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Drink of the week: Reliably festive holiday wines

Some oenophiles like to choose wine as a gift because it gives them a chance to show off their expertise. But what if you don't have the time or knowledge to hunt down a rare and wonderful vintage, but you'd like a reliable, go-to wine to take along to all those holiday parties or keep on hand for last-minute gifts?

Here are a couple of candidates, reasonably priced (each one is about $18) and widely available.

Somehow Christmas puts me in mind of claret — maybe it's all those jolly folks quaffing claret in Charles Dickens' novels. (Dickens himself was a fan and collector of the wine.)

"Claret" is the British name for red wine from Bordeaux, and, although it's an American wine, the 2013 Francis Coppola Black Label Claret (1910 Type) from the winery's Diamond Collection is made in that traditional Bordeaux style and aged in French oak — it even comes with a mantle of gold netting over the bottle, as if it were just brought up from some Edwardian cellar.

Coppola claret is mainly cabernet sauvignon, balanced with petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc. That adds up to a deep purple-red color and an aroma of dark fruit and pepper.

Take a mouthful and you'll find that fruit: lots of juicy blackberry, plum and cassis. There's a festive swirl of spice as well — anise, pepper, clove. Smooth tannins lead to a long finish, with just a touch of espresso.

Coppola claret would pair graciously with party foods like cheeses and charcuterie, and it's substantial enough to do dinner duty with gala dishes such as duck, crown pork roast or beef rib roast.

In party season, you can't go wrong with bubbles, and nothing says "party" like the pink stuff.

One of my favorite rose sparklers is Gruet Rosé NV, an American wine made in the French methode champenoise (and decked out in a powder-pink art deco label that would look right at home in a Parisian bistro). Pop the cork and pour to reveal the wine's gorgeous rose-pink color and columns of fine bubbles. Roses show up in its aroma as well, as do strawberries.

Strawberries and raspberries tickle the tongue, along with touches of clementine and cream, with a nice toasty finish. This rose also has just enough minerality to give it a crisp, refreshing finish.

Gruet Rosé will party prettily with anything from a seafood buffet to a dim sum platter, and it is absolutely fabulous with dessert. Or as dessert.

Colette Bancroft, Times staff writer

Drink of the week: Reliably festive holiday wines 12/18/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2015 10:30am]
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