How to prevent a food fight at your holiday feast

Side step the politics of the pandemic with peacekeeping bottlings and wine trivia

It seems the pandemic is more political than ever, which means tensions could run high at the holiday feast this year. Battles could be as big as whether or not to vaccinate or as small as whether or not to hug.

Luckily, you can be proactive with wine as the ultimate unifier.

Here are five wines that recently showed beautifully in Press Democrat blind tastings. Uncork them and stand ready to use them as interceptors to upstage any kerfuffle.

Louis M. Martini, 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 15%, $45. A striking cab with high-toned fruit coupled with chocolate and cracked black pepper, it will no doubt impress your family and friends.

J. Rickards Winery, 2019 One Lone Row, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County Grenache, 14.6%, $29. Weighted to red, it has aromas and flavors of cherry, pomegranate and cranberry and a racy undercurrent of spice.

OVR, Old Vine Red, NV, Lot No. 72 by Marietta Cellars, Geyserville, 13.5%, $15. Layered with aromas and flavors of strawberry, black raspberry, licorice and white pepper, this red blend is a steal for the price.

Gundlach Bundschu, 2020 Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, Dry Gewurztraminer, 13.5%, $25. A tasty white to have at an eclectic holiday feast, it has gorgeous stone fruit of apricot and nectarine with mineral and grapefruit in the mix.

Fathia, 2020 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 13.8%, $25. This tasty sauvignon blanc is light on its feet with aromas and flavors of lemongrass, citrus and mineral.

Once you’ve exhausted your tasting strategy, here are five bits of wine trivia that might come in handy to redirect conversations when family members are on the verge of spoiling the party.

1. Trockenbeerenauslese (“trock-en-beer-en-aus-lazy”) is the hardest wine to pronounce. Make a game of it for your relatives to pronounce, and whoever can spell it gets an extra serving of pie. The German wine is of late-harvest bottlings made from grapes affected by noble rot. Known as botrytised grapes, they look like raisins and have sweet flavors of caramel, honey and apricot. This impressive dessert wine can take the place of traditional pie, cake and pastries. You also can splash it over a warm compote of stone fruit — nectarines, peaches, plums and apricots.

2. If there’s infighting over mask-wearing, change the subject with this diverting bit of history: that Champagne and sparkling wines came about more as the result of a mistake than intent. Bubbly was born in Champagne, France, at the end of the 17th century. Its unassailable sparkle came about as a result of the Champagne region’s cool temperatures, which would halt fermentation in the fall and unleash it again in the spring, when the wines warmed up. Those instrumental in Champagne’s beginnings were not amused by the fizz and did everything they could to tame it. When the winemakers couldn’t win their war with the bubble, over time they decided to make peace with it and ultimately celebrate it.

3. If there’s runaway anxiety over the omicron variant, uncork a high-priced cabernet sauvignon and be a provocateur. Ask your relatives whether so-called cult cabs — exclusive and very expensive — are smoke and mirrors or worth the price. Wine expert Karen MacNeil is in the “real deal” camp. She said no one is pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes and cult cabs have expert vintners and winemakers tending them from the vine to the cellar. It’s irrefutable, MacNeil said, that these bottlings perceived as unattainable are very good wines.

4. If someone sneezes and relatives start getting nervous, divert the hysteria by talking about the wine that has signaled a canned wine revolution. Sarah Hoffman and Kendra Kawala, the co-founders of Maker, are two millennials raising the bar for wine in cans. The motto on Maker’s website,, is “under-the-radar wine, over-the-top stories. Small-batch wine made by unconventional people — in a can.” A current favorite is the Maker, 2020 Pinot Gris crafted by Handley Cellars in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley.

5. If the conversation runs dark with worry that we’ll never make it out of the pandemic, interject hope. Offer up this positive news on climate change about Napa Valley’s Trefethen Family Vineyards. The winery is partnering with Earthly Labs on a pilot project to capture carbon dioxide emitted from the winery’s fermentations. Earthly Labs CEO Amy George said she expects to work on carbon capture with several Sonoma County wineries in 2022.

There’s no need for worry; you’re now equipped with plenty of crowd pleasers and wine fodder to intercept the first sign of any combative exchange.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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