Good Wine Punch

While wine itself is plenty to go around at a party, sometimes you want a little something more… like wine punch! One of my favorite ways to drink wine in the winter is in the “mulled” style. Mulled wine, called “glogg” in the Nordic countries, is often associated with winter due to it being warm and spiced.

It’s a great way to make a bottle go a bit further – serve it like “punch” and don’t worry about having to open more bottles! That said, don’t use too cheap of a bottle as bad wine will not make good mulled wine.

When choosing a wine for mulled wine, don’t spend too much, but don’t spend too little – you want a good, solid $10 – $15 of wine. Also, don’t choose a wine with too much oak – Merlot, Zinfandel, Rhone blends and some Syrah are good choices.

Here’s a recipe for great mulled wine:

7 whole cloves
5 whole peppercorns
zest of one small orange
4 cinnamon sticks
1 750mL bottle of red wine
1/4 cup of brandy 
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Put the first 4 ingredients into a mesh bag or tie it into a cheesecloth.

In a non-reactive pot, add remainder of ingredients, including the bag of seasonings. Bring to almost a boil, then let simmer at just under a boil for about 10 minutes. You should taste and adjust sugar or water to your desired tastes. Serve into mugs and drink warm. Serve with cinnamon sticks!

How to please those picky drinkers

We all have them. The aunt who only drinks Pinot Grigio, the cousin who insists on white Zinfandel and the know-it-all 260x135_HOLchampagnebrother-in-law who thinks screw caps still mean cheap wine. And not that there is anything wrong with catering to certain needs (how hard is it to make sure you have a Sutter Home White Zinfandel on the table?), if there are too many particular tastes, you may want to try and find something that will please them all. Here are my suggestions that I’ve thrown out on holiday dinners with picky drinkers.

“I’ll have a glass of Pinot Grigio”
One of the most popular wines-by-the-glass, Pinot Grigio seemed to become in the ‘00s what Chardonnay was in the 90s. Why do people like it? It’s mild, crisp and easy to drink. But many Pinot Grigios end up tasting like lemon water with a kick. Here are some great alternatives that will still give that Pinot Grigio-lover what they are looking for.
South African Chenin Blanc – most versions are crisp and clean, with great acidity and mild flavors. Kanu and Indaba are great producers with even better prices.
Cotes-du-Rhone blancs – Lighter versions of white Rhone blends are often crisp and refreshing. Make sure you choose one that is NOT based on Viognier. Usually good bets for lighter-bodied white Rhone blends are the under $15 versions from the Cotes-du-Rhone and occasionally the Central Coast.

“Do you have any Merlot?”
This time I’m not going to give you any alternatives. Merlot has made a quality comeback, and there are some great Merlots that will please both the cheap-Merlot lover and the wine aficionado alike. Here are regions & producers to look for:
Washington State – the Merlot from this region is fantastic, bringing this grape back to the forefront of quality. Producers to try include L’ecole, Milbrandt and Tamarack.
Napa Valley – A stomping ground for Merlot, the wines here are juicy and plush. Producers to try: Twomey (makers of Silver Oak), Whitehall Lane, Frog’s Leap and Newton.

“I only drink White Zinfandel”
Though Rose often screams summer, it’s also a good pair for some holiday meals. For those who like White Zinfandel, it’s best to have a rose with a touch of sweetness. Some good producers to try that will bring dry and sweet lovers together include Folie a Deux Menage a Trois, Francis Ford Coppola Winery Sofia Rose and Red Truck Winery’s Pink Truck.

“Do you have any Chardonnay?”
There some fantastic Chardonnays out there that will impress even the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) folks, but there are some alternatives as well.
Viognier – rich and luscious because of the grape, not the oak. Try examples from Condrieu and California.
Pinot Blanc – Mild, like Chardonnay, with a great texture that is pleasing to many-a-palate. Try Alsace, Oregon or Italy.

Holiday Gift Guide by Personality

Gifts mean much more when the gift fits the recipient. We’ve put together a gift guide by personality that can help! You can also browse our Holiday Gift Guide for more ideas.

The collector
These are actually the easy gifts, as there are many collectible bottles out there.  The two most common styles are Champagne, Port and big reds. Some of our favorites include:
Dom Perignon 2002 ($149.99)– Yes, this is an old classic, but we love it because… well, it’s an old classic. A collector cannot have too many.
Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Grand Cuvee 1998 ($99.00)– Great vintage, beautiful bottle and a wine that is tasting delicious now but can age a few years as well.
Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($99.99)– Another classic wine, but one that collectors love
Chateau Pavie 2005 ($349.99)– It’s not often you have the chance to give someone a 100-point wine, so grab this fantastic bottle and “wow” that collector you know.
Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2007 ($79.99) – 2007 was about as classic a vintage as 1977, 30 years earlier. This is a delectable bottling, but any 2007 vintage Port is a safe bet.

The adventurer
bravenewworldFor the wine drinker who loves to explore, we have the perfect gift – Brave New World of Wine ($189.99). This gift combines renowned wine educator Mark Oldman’s new book, Brave New World of Wine, with twelve bottles of wine that each correspond to a different book chapter. The theme embraces the less obvious varieties and regions, allowing the recipient of this gift set to explore their palate and branch out – drinking bravely!

The gourmet
Food & wine is of course the perfect pairing. If you have someone on your list who loves both, check out our gifts for the gourmand. One of our new gifts this year that is perfect for the worldly foodie – our 91 point Spanish Fiesta ($49.99). It combines an awesome bottle of Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha with some tasty Spanish goodies.

The trend-setter
What’s hot right now? Well, we think our new varietal gifts sets are. These three-packs take one grape variety and show you the different styles it can produce. From Riesling to Syrah to Merlot and Cabernet, you can show off the stylistic differences of one variety with these fantastic sets.

The traveler
Take them to Italy, France or a little closer to home in California. Our region-themed sets are ideal for those who love to travel. We amped up our popular Tour de France to a six-pack of French wines. And of course, there is the ever-popular Viva Italia! With six different Italian wines to share. Closer to home, we also feature some great California-themed gifts for that California wine lover.

The Christmas-lover
Know someone who has their house decorated for Christmas before the Thanksgiving turkey gets cold? Then we’ve got some great gifts for you. Winter Treats ($69.99) features bottles with red and green labels (that taste good, too!) along with holiday goodies like a snowman cookie, chocolate-dipped truffle cookies, toffee and other sweets. Another sweet-tooth gift is the Holiday Red Rosa Regale Sparkler with Godiva ($29.99)– it’s a slightly-sweet sparkling wine holidaybubblypaired with decadent chocolates. How can you beat that?

The party-goer
Those who go from party to party need just one thing to follow them – bubbly! A constant celebrator needs some good sparkling wine to keep up . Try our Holiday Bubbly Celebration ($39.99) – a great three pack of Cava, Prosecco and California Sparkling wine. We’ll cheers to that!

Holiday Sparklers: A great bubbly for any event

wedding bubblyA bottle of bubbly is a necessity for any holiday event, whether it be a big party blowout or an intimate dinner. Here is your guide for the perfect sparkler for any event.

Big Party – Usually when you’re holding a big party, you’re thinking budget, best bang-for-your-buck. Cava is one of the best choices, as it is dry, crisp, made in the same method as Champagne, and often under $10. Cristalino, Segura Viudas and Paul Cheneau are good producers to go to. Prosecco can also be a good bet, though prices are not as low as they once were. Zardetto and Nino Franco are some of the good ones, though there are others out there. For something a little different, you could also try Korbel. I know, I know, the name can make wine aficionados cringe – makes you think of cheap, poorly-made California wine that has the audacity to still put “Champagne” on the label. But Korbel actually makes their sparkling wine using the traditional method, and recently tasting a few, these wines are not bad, particularly for their price.  Want to get a taste of bubbles? Try our Holiday Bubbly Celebration – it's a trio of a Cava, a Prosecco and a California Sparkling wine. Perfect to sample each & a great gift for a host.

Daytime gathering or Sunday brunch – For this kind of event, I always go with Prosecco. Something about the fresh fruitiness of Prosecco is perfect for daytime occasions, particularly when you’re looking to do some fun sparkling mixers, like Mimosas or Bellinis. As I said above, Zardetto and Nino Franco are great producers, but there are great Proseccos at many price ranges.

Dinner Party – Sparkling wine is a must for any good dinner party, opening the way for celebration. A great pick for dinner parties is a good non-vintage Champagne. There are plenty of great Champagne bottles that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, like Piper Heidsieck or Gosset. Both are under $40 and consistently delicious. If you wanted to splurge a bit more, Perrier Jouet or Bollinger (a favorite) are great choices to wow your guests. A bit lower on the scale, opt for some great California sparkling wine – Roederer Estate is always a best bet, as is Iron Horse. Or try a US wine outside of California. Argyle from Oregon or Gruet from New Mexico are super yummy.

Intimate dinner – So it’s you and your partner or you and close family. This time during the holidays is the time to break out the good stuff. My favorite Champagne house?  Krug. The Grand Cuvee is a fantastic non-vintage and if you REALLY want to splurge, head for one of their vintage bottles. Yummy stuff. Two others highly recommended: Deutz Cuvee William Brut 1998 or any bottle by Egly-Ouriet, a grower-Champagne worth a try. 

Holiday Party Wine Must-Haves

260x135_HOLbottlestogiveHaving a holiday party doesn’t mean you have to skimp on wine quality. It doesn’t mean you have to break the bank, either. Here are some of our favorites when it comes to great value crowd-pleasers – perfect for some party fun.


Nothing says celebrate like some sparkling wine. And to keep those glasses flowing, you’ll want something that is delicious and affordable. Not to worry –not all sparkling wine has to be high-end Champagne (though that is worth a splurge, too!). Some of our favorites that are under $20:
Cristalino ($8) – a classic value Cava at about $8, this is a perennial favorite, often scoring in the 90s from critics’ ratings. They do an excellent brut and rose.
Segura Viudus Aria Brut ($12) –  Another great Cava producer with a very lovely bottle. Dry and crisp!
Zardetto Prosecco Brut ($14)– Prosecco is another  value sparkling wine. It often has more upfront fruit than Cava due to the grape and method in which it is made. Prosecco is delicious on its own, but also makes a great mixer for sparkling wine drinks.
Favorites around the $20 mark include: Roederer Estate Brut, Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut & Rose, any of the Gruet wines from New Mexico (they are really delicious!) and Schramsberg MIrabelle Brut. All of these are perfect for parties or even smaller gatherings.


Yalumba Y Series Viognier –  $11 – I have yet to find a wine from Yalumba that I don’t like, but this Viognier is a perfect holiday wine  – Viognier has that rich, unctuous texture, with excellent fruit and acidity that make it a delicious cold-weather wine (granted, it’s great in summer, too).
Hess Select Chardonnay – $11 – There are always Chardonnay lovers at a party, so if you’re looking for a great quality, good value bottle, this is it. Nothing too complex, but not over-oaked or too heavy – great all-around.
Indaba Chenin Blanc – $9/$10 – Looking for something light, crisp and easy-drinking? Look no further. The Indaba Chenin Blanc from South Africa is an excellent everyday/holiday party white.


d’Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz – $10 – I think I recommend this every year… because every year it is consistently good. Great fruit and spice, a perfect party wine, summer or winter. Can’t go wrong with this one.
Alamos Malbec – $10 – Everyone loves Malbec – this one has lots of fruit and spice, great for parties.
Veramonte Pinot Noir Reserva($15) and Escarpment Over-the-Edge Pinot Noir ($14/$15) – Though it is definitely getting easier to find a good PInot Noir under $15, this price range for this grape is still difficult. Two great regions to look for quality and value in Pinot Noir? Chile and New Zealand. Our two picks are the Veramonte Reserva and the Escarpment Over-the-Edge. Both have bright, rich fruit and a savory texture that gives the wines some body and lasting power. Perfect for parties or everyday dinners.


Holidays are often the only time we splurge on dessert wines. For parties, they are fun to have on hand as well.

Dow’s Fine Tawny ($14) – Tawny Ports are excellent pairings with chocolate or other sweets, but they also are great as a little something sweet on their own. With caramel and nutty characteristics, they are perfect for sipping by the fire. Another benefit of Tawny Port, they can last in the bottle once opened for weeks.
Australian Stickies ($15 – $20) – Australians call their dessert wines, made from Muscat or Muscadelle, “stickies,” due to the fact that they are actually sticky (get some on your hands, you’ll know what I mean). They are delicious wines for a little something sweet after a party, or even poured over ice cream! Favorite producers are Yalumba, Chambers and Campbells.

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