This time of year the crisp air is perfumed with the crackling of alder hearth fires and spiced with notes of cinnamon and pumpkin. The promise of unhurried dinners as we gorge ourselves with extra helpings and good conversation lures us indoors. And the perfect complement to any holiday dinner or winter gathering is, of course, a beautiful wine or bubbly libation.

So what will go with yams, cranberries, and green bean casserole? What about that ginger-pumpkin Yule log? I asked the professional wine connoisseurs at Arista Wine Cellars in Edmonds to give me the 4-1-1 on all things wine for the holiday season. Combined, the staff at Arista have over 140 years of wine drinking experience, and they conduct more than 50 tastings weekly. They’ve talked with wine makers about barrel regiments, worked intensively with distributers on what’s new, and they, well, just know the ins and outs of their wine.

“We are intimately involved in everything here,” said Roger Clayton, a fourteen-year veteran at Arista and the new owner, as of March 2016. “We know the wines personally because between the staff and I, we’ve tasted every one of them.”

The founders of Arista Wine Cellars, David and Ruth Arista, first opened up shop in downtown Edmonds 19 years ago.  They stocked the shelves with wine they knew North Enders would love and took an active role in the community sponsoring shows at the Edmonds Center for the Arts and serving on the Edmonds Downtown Alliance. Last March, David and Ruth passed the “corkscrew,” as they put it, to Clayton, who took over as owner and operator.  Arista continues to specializes in Northwest wine varieties as well as Clayton’s special love for Italian wines, but you’ll also find bottles from France, Germany, South America, and California. You can sample some of these special offerings during their public wine tastings on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Around the holidays you’ll find roughly 800 labels in store for plenty of choices, and you can count on their expert, firsthand advice. Clayton and the staff can guide you on optimal aeration, decanters, and glassware. Wondering whether a champagne will go with popcorn and a movie for a romantic evening in? (Hint: It does, and it’s one of Clayton’s favorite combos!).

As you prepare your holiday wine list or your next wine tasting party this season, here’s a quick 4-step tasting guide from Clayton, which is sure to put you “in-the-know” alongside sommeliers, or at least get you a touch closer.

 

Wine Tasting 101

  1. Open bottle and sniff. Smelling the cork and sniffing the bottle’s nose can help you determine if the wine is still good. Anything that smells like cement, wet cardboard, stinky feet, or nail polish remover has turned. Seems obvious, but better to sniff it out than taste feet, in my opinion.
  2. Pour and Swirl. The act of pouring the wine, especially into the right style of glass, can wake the wine up a bit. Swirling agitates the wine in order to reengage it with oxygen, which brings out flavors and aromas that have been left docile.
  3. Sip or Slurp. Slurping, like swirling, draws oxygen back into the wine and acts like a mini decanting. Sip a small amount of wine and push it over your palette for a full flavor profile. See what flavors you can pull out with every sip—apple, cinnamon, or baker’s chocolate perhaps?
  4. Spit. What?! As Clayton said, “It’s all fun and games until you’ve had to much.” If you are going to host a wine party, Clayton recommends sticking to a theme of wines and capping them at five before they all start blending together.

 

If you’re shopping for winning wines at Arista Wine Cellars, and you want to look like a fabulous host or the best dinner guest ever, here are Clayton’s top five picks for holiday dining.

Perfect Holiday Dinner Wine: Try a rosé as it won’t fight with the myriad of flavors happening on the table. Clayton recommends the Chateau de Pibarnon – Bandol Rosé ($35).

Party Hero: Chartogne-Taillet Champagne ($50). “You can’t go wrong with anything bubbles. In my book bubbles are an everyday thing,” said Clayton. So here’s to a party in your mouth everyday!

Best Bang for Your Buck: Luciano Sandrone Docetto d’Alba ($22) or Treveri Cellars Brut Blanc de Blancs ($16).

Works with Everything: Adami Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Garbel ($16). Prosecco can cut through the richness and fattiness of cheese during appetizers and yet be enjoyed right through dessert.

Worthwhile Splurge: 2007 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia Valley ($225-$300). According to Clayton and his staff this is a near perfect wine. Rare and worth every penny, call Arista to order in advance.

 

Now get out there and be the party’s wine star! Bottoms up!

 

Arista Wine Cellars

320 5th Ave. S., Edmonds

425.771.7009

aristawines.com

"And the perfect complement to any holiday dinner or winter gathering is, of course, a beautiful wine or bubbly libation."