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Holiday Wine Guide: 4 Festive Wines for the Season

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The holiday season is here, and that means it’s time to choose the perfect wines for all your celebrations. I know it can be overwhelming with so many options, but don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! There are a few bottles that are perfect companions to the holiday season, whether you’re hosting a cookie swap, serving a big holiday dinner, or bringing a bottle to a friend’s house. These four wines are not only delicious and versatile, but you can also find them at most wine shops and they won’t break the bank. I’ve included links to some of the best bottles to try this season; all of the links go to wine-searcher, a fantastic site that lets you search for wines in your local area. So grab a bottle (or four) and raise a glass to the season!

Holiday Wine Line-Up

Reisling
Bubbly
Pinot Noir
Zinfandel

Reisling: Cookie Parties & Daytime Gatherings

Riesling is a bright, aromatic white wine known for vibrant citrus and tropical aromas—and it’s a superhero during the holiday season. This variety is most well-known in Germany, but exceptional Rieslings are also made in France, Australia, and the United States. The grape itself has naturally high acidity, which acts like a squeeze of lemon over fish, making flavors pop and letting Riesling shine alongside a range of dishes, from spicy foods to creamy cheeses to salty charcuterie. Riesling is also a star with sweets, especially aromatic ones like gingerbread, and its naturally low alcohol levels make it a safe bet for daytime celebrations.

Pro Tip: Look at the ABV (alcohol by volume) listed on the label to help determine if the wine is dry or sweet. Generally, when the ABV is lower, the wine will taste a bit sweeter. While most Riesling is dry, anything with less than 10% ABV will have distinct sweetness on the palate. Choosing a dry or sweet Riesling comes down to personal preference, so I recommend experimenting to find your favorite style. 

Great Rieslings to Try This Season:

Trimbach Riesling from Alsace, France $23
Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett from Mosel, Germany $21
Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, from Columbia Valley, Washington $11

Bubbly: Large Gatherings & Cocktail Parites

Parties with lots of people tend to have lots of flavors too, which is why I’ll always turn to bubbly for these events. Similarly, if I don’t know what’s being served or the host’s preferences, sparkling wine adds a festive spirit to any event while doing double duty on the table. There’s serious science behind sparkling wine’s status as a holiday must-have: When food and wine come together, the carbonation in sparkling wines binds to certain molecules on the palate, wiping away residual flavors and creating a clean sensation – literally prepping our mouths for the next bite. This chemical reaction makes sparkling wines an ideal supporting actress when lots of flavors are on the same table because the wine will accentuate each flavor in turn.

Pro Tip: Let your budget determine which sparkling wine to choose. Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava are the most inexpensive options and are usually driven by soft citrusy flavors. With Champagne and American sparkling wine, the price begins to climb as does the complexity of the aromas and flavors.

Great Sparklings to Try This Season: 

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava from Catalonia, Spain $10
Bele Casel Prosecco Treviso Brut from Veneto, Italy $21
Roederer Estate Brut from Anderson Valley, California $28
R.H. Coutier Cuvee Tradition Grand Cru Brut from Champagne, France $50

Pinot Noir: POULTRY, HAM & FISH-CENTRIC HOLIDAY DINNERS

When it comes to red wine, few options are as versatile as Pinot Noir, which combines moderate acidity and soft tannins with a lively range of fruit flavors. Pinot Noir is a crowd-pleaser, and because it also pairs well with most main courses, I love serving it at sit-down gatherings. Not only does the wine elevate whatever is on the table, but Pinot Noir also tends to please red wine devotees and white wine drinkers alike. While the most famous iterations of Pinot Noir come from France, stellar bottles are produced around the globe, so there is truly a Pinot Noir for everyone! The wine’s natural medium body and balanced tannins allow Pinot Noir to sing alongside centerpieces like turkey, ham, and even fish—there’s really no better dinner table chameleon than Pinot Noir.

Pro Tip: Explore Pinot Noirs from around the world. Pinot Noir is an extremely adaptive grape, which means its resulting wines are incredibly diverse. To discover favorites, I recommend buying a smattering of bottles from far-flung locations like France, New Zealand, South Africa, and Oregon—each will have a different level of fruit flavors, earthy tones, and aromatics that make it unique.

Great Pinot Noirs to Try This Season:

Louis Latour Bourgogne Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France $29
Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon $24
Bread & Butter Pinot Noir from California $15

Zinfandel: Red Meat-Centric Holiday Feasts

Zinfandel really shines with red meat, so if you’re hosting or attending a gathering centered around a fabulous roast, like beef tenderloin or rack of lamb, there are few wines better than Zin to match. Plus, Zinfandel won’t overshadow more delicate side dishes, like green beans and mashed potatoes. It’s a win-win! Made primarily in California, Zinfandel is a full-bodied red wine with moderate tannins and a huge medley of fruit flavors; this makes it more versatile on the table than highly tannic (think: very drying) red wines. Zinfandel is also known for being aged in oak barrels, which give the wines lots of spicy aromatics—these wines almost smell like the holidays with notes of nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and vanilla. Full-bodied and luscious, they always hit the spot when luxurious roasts are on the table, and their big fruit flavors help them appeal to a wide range of drinkers.

Pro Tip: Give Zin a chill. Yes, you totally should chill red wine! The ideal serving temperature for red wine is 60°F, at which point we can appreciate a wine’s nuanced flavors and aromas to their max. And you don’t need a wine fridge to get this right—just pop bottles into the fridge 15 minutes before serving and the wine will be at its perfect temperature.

Great Zinfandels to Try This Season:

Lange Twins Estate Grown Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California $17
Ravenswood Winery Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California $16
Hendry Block 7 & 22 Zinfandel from Napa Valley California $39

Cheers!

I hope this guide has been helpful in choosing the perfect wines for your holiday gatherings. Whether you’re hosting your extended family for a dinner or simply enjoying cocktails with friends, these wines will add a touch of sophistication and festivity to your celebrations. Here’s to a wonderful holiday season filled with good food, good company, and of course, good wine!

Comments

  • Great tips for everyone, especially people like me who have very limited wine experience. Thank you so much!

    • — Cheryl Skornik on February 1, 2023
    • Reply
  • Thank you for this! I am don’t really drink so I never know what wine to choose when I am told to “bring wine”. This is so helpful–I will refer to it often.

    • — Deborah on December 17, 2022
    • Reply
  • Jenn, thank you very much! This is extremely helpful to somebody who doesn’t know, nor truly care to know, the first thing about wine. I will be printing out this guide to keep on hand for hosting and gift-giving!

    Wishing you and your family a holiday season filled with quality time, many great memories, and, of course, delicious food + drink!

    • — Emm on December 11, 2022
    • Reply
  • As always, such expert and helpful guidance for wine pairing. My weekend luncheon with neighbors featured recipes from your books and emails. I am proud to say it was a great, festive event. And I learned that my new neighbor is also a big fan of Once Upon A Chef!
    Have a very Happy Holiday!!
    Ann

    • — Ann on December 11, 2022
    • Reply
    • 💕

      • — Jenn on December 11, 2022
      • Reply
  • What affordable red wine is best to marinate meat with?

    • — Ruby on December 10, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Ruby, You can use any dry red – Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Red Zinfandel, etc. – that you have in the house. Don’t use anything too pricey — when using wine for cooking, something inexpensive (but still good enough to drink) is ideal.

      • — Jenn on December 12, 2022
      • Reply
  • So perfect in timing, your approachable advice makes choosing a wine simple and logical. Thank you and Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    • — Lisa Lee on December 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • This was so helpful, as all your content is. Thanks for this awesome guide!

    • — Elise England on December 10, 2022
    • Reply

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