamura’s, Fujioka’s, The Wine Stop and The Liquor Collection will have Champagne as a gift set. I have seen a wonderful Mountadon Brut with two glasses in a beautiful white satin box for about $40. If you want to really impress, look out for the Perrier-Jouet Flower Bottle gift set. With glasses, this could take you well over $100. If you are feeling really generous, a 1997 Louis Roederer Cristal can run about $250. I guess it depends on your budget or just how much you like the person you’re giving to.

If it is your turn to prepare the holiday meal, what can you serve to make everybody happy? Well, it is challenging to make everybody happy during a holiday get together. At the very least, you can serve up some nice vino to make the meal complete. We spoke of red and white before, and here is when you can present both.

Our holiday menu in Hawaii can be a little bit of everything. It’s not unusual to see turkey with gravy next to a plate of lumpia or pastele or kalbi. I know beer usually is the call, but consider an alternative. Bust out a white like a Riesling or a red such as a Pinot Noir. Rieslings have a crisp fruitiness which swerves into the mildly sweet which is perfect for some of those more spicy dishes. Guntrum, Trimbach and Trefethen are reliably good at $10 and up. Pinot Noir is a less robust red with a lighter body and fruitier taste. However, it can still stand up to heavier meats and sauces. I like Firesteed, Mark West and La Crema for everyday at about $12 - $18. If I can spend a couple more bucks, I’d choose Belle Glos, Etude or David Bruce which can get into the $40 range.

You’re invited to a soiree at a best friend’s house. Maybe, it’s your boss’ house. Maybe you don’t even know who lives there. Nonetheless, it is bad form to go empty-handed. I spoke of Champagne before and I will again. Nothing says holiday celebration like a good sparkler. Now, if you want to really say you brought Champagne, remember Champagne is only Champagne if it comes from the region in France called ... Champagne. Labels to look out for are Veuve Cliquot, Pommery, Tattinger, Bollinger, Piper-Heidsieck or Dom Perignon. These bottles can range from the mid- $30 to over $100. A great alternative is an Italian sparkling wine (not Champagne). Prosecco is fast becoming the sparkler of choice. It presents an effervescence without some of the yeastiness and oakiness of traditional Champagnes. Proseccos can start under $10 and inch into the $20 plus range. You really can’t go wrong.

The holidays are such a wonderful time of the year. Hopefully, a splash of wine will make them even better. Cheers!

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