As the holiday season approaches, it's a good idea to stock a small cellar of wines for soirées, dinners and gatherings. Champagne and sparkling wines are the most festive beverages for holiday occasions and are the top choice for entertaining, but many hosts want to match wines with dishes — a daunting task. Traditional Thanksgiving and holiday menus call for many different food flavors and textures on the plate at once. What goes with turkey and oyster dressing or spicy sausage stuffing may not taste as good after a forkful of candied sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce.
Some wines do have the kind of flexible personality to befriend just about everything on your table. One good fall-back wine is Beaujolais Nouveau, the "new" wine released annually in the third week of November from the current harvest in France's Beaujolais region. Made from 100 percent Gamay grapes and exhibiting refreshing aromas of raspberry and strawberry, this light-bodied, fruity wine is a match with a diverse array of dishes. It is also widely available at wine stores and supermarkets for around $15. Even though it is a red wine, it's best served slightly chilled.
A bottle recommended by Purveyor of Fine Wines' Morgan Stroud is Trefethen Dry Riesling ($25) from Napa Valley's Oak Knoll District. Aromatic with lean fruit flavors and a refreshing minerality, it is a delicious, bone-dry white wine with high acidity that matches well with both sweet and spicy foods. Look for it at Dorignac's and Elio's Wine Warehouse on the south shore and Hugh's Wine Cellar and Fresh Market on the Northshore. Another good choice, Fess Parker Riesling (under $20), is a shade sweeter, less expensive and can be found at Swirl, Dorignac's, Hugh's and most Rouses.
Rosés are all the rage as a multi-tasking match for light or heavy foods, as well as savory or sweet. Stroud recommends a Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rosé ($15). Aromas of red berries, currants and citrus notes lead into ripe, round flavors of strawberry and tangerine with balanced acidity and good structure. Look for it on the shelves of Sidney's Wine Cellar, W.I.N.O., Dorignac's, Elio's, the Wine Seller, Bacchanal, Prytania Liquor Store, most Rouses and Fresh Market in Mandeville.
For red wines, the most versatile wine is Pinot Noir. Stroud suggests a wonderful Morgan 12 Clone ($30) from Santa Lucia Highlands. It's an intense wine with great nuance, red berry fruit, firm acidity and nice spice on the finish. Find it at Vieux Carré Wine & Spirits, the Wine Seller, Dorignac's and Slidell's Wine Market.
For a less expensive option, consider Buena Vista Pinot Noir ($22) from California's Carneros region. The wine blossoms with bouquets of bright cherry and spice followed by flavors of dark berries and chocolate, smooth tannins and a lingering finish. Look for it at Dorignac's, Langenstein's, Whole Foods Market in Metairie, Saia's Meat Market, Elio's, some Winn Dixies, and Rouses in Covington.
Anyone dining on wild game may want to serve a big Zinfandel. Seghesio Zin ($20-$25) from Sonoma has ripe blueberry and raspberry notes. Find it at the Wine Seller, Dorignac's, Cork & Bottle, Elio's and Northshore locations of Rouses, Fresh Market and Cost Plus World Markets.
For hosts expecting a big crowd with many different tastes, Stroud suggests putting out an array of wines on the table and letting people drink whatever they want.
Many people believe that sparkling wine is synonymous with good cheer. This holiday season, there are good sparkling wines but very few Champagnes to be found at reasonable prices. Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley, Calif., offers one of California's best sparkling wines ($19-$27) — rich, crisp and yeasty with apple and citrus nuances. Buy it at Martin Wine Cellars, Cellars of River Ridge, Langenstein's, Dorignac's and Swirl.
Domaine Carneros produces another of California's top sparkling wines. The elegant bubbly offers subtle toasty aromas and essences of ripe fruit on the palate. It costs roughly $25 at the Wine Seller, Langenstein's, Prytania Liquor, Dorignac's, some Rouses, and Cost Plus World Market.
For an imported option, consider Ferrari Brut ($25) from Trentino, Italy. Made from 100 percent Chardonnay, the delicious wine opens with floral aromas and continues with fresh apple notes and crusty bread flavors. Swirl, W.I.N.O., Elio's and Hugh's Wine Cellar stock it on their shelves.
Flor Prosecco from Veneto, Italy, is sold in a gorgeous black bottle with a gold and silver fleur de lis adornment on the front. It is a good-quality prosecco and will appeal to those who like sweet and fruity wines. Others may like it when mixing bellinis or mimosas. It's available at Whole Foods Market for $17.
There are also affordable French sparkling wines. Clavelin nonvintage Brut-Comté Côtes du Jura (under $20) is an outstanding, 100 percent Chardonnay sparkler with pear and toasty accents. It is sold at Swirl and Hopper's Wines & Spirits. From the Loire Valley, Monmonsseau offers a well-made sparkling wine that is a good value — priced around $10 at Dorignac's, the Wine Seller, Cellars of River Ridge, Elio's, Cost Plus World Markets, Martin Wine Cellars and Hugh's.
And for those who simply must drink the real thing, the best buy of the week is Montaudon Brut nonvintage Champagne ($30), which is available at Cost Plus World Markets.