Though the market is loaded with wines to fit any budget, I'm especially impressed with the quality of many of the ones that cost less than $12. Look for reliable producers such as Columbia Crest, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, Beringer Founders' Estate, Wolf Blass, Lindemans, and Rosemount Estate. For a Southern twist, try regional favorites such as Château Élan, Biltmore Estate, Linden, Valhalla, Westbend, Becker Vineyards, and Llano Estacado.
Saving Leftover Wine
The key to preserving an opened bottle of wine is to limit its exposure to air. You can recork the wine, but the seal is not very tight. The wine will not last more than a day or two. The most economical way to preserve an opened bottle is to use a hand-pump vacuum sealer to remove excess air from the bottle. The pump is available in most kitchenware sections of department and grocery stores (for about $12) and allows you to enjoy the wine for an extra two or three days.
What's the Right Glass?
A basic white wine glass has a tulip shape, while a glass for red wine has a larger balloon shape. However, for most wine drinkers, one thin, clear, all-purpose glass of either shape with a capacity of about 10 to 12 ounces will do. The one exception is the Champagne flute. Its narrow shape concentrates the wine's bubbles and bouquet and helps maintain its chill. When serving wine, don't fill glasses more than halfway. The remaining space allows for swirling and the development of the wine's bouquet.
Sparkle With the Season
All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. In order for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne, it must be made with specific grapes from the Champagne region of northeast France. As a general rule, méthode champenoise is the phrase you're looking for on a label of sparkling wine (the term basically means the wine is made in the style of Champagne).The most notable Italian sparklers are Prosecco (pro-SECK-oh) and spumante (the Italian word for bubbly wine). Spain's easy-drinking Cava (KAH-vuh) may be one of the best values around--it can often be found for less than $10.
Wine After Supper
Bottom line: Feel free to serve whatever wine you or your guests prefer. However, there are traditional after-dinner wines such as port from Portugal and sherry from Spain. Both wines are fortified, which means they've had alcohol added to stop fermentation, leaving behind residual sugar and sweetness. If you're looking for a gift-giving idea (or just wanting to splurge), try the 1998 Quinta do Vesuvio vintage port or Graham's Tawny Port Centennial box set, which includes a bottle each of 10-year, 20-year, 30-year, and 40-year port.
"Holiday Wine Guide" is from the November 2003 issue of Southern Living.