(This articled appeared in the 11/19 issue of Dan’s Papers)

WinegiftsWith Thanksgiving less than a week away, “the season” is almost here.

No, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving Day itself or any other specific holiday. I’m talking about holiday party season. You know exactly what I’m talking about, too – because chances are you’ll be invited to at least a few parties between now and the beginning of 2005. It’s a great time of year and offers ample opportunities to enjoy good food and good wine with the best of friends.

Personally, I never go to a party empty handed, not because I feel obligated but because I love sharing wine with my friends. Wine is a great gift, whether for a small, intimate dinner party or a large holiday open house celebration.

But what wine should you take?

Wine shops can be intimidating for anyone, with so many wines and so many options. Even if you know wine fairly well, buying wine for other people that know and love wine can be tough, too. You don’t want to spend a fortune on it, but you want them to be impressed too, right?

It’s okay to admit it, we all think that way sometimes.

My first suggestion is to stay local with the wines you take. I know, I know. That’s the kind of advice you’d expect from a Long Island wine writer, but it’s sound advice. Many wine lovers, even Long Island natives, don’t know much about the wonderful wines that are available on the East End. In many cases, if they’ve tried Long Island wine at all, it was one of the sweet, high production wines that lack the character and quality found in the best Long Island wines.

And, if you’re going out of town, the chances are even greater that your hosts have never tried any Long Island wines at all!

Introduce your hosts to real Long Island wines. Any of these ten will do the job well and make you an appreciated party guest.

If you got “adopted” by another family for Thanksgiving dinner this year, here are two options that your new family will love. For dinner, take a bottle of Wolffer 2002 Pinot Noir ($60). Complex, rich and gorgeous in the glass, it’s well worth the splurge for such an occasion

Another great Turkey Day option is a dessert wine like Martha Clara’s 2002 Ciel ($29). Fruity, flowery and sweet (without being cloying) it’s one of my favorite dessert wines, and is a good value in this often-expensive realm.

Spending the entire weekend? Take a second bottle of wine to enjoy with turkey sandwiches the next day. Pick up a couple bottles of 2002 September’s Mission Merlot ($9.11) from Lieb Family Cellars. It’s a nice, slurpable Merlot (with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon) at a great price. Plus, 91 cents from each bottle goes to charity.

Every year, you probably get invited to at least one large holiday party in December. Often times the host or hostess already has wines picked out, but here are two affordable whites that go great with appetizers and party food. First, consider Macari’s 2004 Early Wine ($13), which goes from grape to gulp in only a few months. It is a crisp, bright white filled with citrus and green apple. With just a tinge of sweetness, it’s perfect with food.

Another great option for a big party is Paumanok’s 2002 Semi-Dry Riesling ($15). This award winner offers a bit more sweetness and is well made in the style of a top-flight German Riesling.

If a co-worker or even your boss has you over for a smaller, more intimate dinner party, do your best to find out what is on the menu. If it screams for white wine, head straight for a bottle of 2003 Bedell Cellars Viognier ($29). It’s a rich, elegant white that offers luscious melon and almost tropical flavors, but with excellent acidity for food friendliness.

If red wine is what’s needed, two Merlots, the 2002 Comtesse Therese Traditional Merlot ($18) and the 2002 Shinn Estates young vines Merlot ($24) deliver sophisticated, complex flavors and aromas – without breaking the bank. If your hosts like Merlot, I guarantee they will love a bottle of either – or both. In fact, I hope someone brings these to my next party.

When it comes to sparkling wines, I often find that there are two types of people, those that only drink the real deal from the Champagne region of France (and pay a lot for it), and those that drink cheap sugar water with bubbles and probably don’t even enjoy it.

This New Year’s Eve, ring in 2005 by taking a bottle of 1996 Lenz Cuvee ($30) or Lieb Family Cellars 2001 Blanc de Blanc ($35) to your best friend’s house. He or she will be pleasantly astounded that such a great sparkler is made on Long Island.

With bubbly this good around, it amazes me that we only drink it at weddings and New Year’s.

Need more help picking a wine to take to a holiday party? Email Lenn at lenn@lenndevours.com