Holiday Wine Guide
White, red, rosé, sparkling— they all go well with the season
The holidays are the most festive time of the year— never is there a time where so much emphasis is collectively put on food, drink and parties. Lurking behind the joy of the season, however, is often stress—the pressure to host a flawless gathering, choose the right gift, make everyone happy, etc. Wine should never be stressful, whether selecting a gift or deciding what to serve.
The biggest rule to remember is … there are no rules. Wine is like art; it is subjective, and even if it’s not a showstopper of a bottle, you can almost always find something about it to appreciate—even if it’s just the label.
You can have that flawless table, with the most perfect red wine for the veal shank you’ve nurtured for hours, and there will inevitably be someone who drinks only white or, even worse (sorry if it’s your fave), white zinfandel. At some point you have to surrender and simply offer the best you can. Here are some suggestions to help, at least in the wine category. Rosé is not just for summer sipping. It’s a wine that doesn’t quite know if it wants to express itself as a red or white. The best are dry, fruity and acidic—all the characteristics that go well with food such as a Thanksgiving turkey or ham.
I once heard Domaine de Nizas 2016 described as a meat and potatoes rosé. It makes sense, considering its blend of syrah, Grenache, mourvedre and rolle, otherwise known as vermentino. This wine is soft in color with the aroma of violets; think of strawberries and red fruit on the palate. With a good amount of spice and a long finish, it’s a winner.
Chardonnay is another fabulous food wine, but winemaking styles take it all over the board. You’ll find chardonnays that are light and acidic to so buttery and oaky that you could actually serve them with steak.
Landmark Vineyards has just released its 25th anniversary
edition of Overlook Chardonnay ($25.) The French oak it is aged in produces a rich, toasty quality; the fruit is predominantly citrus with some herbal notes.
In contrast, the 2016 Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay ($20) from Balletto spends time in a steel tank. Talk about tart and acidic. A tropical-tasting wine, it can cut through the fat and is quite refreshing.
Whether served with fish, fowl or pork, pinot noir covers a lot of bases with its red fruit, spice and funk, as in mushrooms and damp earth. To many wine lovers, Burgundy (France) is the premier choice for pinots, with Willamette Valley (Oregon) and Sonoma (California) nipping at its heels. The pinots from California tend to have more fruit. This is one type of wine in which you almost always get what you pay for; don’t go the cheap route.
Serving hearty meats? Pour a big red to match. Red blends are always a good gamble; they tend to have more character than single varietals and can really showcase a winemaker’s creativity.
Pahlmeyer is a name that carries a lot of weight in the wine world and for good reason. Its 2014 Proprietary Red Napa Valley ($175) is 87 percent cabernet with some merlot, malbec, cab franc and petit verdot added for magic. Seductively deep in color with a garnet rim, the wine gets better every passing minute in the glass: dark chocolate, dark ripe fruits, espresso. It’s one to savor.
If you’re keeping it light with fish and v eggies, try a viognier; it’s also a nice aperitif. Serve Le Paradou 2015 (under $15), which, when translated, means paradise—and this one is pretty close to that on the palate: fruity, spicy and fresh.
Last but not least, there’s Champagne. Don’t save it for New Year’s Eve; drink it all season long. A quick reminder: Champagne comes from the Champagne region of France and sets the standard when it comes to anything that sparkles. Many have enough structure to stand up to a main course.
Cava is sparkling wine from Spain made in the same style as Champagne. Prosecco comes from Italy and tends to be lighter. Both are affordable alternatives to their French neighbor.
Don’t fret that the bottle you gift won’t be up to the standard of a boss or oenophile. The gift of wine is always appreciated. Go to a local wine retailer and ask for something that is unusual or small production.
If you’re an online shopper, it’s easy to get direct shipment from wineries stateside and a good way to secure those harder-to-find bottles. For wine from other countries and for general purposes, wine.com is a quick and reliable solution.
Be adventurous, try something new and enjoy bonding over a bottle with friends and family this holiday season.
Last but not least, there’s Champagne. Don’t save it for New Year’s Eve; drink it all season long.
Many Sonoma vineyards such as Williams Selyem, shown here, produce a competitive pinot noir, a fine choice for your holiday table.
Holiday meals are always better with wine—whether a citrusy chardonnay from Landmark or Pahlmeyer's Proprietary Red.