The holidays: they can be filled with the love, light, and laughter of families and friends; or fraught with navigating the sometimes precarious shoals of time spent with those families and friends. For me, it’s always a little bit of both.
As a fine wine appraiser with Skinner and general all-around wine enthusiast, I’m always pondering the question I know many of you debate with renewed vigor at this time of year: “Which wines should we pour?” This question is usually chased at the heels by the inevitable “how do I gauge the audience and not miss the mark?” When you’re passionate about wine, it’s easy to forget that not everyone out there appreciates it to the same extent.
After all, wine is a personal experience that doesn’t necessarily translate to circumscribed events or particular group dynamics. When the wine you pour isn’t understood or enjoyed by the friends or family you’re entertaining, the best thing to do is to go Zen and chalk it up to experience.
You may find yourself nodding in agreement as you think back to the time that one of your guests mixed the kids’ fruit punch with a prized red to make their own sangria. Or perhaps you filled a good friend’s glass with a great vintage first growth Bordeaux, and in return he asked, not missing a beat, “do you have any beer?”
What I’ve learned is that in the midst of the social swirl of holidays and special occasions, you can’t manufacture a wine epiphany, no matter how badly you want to. You may wish to boldly declaim the deepened aromas and tastes of a vintage Champagne, when all your guests want is to enjoy something with bubbles that zing out of the glass. My advice is let them! The best hosts and hostesses learn to take a cue from their guests: they lighten up and let others experience great wine on their own terms.
If you still feel the need to educate your audience, remember that these people are your guests, not your students, so skip the speech and rethink your strategy. I recently spoke with someone who liked brown bagging his selections at the holiday table in a blind tasting so everyone could discuss. What he found was that when his guests approached the wine without preconceived expectations, their lack of label knowledge heightened their critical capacity and generally landed them upon the finer wines, which then dovetailed nicely into a deeper discussion.
I am truly fortunate in that most of my friends, relatives and in-laws have a fine appreciation for wine and I feel lucky to be in their company. In the midst of the holiday season, I find I like to look back over the year to some of the simpler yet still enchanting wines I’ve really enjoyed. Then, I lay in a stock and try not to worry about the ice cubes being dropped in that prized glass of Montrachet. Of course, I still plan to open a treasured bottle or two, but in smaller gatherings, when the pressure is off, the circle is intimate, and the passion for wine equals mine.
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