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Wine Recommendations for This Holiday Season

Cocktail Showdown | December 4th, 2023

By Rick Gion

rickgion@gmail.com

Holiday wine shopping shouldn’t have to be complicated. But unfortunately it can cause unneeded anxiety due to an overabundance of choices. Don’t fret my friends, we once again have you covered here at HPR.

My wine expert friend, Megan Bartholomay, enthusiastically agreed to answer a bunch of my burning wine questions. Her answers here should definitely help in your quest to impress your dinner guests this holiday season and also to make sure that your party is fired up.

Like most of you, I don’t have a huge booze budget this time of year, so I asked her to keep recommendations accessible. You won’t find a lot of expensive snobbery here. I like to stick to the saying “the best wine is the wine you like to enjoy.” Just please don’t think this applies to super cheap hooch. Our mission is also to raise the wine IQ by a couple of glasses so you can savor some flavor.

After this interview was finished, I went and picked up a few of these recommendations at a local bottle shop. You won’t be able to find all of these at a single location in the area, but shopping for wine at a few different places can make for a fun afternoon if you know what you’re looking for. Cheers to your wine quest and to a great holiday season!

High Plains Reader: What is your work title and which your wine certifications?

Megan Bartholomay: fine wine portfolio specialist at Republic National Distributing Company. Certifications: Court of Master Sommeliers Intro Level; WSET Level 2 Wine - Passed with Distinction; WSET Level 2 Spirits - Passed with Distinction; WSET Level 3 Wine - Passed with Merit (blind tasting portion)

HPR: How did you get into wine?

MB: Oh boy… that’s probably an article on its own, but I’ll try to condense it. I grew up in Fargo and moved to New York City when I was freshly out of college to pursue a career in entertainment. I often say I’m a “recovering actor.” I had to find a way to support myself, so I got into the hospitality industry and ended up as the assistant beverage manager at a very posh, upscale private club with an A-list clientele including members like Bill and Hillary Clinton, Sting, Jay Z, and Beyoncé. I was introduced to a spectacular, expensive and rare wine list and quickly learned I had to keep up with a high level of knowledge. A couple years later, I moved to Los Angeles and studied under a sommelier who encouraged me to start traveling to parts of California wine country to learn more about wine. My path took some interesting turns along the way, but that’s absolutely where I’d say I got “bitten by the wine bug.”

HPR: How can people find you on social media?

MB: I was encouraged to create an Instagram account by some loyal fans a little over a year ago. I had been knocking around the idea of the name “Fargo’s Winest,” which was a combination of the obvious play on Fargo’s Finest and a winest, a word I made up that is similar to a pharmacist or chemist…where one procures a prescription for wine. When I initially created my Insta, I realized that if you read it a certain way it looked like Fargo swinest and I do love pork, but that’s not what I’m going for. So the Insta has a period between fargos and winest, but the TikTok doesn’t. Instagram: @fargos.winest; TikTok: @fargoswinest

HPR: Your Instagram page is fun and informative. What can people find by checking it out?

MB: I am staunchly anti-wine snobbery, which is sort of a departure for how wine has historically been presented. It’s always had an air of pretentiousness surrounding it, and I think that’s often perpetuated by the people who have been the mouthpieces for it for decades. I wanted to make it authentic, accessible and fun. I get a lot of compliments from people who say they like it, because it feels so much like who I am in real life. And, that’s exactly what I’m going for. The social media aspect (I jokingly call myself a winefluencer) is really to give quick blurbs about things I’m drinking, fast facts about specific grapes or growing regions, highlights on some of the wine trips I’m very fortunate to be able to take and to update people on where I’m teaching classes. My overall goal, which I say a little tongue in cheek, is to raise the collective wine IQ of the Upper Midwest.

HPR: What are some affordable sparkling wines that you’d recommend?

MB: I absolutely love this question. Anyone who has been to one of my classes knows I’m a hound for sparkling wine. I say it’s my desert island wine, meaning if I were stranded on a desert island for the rest of my life and only had one other option to drink besides water, it would be sparkling wine. I’m also really passionate about different methods of sparkling production, dispelling myths surrounding sparkling wine and calling it by its appropriate name (It’s not Champagne if it’s not from the Champagne region of France!). Also, sparkling wines are some of the most versatile food pairing wines. People often save sparkling wines for a special occasion, but I say that the special occasion is opening the bottle of sparkling wine.

Top picks under $25-ish:

Bisol Jeio Prosecco - Prosecco, Italy

Poema Brut Cava - Cava, Spain

Albert Bichot Cremant de Bourgogne - Bourgogne, France

Pierre Sparr Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose - Alsace, France

Mirabelle Brut Rose - North Coast, Calif.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs - North Coast, Calif.

HPR: What are some affordable white wines that you’d recommend?

MB: I’ve become a bit geeky with my whites lately. I want super dry, highly acidic, aromatic beauties right now, but I kind of bounce all over.

Stadt Krems Grüner Veltliner - Kremstal, Austria

Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling - Willamette Valley, Ore.

Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc - Napa Valley, Calif.

Saint Cosme Little James Basket Press White - Rhône Valley, France

Albert Bichot Macon Villages - Macon Villages, France

HPR: What are some affordable red wines that you’d recommend?

MB: I’m all over the place with red wines as well. I’ve been drinking a lot of old world reds lately (old world = Europe) because they tend to be a little more earthy and acidic and that’s where my palette is at right now.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir - Willamette Valley, Ore.

Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône - Côtes du Rhône, France

Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages - Beaujolais-Villages, France

Familia Torres Altos Ibericos Crianza - Rioja, Spain

DAOU Pessimist - Paso Robles, Calif.

HPR: Do you have any favorite natural wines?

MB: I’m going to tread lightly here. The term natural wine is a bit of a strange animal. There isn’t exactly an agreed upon definition of what natural wines are, but the trendy marketing term basically categorizes them as minimal intervention wines utilizing traditional winemaking methodologies that also include organic, sustainable and biodynamic practices. And, there are a massive amount of winemakers out there who embrace those winemaking practices, but aren’t really hopping on the natty wine train. Most European winemaking rules are actually pretty stringent, thus much of what comes out of the EU is already sustainable and organic and a ton of wines coming out of Oregon subscribe to these winemaking techniques as well. Here are a couple of my picks:

Morgan Metallico Chardonnay - Santa Lucia Highlands, Calif.

Willamette Valley Vineyards White Pinot Noir - Willamette Valley, Ore.

King Estate Pinot Noir - Willamette Valley, Ore.

Domaine de Beaurenard La Petit Renard - Rhône Valley, France

HPR: What are some good wines to pair with a traditional Holiday meal?

MB: When it comes to food and wine, personal tastes are so subjective. Of course there are “correct” or “preferred” pairings when it comes to food and wine, but my philosophy is that if you think it pairs well, then it’s a good pairing. Personally, I like to experiment with off-the-beaten-path varietals, but there’s a time and a place, and when it comes to the holidays, I’m pretty traditional. I stick to the classics because they just work and something is going to appeal to everyone: Sparkling wine, dry Riesling, unoaked Chardonnay, Beaujolais-Villages, Pinot Noir and Cabernet all pair well with those classic holiday foods.

HPR: Are there some wines that you think make for nice gifts?

MB: Absolutely. I think wine might be the nicest gift ever! I wouldn’t worry too much about knowing what kind of wine they like. Chances are they’re already buying plenty of that, so bring them something new and fun. Decide on a budget and then start walking the aisles of your favorite bottle shop. I’ve listed a couple tiers.

Under $20

DAOU Rose - Paso Robles, Calif.

Böen Pinot Noir - Monterey, Santa Barbara and Sonoma, Calif.

Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles, Calif.

$20 to $50

Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico - Chianti Classico, Italy

Belle Glos Clark and Telephone Pinot Noir - Santa Maria Valley, Calif.

Taylor Fladgate Tawny 10 Year Port - Porto, Portugal

Over $50

Laurent Perrier “La Cuvee” Brut - Champagne, France

Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon - Mt. Veeder, Calif.

DAOU Soul of a Lion - Paso Robles, Calif.

HPR: Are there any favorite places in Fargo-Moorhead to get these wines?

MB: I have really wonderful relationships with all my retailers in North Dakota. I say pick your favorite bottle shop and start there, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, most of them will happily try and find it for you!

HPR: Do you have any wine tasting classes that you’ll be teaching soon?

MB: I have a couple classes coming up to finish out the year, so snag your tickets and come and see me.

Tuesday, Dec. 12 at Cellar 624 in Fargo

Wednesday, Dec. 20 at Fargo Country Club

HPR: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

MB: Thank you so much for thinking of me! Wine education and advocacy is my favorite part of the job, and I love being able to share my knowledge.

There is one more thing I want to mention, and I don’t think we talk about it enough. That is proper glassware. This year, I was so fortunate to be appointed the Riedel Ambassador for North Dakota, and it’s been an enlightening and educational introduction to this incredible brand. They’ve been making high-quality wine glasses and decanters in Austria since 1756! We truly spend so much time and money choosing our wines, but rarely think about the vessels we drink them out of. Investing in varietal specific glassware or even just a high-quality all-purpose Riedel glass transforms wine so much it’s actually a little mind blowing. I do something called a Riedel sensory tasting, where we take specific wines and taste them in their varietally correct glass and then move them to other wine glasses and note the stunning differences in the taste of the wine. I will be doing more of these in 2024, and I hope more people can experience one of these tastings for themselves. Until next time, cheers!

_____________________________________

YOU SHOULD KNOW

Megan Bartholomay’s social media pages are:

@fargos.winest on Instagram

@fargoswinest on TikTok

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