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Bring a bottle of cheer 

Party favor recommendations from the experts

Hopefully, your mama taught you that if you're lucky enough to be invited to someone's home for the holidays, you'd better bring a small gift for your host or hostess.

For the most part, you can't go wrong with a bottle of wine. But how to set apart your impeccable good taste from the rest of the regular Bruts and Merlots?

We asked local wine shop experts what they're bringing to the party.

Christian Depken of Le Chai, 15 E. Park Ave., (912) 713-2229

Not pronounced like the spicy Indian tea or as in the Jewish toast "l'chaim!", Le Chai rhymes with "the hay" and is named after the glorified wine storage sheds of Bordeaux, France. Le Chai's proprietor, Christian Depken, recently moved his galerie du vin from the Starland District to Forsyth Park, gutting the space next to the Sentient Bean down to bare brick to create a simple, well-lighted place to showcase his wines.

When it comes to Le Chai's collection of nectarious wares, Depken trafficks exclusively in European varieties, arranged punctiliously by region. (For real, he uses a level.) He snubs ratings systems, preferring not only to taste each and every vintage himself, but to examine soil samples culled from the hallowed grounds of Europe's most famous wineries. Though some consider it a conceit, his loyal clients deeply appreciate Depken's thoroughness and passion.

Considering his allegiance to deep, dark Burgundys, his favorite grape may come as a surprise:

"What you need to know is that the most important wine is Riesling," he counsels. "People think it's all sweet. Not true."

Though he touts the Austrian Rieslings as nice and dry, he recommends the German-produced Weingut St. Urbans-Hof Wiltinger Schlangengraben Riesling Feinherb 2011. "Feinherb" means "half-dry," making this mouthful an amenable pairing for almost anything. $22.

Ralph Champion of Sandfly Fine Wines, 7359 Skidaway Rd., (912) 354-1426

For 35 years, Champion has been advising wine lovers from the inside of Newton's Package Shop on Skidaway Road. He's the go-to guy for Sandfly, Isle of Hope and Dutch Island residents, though plenty of midtowners are happy to make the drive for his sage advice. Most days he's accompanied by his honorary sommelier, Patty Jane III, a friendly Golden Retriever who learned the ropes from her predecessors, Patty Jane and Patty Jane, Jr.

For holiday festivities, Champion recommends Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir, a full-flavored blend from California's most noteworthy coastal vineyards.

"It pairs well with all the Christmas fare — turkey and dressing, ham — but of course, it's extraordinary with beef," he says.

This mélange of rich, purple grapes from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara is sure to keep spirits bright this season. $20.

Stan Ray of Savannah Wine Cellar, 5500 Abercorn St., (912) 355-9463

It may be tucked away in Twelve Oaks Shopping Center, but the Savannah Wine Cellar presents a world of its own. With pressurized tasting machines and 40 wines on tap, a person could while away an entire afternoon choosing the perfect bottle — as a matter of fact, many people do: Since it opened two years ago, the place brims with folks ostensibly "running errands" at the shopping center's other stores, and the Cellar's regular $10 Saturday tastings are always packed.

Ray, a musician who moonlights as the beat-keeper for Savannah's favorite string band, The Accomplices, explains that the Cellar stocks perennial favorites but also aims to "move beyond the usual suspects."

In the vein of encouraging an unusual holiday season, Ray suggests starting with dessert: Each bottle of Saunier de Longchamps' Pineau de Charentes contains two-thirds wine and one-third aged cognac for a ripe, sweet sip with a whistle-clean finish.

"It's best served iced, but you can also add it to your Champagne like a kir royal to have with dessert," he explains. Or, he adds mischievously, it can just be dessert.

Saunier de Longchamps' secret blend comes in two versions: A golden honey blanc and a rouge spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. $24.99.

Claude Auerbach of FORM, 1801 Habersham, (912) 236-7642

After a change in partnership, Savananah's foodies are relieved that everyone's favorite wine-cheese-cheesecake shop will remain in its brick venue on Habersham.

Though remaining owner and consummate sommelier Claude Auerbach now carries a robust selection of craft beers and is expanding the already popular Gourmet to Go section, FORM is still a top spot to pop into on the way to a dinner party:

"I look for wines that not everyone carries, and obviously, we focus on things that work best with food," says Auerbach.

Not surprisingly for the holidays, he suggests a bit o' the bubbly (remember, it's only called Champagne when it's actually from the region in France of the same name — the rest fall in the category of sparkling wines).

His favorite is YA' cuvee23, a bone-dry sparkler from a group of wines called cavas, made from artisanal grapes in the mountains of Spain. Pair with caviar or smoked salmon — or just a kiss at midnight! $15.99

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The affordable and artfully arranged wines at Le Chai.
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About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Bio:
Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.

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