Vino Veritas: A Wino’s Christmas List

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Dear Santa,

Remember me? Probably not. We didn’t really dwell on you growing up, namely because our house in Hawaii didn’t have a chimney and there were too many logistical questions raised regarding how you’d get into the house…the idea of you breaking a window or picking our lock was just too much to handle. Anyway, I figured I’d drop you a line, a la that kind of awful holiday favorite “My Grown Up Christmas List” made popular by Amy Grant’s first of roughly 83 holiday albums, but with less hazy golden light and tinkling synthesizer. Forgive me for getting right to the point, but time’s a-wasting and Christmas is next week. We need to sort out what I can expect to find under my tree—or in my glass—come Christmas morning.

  1. A bottle Many bottles of Champagne

So many good things begin with the unmistakable pop of a bottle of bubbly. I know, I know: to properly open sparkling wine is to release it with a just-above-silent hiss, but there’s nothing that says celebration like that tiny explosion. My own marriage began that way, “man and wife,” then pop went the magnum of 2002 Dom Perignon. So how could I—nay, how could anyone—properly celebrate the season without a glass of proper cheer? I’d like a bottle of Krug, please, if you’re feeling fancy, and if not…well…think hard about feeling fancy.

  1. A really good Chardonnay

‘Tis the season for food to be rich, heavy, creamy, all those adjectives that imply cream and butter. And what better to accompany food like creamy soup and braises than something with matching depth and breadth but bright and fresh acidity to cut through all that richness? And what fits that bill better than Chardonnay? Oh, you’re not a Chardonnay drinker, Santa? You’re gonna throw that “ABC…Anything But Chardonnay” little line at me, are you? Don’t be dismissive so quickly, Mr. Claus, because good Chardonnay is more respectable than anything out there. Take white Burgundy, for example: the good stuff is strong, rich, but always balanced with citrusy, minerally acidity begging for a dish slathered in butter to cut through. You have to look a little harder, it’s true, because there are so many insipid, overly-oaked, under-respected bottles out there, but you find a good one, and man…life changes. Trust me.

  1. Good, practical stemware

Having a glass for every varietal isn’t a must, but I do think a handful of good, multipurpose glasses make all the difference at your holiday table. All I want is a good tulip shape, not too big, not too small, and inexpensive enough that I won’t feel terrible when one inevitably breaks (it’s not a holiday party till something gets smashed, right?). If you need further guidance, Santa, opt for something like a Riesling/Sangiovese glass…that’s right, it’s made to show off white AND red wines. And better yet, it’s a reasonable size so it’s perfect for housing sparkling wine too. I promise it’s not too good to be true.

  1. Low alcohol party reds

I mean, I like alcohol and all, but with all these extended evening celebrations, I hate to host and have a series of sloshed people on my hands simply because winemakers couldn’t control themselves. It’s not too hard to find reasonable levels (12, 13, 14%…I’ll even flex and say 15% for the hotter climates) in many whites, but increasingly, the international community seems to be tipping toward massive, extracted, big fruit and high alcohol camp for many red wines, and I’m tired of scraping folks off of my couch and force-feeding them French fries and black coffee the next day. Here’s a hint, you probably don’t want to go looking in California unless you want to dig really deep. Californians, especially Cabernets, seem to be the forerunners of the Boozy Brigade.

In addition to the wheelbarrow full of drunkies to deal with, super high alcohol is only good for immediate pain-deadening or partying hard and kind of undermines the whole point of wine in general. Big alcohol bowls over a lot of good food and if the wine doesn’t have the phenolic material to support it, it’s lost its aging potential. Take away its aging potential and its ability to perform at the table and the heart, the culture, the art of wine is gone. Is that what you want, Santa? For children everywhere to think you don’t care about culture? I didn’t think so.

  1. A wine documentary that isn’t awful

Riddle me this: how can a progressive, artful industry like that of film take something as ancient, interesting, appealing, and inherently cool as wine and make it feel like you’re watching a parade of disinterested but elitist heaps of snobbery? How, when making wine has more to do with the dirt under your nails than how well the tablecloth is ironed? And when every year farmers are placing bets on the weather, their livelihood constantly in the grip of natural forces and anything can go wrong at any point and RUIN EVERYTHING…it’s like watching The Real Housewives of…Anywhere! So why does nobody care about the wine documentaries? It may be the lack of spray tan and hair gel, but it’s more likely to be the consistently droll narration painting the khakiest of landscapes and killing all the romance. This may be an impossible task…I’ve yet to see anything more captivating than an anthill. And no, Santa: the film Sideways does not count. Dig deep.

I guess that’s it. If you need inspiration, I recommend Googling that Amy Grant song. Nothing puts you in the holiday spirit (or perhaps makes you want a drink) quite like mediocre Christmas music.

Love, Katie

Happy holidays and the warmest season’s greetings to you and yours, from your neighborhood friendly Wino!

Katie Callahan is a wine educator and former manager of  Bin 201 Wine Sellers in Annapolis. Two weeks ago, Katie gave birth to a healthy baby girl!  Mother and child are home and happy.



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  1. Katie! Great article! The only thing that would have made it perfect would be a check list that I could just take to my local wine Shop (Bin 604 and the Wine Source) with instructions to FILL. Although their advice is always sound, I like to pretend to know what I’m looking at sometimes.
    Happy Holidays~

    • Thanks Chris! Those 604 kids really know their stuff, I’d trust them, and the Wine Source is great. That checklist sounds like a scrumptious idea…perhaps I’ll hand one out to loved ones on my behalf next year. 🙂 happy holidays!

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