End-of-year festivities are upon us and undoubtedly, you’ll need a bottle or two of something for gifts or to share with friends and family. Wines from big name producers are often go-to picks this time of year, but there are plenty of interesting options for those who want something a little less obvious but equally memorable.
In addition to drinking well on their own or with a meal, you can find terrific examples of all the options discussed below for $25 or less a bottle. Whatever the occasion, these libations should carry you deliciously into the New Year and beyond. Cheers!
Sparklers That Can Show You a Good Time
Made the same way as their more expensive siblings from Champagne, Crémant is produced in over twenty different regions in France, including Alsace, Bordeaux, and the Loire Valley. They are terrific alternatives to Champagne, equally suited for happy hour or popping the cork at midnight. Alsatian Crémants tend to be on the fruitier side, with lemon, strawberry, and honeysuckle characteristics.
Crémants from the Loire region will exhibit characteristics of apple and pear, as well as floral elements, such as acacia. Bordeaux produces Crémants that are fruity and complex, with lemon, hazelnut, and floral characteristics.
If you want to make things a little more interesting, break out a bottle of Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine from the Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy. Once known for its cloying sweetness and aggressive bubbles, Lambruscos today are showcasing fruity, full-bodied, and lightly effervescent characteristics that range from dry to sweet (sweeter versions will say “dolce” on the label).
The wine’s tannins balance out salty and fatty foods beautifully, making it a great option to pair with savory appetizers, such as cured meats, salty cheeses, and olives.
Orange Wines – So Much More Than a Color
For an instant conversation starter, pick up a bottle of orange wine. These white wines develop a deep orange color and tannins from extended contact with grape skins and seeds. This winemaking technique, similar to the process for making red wine, dates back as far as 5,000 years in the Caucasus region.
Orange wines are layered and complex, maintaining fresh fruit characteristics but also developing a nuttiness and a sour element that you might find in fruit beers. Dry and robust, these wines pair well with strongly flavored cheeses and meats, evening holding their own with a steak. You can find notable, well-balanced orange wines from Italy, Slovenia, and France, as well as from the country of Georgia.
Cider – The Up-and-Comer
Maybe your go-to option this year isn’t even wine. Top apple producing states, such as New York, Wisconsin, and Washington, are now making ciders in a variety of interesting styles. Many ciders exhibit characteristics similar to wine that make them delicious, versatile options for multi-course meals.
With less than 0.5% residual sugar, dry ciders are the most reminiscent of wine, often barrel-aged with pronounced tannins and acidity. Dry ciders pair well with tangy cheeses, such as those made with goat’s milk, light meat dishes, and Thai food.
Semi-dry and semi-sweet ciders usually have between 2%-4% residual sugar, as well as pronounced apple flavors. These ciders still exhibit strong tannins and mineral qualities to balance out the sweetness, and pair well with washed rind cheeses and rustic root vegetable dishes.
In the U.S., “farmhouse” cider refers to an earthy, less astringent, and less structured cider. Versions produced in England tend to be naturally produced, fermented with wild yeasts to ABVs as high as 12%. These ciders pair well with soft, creamy cheeses, and chicken and pork dishes.
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