A friend of mine says he once was given a bottle of wine so wonderful the only occasion on which he could think of serving it would be dinner with the pope.
My philosophy is to get the best wine I can for the entree, even if I economize on wines for appetizers or dessert. You’ll see some grand whites and robust reds below for that idea.
Maybe you’re a dessert fanatic, fretting over what wine goes best with fruit cake. Not grocery store fruitcake with red and green mystery bits, but a real fruitcake. One whose preparation began in early December. One with savory, dark, spicy cake studded with figs and vodka-soaked cherries and candied ginger and whole walnuts. Dipped in brandy, soaked in rum.
For this you need that winter miracle called ice wine. It is made of grapes left to freeze on the vine, picked in the middle of the night when the air is no more than 18 degrees, then crushed under great pressure to concentrate their acids and sugars, leaving the watery ice behind. This is one of the sweetest wines in the world.
Vegetarians and vegans can go all out as well, with a little effort. Vegan wines must be fined, or clarified, by having ground clay dropped through them instead of animal products such as eggs, milk or gelatin – or not fined at all.
Many kosher wines are vegan as well. But it seldom says that on the label; you have to Google the winery and ask customer service.
Finally, don’t forget to give a toast – heartfelt, written by yourself.
• Nonvintage Mumm Napa Brut Prestige sparkling wine, Napa Valley (45 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir, 10 percent pinot gris and pinot meunier): myriad tiny bubbles, aromas and flavors of toast, ripe apples and spice; $22.
• 2011 Bear Point Chardonnay, by Stonestreet, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County: floral aromas, flavors of ripe peaches, voluptuous and rich; $55.
• 2010 Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino County (79 percent zinfandel, 11 percentsyrah, 10 percent petite sirah): hint of oak, concentrated flavors of black raspberries and coffee; $20.
• 2010 Amoureux Red Blend Wine, by Lasseter Family Winery, Sonoma Valley (73 percent malbec, 18 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent merlot, 2 percent cabernet franc): aromas and flavors of black cherries, dark chocolate and cloves, rich and full-bodied, soft tannins; $54.
• 2011 Inniskillin Riesling Icewine, Okanagan: Sweet and crisp and opulent, with aromas and flavors of lemon meringue; $60 per half bottle.
• 2012 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley: lush and rich, with flavors of baked apples and honey; $20.
• 2012 Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc, “Helena Bench,” Sonoma County (99 percent sauvignon blanc, 1 percent semillon): rich and crisp, with aromas and flavors of sweet oranges and fennel; $40.
• 2012 Silver Palm Winery Chardonnay, Mendocino County and Alexander Valley: light and crisp, with aromas and flavors of apples and limes, tart finish; $18.
• 2011 Freemark Abbey Merlot, Napa Valley (83 percent merlot, 9 percent cabernet sauvignon): aromas and flavors of cherries and bittersweet chocolate, smooth and rich; $34.