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Keep wine choices fun, frugal for holiday scene

The best wines for holiday parties are like good hosts, accommodating enough to handle a variety of scenarios, but with enough personality to keep everyone entertained.

What bottle will best suit your occasion? As with most things about wine there's no single answer, but here are a few suggestions on how to get the party pairing right.

• Be prepared to try something a little bit different. Love chardonnay? Maybe try a chardonnay-viognier (another white grape) blend. Big fan of big reds? A Cotes du Rhone from France or malbec from Argentina are good choices. The good news on malbec is that you can get a nice bottle for $12 to $15. "I have to say I haven't really met a malbec I don't like," says Mary Gorman-McAdams, a New York-based Master of Wine and consultant to the daily deal wine site VITIS.com. Another possibility, especially this time of year, is Beaujolais, the youthful reds from France that are known for their fruity punch and are often to be found for $10 to $20.

• Look for crowd-pleasing wines, like sparkling wines, rose and riesling. "We're a diverse crowd, we have a lot of different palates," says David O'Day, wine director for the Dallas-based Del Frisco's Restaurant Group. "In the holidays, I always have my go-to wines. I'll have some lighter, crisp whites, some sauvignon blanc and some riesling, and I always have some sparkling. The ladies in my family love rose, so I always have a nice rose on hand." For the reds, he also likes malbec, as well as Chauteauneuf du Pape from France and pinot noir.

• Give some thought to presentation. Whites should be cool, but not icy. If you're serving whites, an ice bucket is a nice extra, but not essential. "I like to have an ice bucket, especially the sparkling and the whites, but with my crew the wine doesn't really last long. We're popping and pouring," says O'Day. Reds shouldn't be cold, and if you have a decanter, that's a step worth taking even for wines that are $8 to $10. "Every wine will benefit from the aeration process," says O'Day. "It's a nice touch. It looks great. It's festive and fun around the holidays."

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