On the eve of 2014's final gatherings, one thing is certain about the gifts we'll bear. The wines -- more than usual -- will be under scrutiny. Quite simply, the wines have to be good.
Downsizing wine anxiety is always key, as much now as at any time. Here's how you can choose thoughtful, easy gifts and wine that will please friends and hosts without overextending your budget.
Choose bottles with wide appeal - Beaujolais - a gateway French red wine - will satisfy new and picky palates alike. The general style of Beaujolais fruit is fresh, lively, and easy, wrapped in a medium-bodied format. Dominique Piron (Massanois Imports) fashions gorgeous wine with deep, lip-smacking fruit. Buy his 2012 Coteaux Bourguignons: Gamay sourced primarily from Beaujolais Villages. Delicious and versatile at $13-14.
Choose a wintery red - Zinfandel comes in a wide array of styles but perhaps best for the winter party is something with depth and freshness, like the 2012 Novy Russian River Zinfandel. It's wine from a single vineyard, demonstrating to your wine loving host an awareness of well-crafted wines from a place in the hands of conscious producers. $20-24. And it's of a Zin style that won't weigh you down.
Bring Pacific Northwest wine - Wines from Washington and Oregon stand out next to all the Californian Cabernet and Chardonnay we see at parties. Head's will turn if you can find something from Syncline Wine Cellars. Syncline specializes in Rhone varietals and the 2013 dry rose ($17-19) or the 2012 Subduction Red Blend, Syncline's take on southern Rhone wine, are both terrifically approachable. 2012 is a good year for Oregon Pinot Noir and Elk Cove's Willamette Valley version is widely available at $22-25.
Bring easy bottles in multiples - Domaine Tariquet (Robert Kacher Selections) in Gascony makes juicy Sauvignon Blanc ($10-12) and a crackling fresh blend called Classic Blanc ($7-10). Both are quintessential, unoaked, party whites for large gatherings. Bring more than one bottle as they'll quickly disappear.
Leave these wines in the store, or in your cellar - Special old bottles get lost in chaotic holiday gatherings and are best saved for more intimate dinners with friends in January. Super-geek, insider wines are also under appreciated at loud parties where fine details about your selections are obscured by a lot of alcohol. And finally, leave the silly label, anonymous wines on the shelves. You know which ones they are. Your friends and party hosts will appreciate your thoughtful choices of wines authentic, well-crafted, and true to their type at some of the best gatherings of the year.