For traditional holiday dining, there are really only four kinds of wine you need to serve. This revelation came to me after years of writing stories about must-have holiday wines that ran the gamut of grape varietals until the whole list became so convoluted, I couldn’t see the wine for the labels. This year, I’m keeping it simple and zeroing in on two white wines and two red wines to create a core group that works every time. All you really need are these four holiday wines.
Nothing screams celebrate like Champagne, cremánt, prosecco or new world sparkling. If you like fruit, stick with younger vintages or Non Vintage. Go with aged Champagnes if you like that yeasty, oxidized taste. Brut is the safest choice, being most popular, but don’t be afraid to try Blanc de Noir or Blanc de Blanc, which are all-pinot noir and all-chardonnay, respectively. In addition to seafood and soft cheeses, try your sparkling white wine with potatoes for an amazing combination.
Possibly the best white wine a roast turkey could meet. The chardonnay should be medium bodied with a fruity style, and lightly oaked. You don’t want to beat up the bird or the gravy with too much oak or butteriness. Look for a white wine with tropical fruit and spice notes to pair with sweet potatoes and stuffing with raisins, and be sure to save some chardonnay for pumpkin pie. New world chardonnays or French chablis usually offer the most value.
A spicier, more exotic white wine variation would be a gewürtztraminer or torrontés to goose any fruits in the side dishes.
Hands down the best red wine for a turkey dinner. With its spicy, warm red fruit and food-friendly acidity, no red wine is more versatile than pinot noir for crossing over a range of meat colors, as well as matching almost any side dishes. Choose a lighter, racy pinot noir from Burgundy, Oregon or BC, or a fruity, oak-driven one from the Russian River, Leyda Valley or New Zealand. But don’t expect as much from a cheapo pinot as one you’d pay $20 for. This is one red wine that’s worth the extra bucks.
As an alternate, a more affordable, medium-body red wine is gamey noir. Gamey has much the same flavor profile as pinot noir, but with a touch more earth and smoke. Prices for BC, Beaujolais, Loire, Niagara, and Willamette gamey noirs are bound to be cheaper than pinot noir just about anywhere.
Personally, I like to have glasses of chardonnay and pinot noir side-by-side at the table; sipped alternately, they broaden my perspective of the meal.
Almost any ruby Port, tawny Port, ice wine, eiswein, or Sauterne are sweet enough to pair with pumpkin or pecan pie, or chocolate torte. For more affordable options, consider late harvest zinfandels or the off-dry aforementioned gewürtztraminer or torrontés. And just like having a red wine with a beige dessert, don’t hesitate to pair white wine with chocolate; it’s a whole different taste realm you have to experience.
Best of all, none of these holiday wines require decanting. Although a tannin-heavy pinot noir might need it, breathing in the glass usually opens them up easily enough.
No matter what holiday wines you purchase, the point is not to get too wrapped up in choosing them. After all, it’s only wine, and you can’t hug your kids with empty bottles.
Cheers and happy holidays!
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