When we think of wine, a list of much vaunted, sometimes intimidating rules comes to mind. Especially at holiday time, when the pressure seems on to put our best foot forward and make a good impression, we want everything to be just right.
Perhaps the only wine rule of importance is this: in Spanish, white wine is vino blanco, but red wine is vino tinto, never vino rojo.
Beyond that, it’s your call, say the experts we spoke with.
“It’s a good opportunity to plan,” says Pablo Carnevale of Grupo Pampa wine shop and distributor. “Decide what you’re having, and get recommendations.”
The old white-with-white, red-with-red chestnut makes a good starting point.White wines combine well with fish and poultry, and red wines with beef, pork and lamb.
Sales of red wine outnumber white about three to one this time of year, says Roy Muñoz of Muñoz y Nanne supermarket in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro. He attributes that to the pork and beef popular among Costa Ricans for their holiday meals.
But take into account the entire meal, suggests Michel Amiroff of retailer, distributor and importer La Nacional.
“It’s not just about the meat,” he says.
“What are you combining it with? Especially, are you using any strongly flavored sauces?”
A lighter holiday meal in which you serve, say, baked chicken with no sauce requires a lighter wine. A full-bodied, multi-faceted cabernet sauvignon would overpower that meal, Amiroff suggests.
“The meat will seem insipid,” he says.
That cabernet is better suited for a zesty ham, a popular main course among the foreign community here.
“A medium-bodied merlot with ham ends up tasting like water,” Amiroff says.
Turkey, that other tried-and-true holiday main course, occupies a medium ground, stronger than chicken but less hearty than red meat. Amiroff suggests thinking “medium” in terms of wine, too, and going with a merlot or chardonnay.
“But don’t be afraid to experiment,” adds Carnevale, admitting that he’s learned from years of experience and a few mistakes along the way. “If you like a combination, it’s perfectly valid.”
This year, think this hemisphere for the best buys.
With the dollar trading at record lows against the euro – $1.47 buys one euro at this writing – a non-European wine is your best value.
“Sales of European wines have suffered a bit this year with the strength of the euro,” Carnevale says.
Chile was the first real country to break into this market, he explains, and with Costa Rican importers able to pay for Chilean products in dollars, that trend will continue especially strong this year.
Carnevale suggests Chile’s Undurraga line of cabernets and merlots, all of which will give you good-quality product that stays in the ¢5,000-10,000 ($10-20) price range. La Pampa is promoting this year Undurraga’s Brut Supreme sparkling wine, a festive must for New Year’s celebrations.
A similar selection and price range is yours from Chile’s Santa Rita winery. Its merlot is one of Amiroff ‘s particular favorites.
Dollar-denominated wines this year need not be limited to Chile. Amiroff suggests Argentina’s Doña Paula wines, in particular its fuller-bodied malbec to accompany heartier fare, or chardonnay to go with a lighter meal.
Look north, too, Carnevale recommends. From California, a medium-bodied, fruity Robert Mondavi merlot will break through that $20 price ceiling, but not by too much.
Some of Our Favorites
For wines, holiday and year-round, check out: Grupo Pampa (Zona Industrial de Pavas, 400 meters west of Jack’s, www.grupopampa.co.cr
Muñoz y Nanne (Avenida Central, San Pedro, 253-4646)
Holtermann & Compañía (Llorente de Tibás, 297- 1212, www.holtermann.co.cr) offers online sales of wine for delivery within the San José metropolitan area. Holtermann also has a selection of gift ideas (corkscrews, wine glasses, champagne buckets) and wine gift baskets.
Saretto supermarket (200 meters west of Anonos bridge, Escazú, 228-0247)