Choosing a bottle of wine as a hostess gift for a holiday party is never my finest moment.
There I am, wandering the aisles of Binny’s in a sequined dress, desperately scanning labels to find something that won’t get me laughed out the front door. Was merlot the wine the guy hated in Sideways? Finally, I settle on one with a pretty label and a not-too-cheap price of $27.99.
I’m determined to do better this party season, so I called in some reinforcements. Tuck a copy of this list into your pocket, head to the wine shop of your choice, and stock up on five expert-recommended, conversation-starting bottles that will have your holiday hosts crowing, “You shouldn’t have!” They’ll be so glad you did.
Keith Mallini, sommelier and general manager at Prasino in Wicker Park
Bring it: Atmospheres, a biodynamic, sustainably farmed white from winemaker Jo Landron at Domaine de la Louveterie (the Muscadet grapes are grown in France’s Loire Valley). “Great paired with oysters, lobster and sashimi, or the perfect sparkling for a cocktail party,” Mallini says.
Buy it: Around $17 to $20 at all three Lush Wine & Spirits locations and Cellar Rat in Wicker Park.
Talk about it: “Jo Landron blends Pinot Noir and Folle Blanche at a 20/80 ratio to make this unique sparkling wine in the ‘methode traditionelle,” says Mallini. “Jo loves Chicago, and he has a great mustache.”
Shebnem Ince, sommelier at Henri and The Gage in the Loop
Bring it: “One item that should be in everyone’s fridge is dessert wine, and one of my favorites is Tokaji,” says Ince. “It’s a sumptuous category of dessert wines from Hungary, and the wine tastes like an orange and salt caramel lollipop. Two good producers are Kiralyudvar and Oremus.”
Buy it: Perman Wine Selections, a West Loop shop where Ince frequently sends her customers who want wines from Henri and The Gage, or Binny’s, which carries a 2007 Oremus Tokaji Late Harvest Furmint for $24.
Talk about it: “This wine will last several months in the fridge after it’s opened, and it’s so rich you only need a small nip at a time—it’s a gift friends will have well after the holidays,” says Ince. “At this point in life, I’d rather have a great wine, even if that means less of it.”
Alpana Singh, host of WTTW’s Check, Please! Yesterday afternoon, master sommelier Singh announced she’s leaving her post as director of wine and spirits for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. She will announce a new endeavor soon.
Bring it: 2010 La Spinetta Bricco Quaglia Moscato d’Asti, a sweet, slightly fizzy wine from the Piedmont region of Italy.
Buy it: $25 at Binny’s
Talk about it: “The flavor is reminiscent of peaches, green apples and honey with a floral note indicative of the Muscat grape,” says Singh. “It’s a wonderful complement to that other great tradition found this time of year—dessert.”
Jason Wagner, sommelier at RM Champagne Salon, slated to open in February
Bring it: Champagne Marc Hebrart Cuvée Reserve 1er Cru Brut NV
Buy it: $36.99 at Wine Discount Center (five Chicagoland locations, including Highland Park and Barrington)
Talk about it: “The coolest wine to bring for the holidays is by far Champagne,” says Wagner. “It pairs well with everything, and it puts you in a festive mood.” This wine comes from a grower-producer, Wagner explains, meaning it’s made by the same farmer who grows the grapes. “It’s serious enough for the connoisseur to sit and ponder, but easygoing enough to just drink. And drink. And drink.”
Adam Seger, mixologist, sommelier, and consultant at Farmhouse in River North
Bring it: “Grower Champagne, that's all you need to say to your wine merchant,” says Seger, echoing Wagner’s sentiments.
Buy it: “Lush owner Mitch Einhorn loves grower Champagnes and keeps some chilled and ready for savoring (ask him or GM Rachel for a demo). You can find one for under $50, but if you splurge for a Grand Cru (same grapes as in Dom, Krug, Cristal) you'll still be at about half the price of what P. Diddy brushes his teeth with.”
Talk about it: “My favorites have weird names—“Chartogne-Taillet” and “Egly-Oriet”—but they sell for a fraction of cost. They have zero marketing budget, so every buck goes into the juice.”