The lead item in any story we write about holiday party wines has to be Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava from Spain, that paragon of value among sparkling wines priced for entertaining. It is widely available at supermarkets and liquor stores for anywhere from $8 to $10 and often goes on sale at the holidays. To keep things in perspective, we also recommend three frisky whites and a trio of reds, all food friendly but also eminently quaffable on their own.
The bubbles go on forever in this nose-tickling sparkler. It is as pretty in the glass as it is enchanting on the tongue, where smooth notes of apple and fig segue into a clean, dry, lemony finish. Perfect for toasting the season and as an aperitif.
Graham Beck Chenin Blanc-Sauvignon Blanc
A light orange blossom fragrance greets the nose in this beautifully nuanced fruit-forward white (about $11 at big box stores, wine shops and wine-savvy markets), followed by a midpalate bursting with clementine, lime, cantaloupe and honey plus swirling grace notes of new mown grass and meadow flowers. A nice social sipper, or pair it with roasted white meats or chilled shellfish.
Sokol Blosser Evolution
This baby is wild and unpredictable, a real party animal. The current release is the 15th edition of an Oregon blend of nine white grapes with pinot gris nominally in the lead. This cultish but widely available wine is priced at $15 or less at wine shops and big box stores. Sip solo or pair with darn near anything, from grilled fish to fruit salad.
Undone Dry Riesling
The coyly sexy label promises "unoaked, unadulterated, crisp, dry 'naked' flavor" and the lively white wine inside delivers. This import from Germany's Rheinhessen region boasts plenty of tart green apple tempered by pear, apricot, lemon and smidges of gooseberry and ginger for spice. Look for it in the $6 to $10 range at big box stores and wine shops. It will purr with sushi and sashimi.
We're crazy about Argentine malbecs. This plucky example from the Mendoza region is a full and sleek red with well-rounded, mouth-filling tastes of dark berries, black cherry and even a little coffee up front. You'll likely find it on well-stocked supermarket shelves for about $13 to $16. Harmonizes robustly with muscular fare from grilled red meats to hearty winter stews.
Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin
Is barbecue on the buffet? Then so should be this impudent puppy that exploits low-yielding old-growth vines from Lodi to produce a red that sings beautifully solo or paired with gutsy fare like 'cue. Easy to find at supermarkets, big box stores and wine shops and easy on the wallet at about $7 to $10 per bottle.
Clos du Bois Alexander Valley Merlot
At about $22 (big box stores and wine shops), this big velvety red is the priciest on our short list and is recommended for more or less formal sit-down dinner parties. Nose: fig and cherry with a nice clove edge for spice. Tongue: dark chocolate and ripe black cherry with a bit of bramble bite and hint of clove. Finish: medium to long and as smooth as the first burst of fruit and chocolate. Pair it with robust meats and complex sauces.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. For an index and archive of reviews, go to pictograph.com.