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Originally published Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Wine Adviser

Holiday wines worth celebrating, course by course

Whether your holiday dinners feature turkey, prime rib or ham, there are plenty of inexpensive wines that will work well for entertaining...

Special to the Seattle Times

Whether your holiday dinners feature turkey, prime rib or ham, there are plenty of inexpensive wines that will work well for entertaining.

In the weeks ahead, I'll do in-depth columns on California sparkling wines, Champagnes and dessert wines. But to get the ball rolling, I have listed some favorites below. Remember that your wine planning should begin with a simple tally of the number of wine drinkers coming to dine. Plan to open a bottle of wine for every two wine-drinking adults. If there are just a few of you, you might want to purchase half bottles so you can still enjoy a variety of wines. Alternatively, you could purchase a few different three-liter boxes so you could pour individual glasses, and they will keep the remaining wine fresh for weeks.

If you are planning a larger gathering, say a dozen adults, you could do a six-bottle dinner that would allow everyone a small (two-ounce) sip of each wine. In my experience, nothing lights up a festive occasion more quickly than a thoughtful array of several wines. Here are some suggestions, organized by the order in which you might wish to serve them.

Starters and appetizers

For aperitifs and appetizers, there is truly no better beginning than bubbly. Champagne is the best special-occasion choice, but even the least-expensive bottles will set you back $20-plus. My top under-$10 choices are Spanish sparklers (called cavas) and the bone-dry, delightfully elegant proseccos of Italy.

Try the Brio Prosecco by Folonari ($9). Done in a lighter, frizzante style, it opens with a crown (beer-bottle) cap and has a rich, beery appeal. It will sail happily along with anything from chips and pretzels to caviar and smoked salmon.

Don't like bubbly? Then grab a bottle of Terra Amata 2005 Rosé ($10). This cheery dry rosé from the Cotes de Provence is dusty and feather light (12.5 percent alcohol). It's a chameleon of a rosé that will blend in with (and happily lubricate) all manner of turkey preparations and most side dishes (not the sweet stuff however; it's too dry for that). Use it as a starter or go all the way; for 10 bucks it may be the star of the show.

First course: dry white wines

Your "can't miss" dry white wines, made to go with a wide variety of seafood, salads and poultry, include pinot gris or grigio, gewürztraminer and riesling. To ensure you are getting dry versions, check with your wine seller, as not all wines are labeled sweet or dry. In general, higher-alcohol versions (more than 13 percent) will be the dry ones; the lower the alcohol, the sweeter the wine.

Washington riesling sets the standard for the country, and you can't go wrong with the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2005 Columbia Valley Riesling ($8) or the Columbia Crest 2005 Grand Estates Riesling ($11). Ste. Michelle makes more riesling than any winery in the world, but more important, they make a terrific everyday version, slightly sweet, and loaded with fresh fruit flavors of peach, pear and melon. The Columbia Crest carries its orange blossom and lemon candy scents and flavors into tropical papaya and mango fruit.

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For a bone-dry riesling, look for the 2004 Prinz Von Hessen Rheingau bottling ($11). For something completely different, the Val Grieux 2005 Picpoul de Pinet offers clean, lacey, lightly grassy flavors ($8).

Moving into richer wines, it's tough to do any better than Barnard Griffin's 2005 Fumé Blanc ($10), a wonderfully detailed, dry and dusty sauvignon blanc. The winery's 2005 Semillon ($10) is almost as good, with less grass and more melon in the flavor. From Chile's Casablanca Valley, the 2006 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva ($10) is a great choice, packed with grapefruit and zingy, juicy acids.

Main course: dry red wines

I know that pinot noir remains the red-wine flavor du jour, but you won't find much of interest on the bargain table. Better bottles will be found if you look for less-trendy grapes, such as the delicious southern French malbec from Domaines Astruc. Their 2005 Malbec sells for just $7, sports a very classy label and shows every sign of being a special project from someone who knows what he is doing. For those who enjoy a European style, who like some herb and black olive in their red wines, and who are not dependent upon jammy fruit, high alcohol and new oak to inspire a sense of quality, this is a jewel: light, immaculate, balanced and yet interesting, with a nuanced mix of fruits and herbs. You just can't do much better than this, even at twice the price.

Other picks: 2004 Almagre Rioja Tinto ($8), a light, soft, minty and spicy Rioja; the nonvintage Verget du Sud "Au Fil du Temps" Rouge ($9), a bright, berry-flavored blend of cabernet, grenache and syrah; and the 2004 Old Vine Zinfandel from Bogle ($11) — probably the best value in zin on the market today.

Dessert wines

Look for the moderately priced reserve and special reserve Ports from the big Port houses such as Warre's, Dow, Churchill, Graham, Cockburn and Croft. All sell for around $15 and deliver plenty of rich Port flavor. A full review will appear in a future column.

Wine touring time: Four South Seattle boutique wineries have formed a marketing alliance, calling themselves the South Seattle Artisan Wineries (SSAW). Cadence, Fall Line Winery, Nota Bene Cellars and O-S Winery will coordinate their tasting-room hours on three upcoming Saturdays — Nov. 18, Dec. 2 and Dec. 9. All four will be open from 1 to 5 p.m., pouring new releases. For more information and maps to each winery, go to www.ssaw.info.

Paul Gregutt is the author of "Northwest Wines." His column appears weekly in the Wine section.

He can be reached by e-mail at wine@seattletimes.com.

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
paulgwine@me.com

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