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Drink, Be Merry

Wines for the holidays.

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By the time you read this, you will have mostly come out of that red wine- and tryptophan-induced coma into which you slipped sometime during the Detroit Lions' game. While your post-meal memories might be a tad fuzzy, your motivation likely isn't: That's just what we do this time of year.

I've never been an unqualified fan of the hallowed holiday turkey, although my love of dressing is drastic. For years, I've been trying to make lamb the go-to meal for the holidays on the grounds that it is so much better in every conceivable way. Since this genius has been largely ignored by both my family and in-laws, I've decided that if we are going to set the menu on autopilot with reliable standards, at least we can give a little more thought to our wine.

If white wine is your thing, that Chardonnay that you were drinking in the summer or the last fund-raiser you went to likely won't stand up to that roast turkey or ham. Try a Pouilly-Fumé or a white Bordeaux as a dry and crisp alternative. Of course, it's hard to beat Champagnes and sparkling wines for the holiday spirit.

For reds, a Bordeaux and a Côtes du Rhône are tasty on their own and play well with that rich holiday fare. If you like a little lighter style with more fruit, try a Beaujolais. These wines must come from their regions in eponymous France to be labeled, but if you know the varietals that go into these wines, you can get good pretenders from almost anywhere.

Pouilly-Fumé and most white Bordeaux are made almost entirely out of Sauvignon Blanc grapes, so it's easy to find a stand-in. The reds, that famous "Bordeaux blend" is 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Cabernet Franc, and 15 percent Merlot. Unless you are from the "right bank" of the river Dordogne, in which case it's reversed a bit with 70 percent Merlot and 15 percent Cabernets. The Brits call all of it a "claret" because they love to annoy the French. Penfold's in Australia got its start making great French "style" wines down under and produce a Koonunga Hill Cabernet Merlot blend that is a nice stand-in for a Bordeaux with black currents and plum and a little oaky spice.

For a slightly earthier route, it's hard to beat a Côtes du Rhône, which aren't terrible expensive. By law, save a few small producers, Côtes du Rhônes are at least 40 percent grenache with at least 15 percent supplementary Mourdére and Syrah to finish out the blend. So just look for a grenache/Syrah blend, and you will have a good pretender for this stable of French wine.

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A less "big" option, is a Beaujolais, which Karen MacNeil — who knows a lot more about wine than I do — described as the "the only white wine that happens to be red." They tend to be light-bodied with a lot of fruit. The always trendy Beaujolais Nouveau is available only in the fall, and you aren't doing it any favors by laying it up. Fortunately, standard Beaujolais are available all year round. They are largely made with the big, fruity gamay grape, but Beaujolais are made with a unique process called carbonic maceration, which involves fermenting the grapes in a carbon-rich environment before they are crushed. A good stand-in here would be to look for a gamay or a young Australian Shiraz. Or just open a bottle of gamay's diva cousin, the Pinot Noir.

It's worth noting that one of the reasons you hear a lot more about Pinot Noir is that the gamay was actually outlawed in 1395 by the Duke of Burgundy Phillippe the Bold for being "a very bad and disloyal plant." And if that isn't a reason to pop a cork of the stuff, I don't know what is.

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