One of my favorite organizations is somewhat grandiosely called the Center for the New American Dream.
Their mission — helping Americans “to reduce and shift their consumption, improve quality of life, protect the environment and promote social justice” — is, like most “missions,” also a bit grandiose, but they’re a great group of folks, both passionate and practical about changing attitudes toward consumption in ways that make such change seem fun rather than painful.
I especially like their Simplify the Holidays program with its festive ideas about entertaining, decorating, gift-giving and even shopping. You can check them out for yourself at www.newdream.org.
I bring them up because even though I try my hardest to simplify the holidays, I always end up feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do what I need to do — and I don’t even shop. But I like to have a little tree (which involves going out to a tree farm and cutting one down, fun but time-consuming because it takes me forever to decided which 3-foot pine I want to bring home), and I send out a fair number of cards (which for some reason I feel obliged to make myself) with longer-than-necessary letters to friends and family I’m not close enough to visit.
And then there’s the unfortunate coinciding of the holiday season with half of the family’s birthdays, which usually involve overnight trips to Willits or the Bay Area — as do our main celebrations.
What I keep trying to figure out is how to host fun and relaxing evenings with good friends, who will warm themselves near the wood-stove fire, admire my little fresh-cut tree (decorated with garlic, nuts and other foodie things), and talk about books, music, food, wine and what’s wrong with the world (and how we’d fix it if only we were king/queen/president/benevolent dictator). And, of course, celebrate the winter solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, the end of the old year (so important in an election year!), the beginning of the new.
I imagine these evenings every year and then suddenly the tree begins to droop, the poinsettia loses its leaves, the temperature goes back up and daffodils pop out of the ground.
So this year, I’m stocking my refrigerator with wine — and collecting nuts, interesting cheeses and crackers, various breads and other appetizer sorts of things to serve with it. Simple. I’ll even override my guilt and eschew my cloth cocktail napkins (which then have to be washed and hung out to dry, not always easy in December damp) in favor of the brightly colored paper ones I’ve been collecting, too.
For wines I’m in search of bargains — delicious, festive bottles that don’t cost more than $10. I’ve been a good, responsible columnist of late, emphasizing our local wines, but I must admit that if I’m not going to spend more than $10, it’s a lot easier to find good imports. I promise, though, that I’ll buy them locally. I’ve mentioned every one of these wines in previous columns, but there aren’t that many bargain wines I’m willing to drink and serve to people I really like, so you’ll have to bear with the repetition.
At the top of my list is a local wine. And it comes in under $10 (by a penny) only because Nugget has it on sale right now — the Dry Creek Dry chenin blanc. The Nugget folks describe it as “fruit salad in a glass: apples, pineapples, white peaches and honeydew melons, just to name a few.” And it does live up to that description. It’s wonderful with all sorts of cheese, and if I splurge on smoked salmon crostini, it will complement those as well.
A second Nugget bargain is the 1749 Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley. On sale now for just $7.99, it, too, tastes of vivid fruit including the bright gooseberry-grapefruit notes of a New Zealand SB but without the sometimes too intense citrus of the less expensive sauvs from NZ. A good wine to serve with a simple appetizer like fresh almonds from the Farmers Market tossed with olive oil, salt and rosemary and roasted in a 350-degree oven for about eight minutes.
Another crisp, tart, citrus-y wine that works well with informal company, a nice fire and a variety of cheeses is Destinos, a Spanish white made from the macabeo grape that’s widely used in cava. It’s a simple wine, yes, but so fun and friendly and very reliable. The Co-op carries it regularly for only $5.99, and if you buy six and get your 10 percent discount, that comes to just $5.40 a bottle.
But now that I’ve brought up macabeo and cava, I have to admit that my wine closet is filling up fast with Spanish sparklers. (I keep them there rather than in the refrigerator because overly cold temperatures for long stretches can diminish the power of the bubbles.) The two best under-$10 sparklers that I’ve been able to come up with are Cristalino and Viura Seguras, both of them available at both Co-op and Nugget, though the latter often has them for less — on sale as I write at $7.99 and $6.99, respectively.
The Jaume Serra Cristalino cava brut comes from the Penedes region of northeast Spain and is made from 50 percent macabeo, 35 percent parellada and 15 percent xarello. Wine and Spirits gave the Cristalino brut a 91-point rating, pretty amazing for an $8 bottle! Crisp fall apples with a touch of lemon and cinnamon make it seem especially appropriate to the season. I tried the rosé version and thought it lacked a little of the zest of the regular — but it is a very pretty color and looks wonderfully festive in the glass.
For a rosé, though, I’d get the livelier and equally festive-looking Viura Seguras with its tart cherry and berry notes and a very slightly smoky finish. The Viura Seguras also comes in extra dry and brut, both apple-infused like the Cristalino (I prefer the brut, which is drier), and all are really fine bargains. They’re made of the same grapes as the Cristalino (“viura” being another name for macabeo) with perhaps more floral notes and a bit more yeast on the finish. Both Cristalino and Viura Seguras are made in the expensive traditional French Champagne method (méthode Champenoise) — that is, they’re fermented in the bottle rather in steel vats, which makes it even more amazing that you can get them for under $10.
You can serve these sparklers even with bleu cheeses, which are notoriously hard to pair. Try one of our local-ish versions like the lovely Point Reyes bleu.
Now all I have to do is review the Center for the New American Dream’s suggestions for simple entertaining and call up some friends and neighbors. But first I have to get this column out, finish up the neighborhood newsletter, decide what I’m making for Allegra’s 40th birthday party, think of something for tonight’s dinner, cut out the design for my holiday cards and…
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com