The Wine Geeks' Guide to the Christmas Season

Pick the perfect wine for your holiday party

Let the wine flow this holiday season.

Ah, the joys of the holiday season: lavish meals, fancy sweaters, Yankee swaps, and holiday parties. Yes, the vino doth flow this time of year, making it a great time to get your geek on and try some unique juice. But how to do you pick the right wine for your holiday celebration?

Here are some wine tips for the holidays for both the safe and adventurous party planner:

Acidity is the magic ingredient:
It makes your mouth water — literally. That makes you hungrier (a must on this, the most gluttonous of holidays). It also cuts through the richest of dishes and complements tart courses, like salads. In short, wine is the best party guest at the table.

Size matters:
Yep, sorry but it is true. Delicate dishes cry out for out light wines. Meatier, more powerful, robust offerings need a wine equally strong. Don't believe us? Think of having a delicate white fish dish with a robust, tannic red. The citrus in the fish makes the wine tastes bitter, and the raw power of the wine overpowers the finesse of the food — tragic.

Matchy Matchy:
Very simply, pick a flavor component in the dish and match it to the wine. Seems evident, but it's absolutely effective! Serving stuffed green peppers? Try a similarly green wine like a vinho verde or a grüner veltliner. Got some smoky spicy Andouille sausage in that stuffing? Break out the syrahs!

Drink what you like:
The bottom line is that if you enjoy both the food being served and the wine being poured, you will enjoy the combination. Only a handful of pairings are truly disastrous (think orange juice and toothpaste).

Now that you have the basics, here are some red, white, and sparkling suggestions for your festivities. 


Safe Bet
Prosecco: The slightest kiss of off dry peachy sweetness, paired with a soft refreshing bubble make this baby a dynamite selection.

Geek Alternative
Cremant de Bourgogne: Rich, bright bubbles made in champagne style from nearby Burgundy without the price tag. 


Safe Bet
Chardonnay: Both oaked and unoaked chardonnays are classic choices for the holiday table. The unoaked is crisp, clean, and smooth, offering a little something for everyone. The oaked versions have the richness to stand up to the decadence that is a pre-requisite for dishes at this time of year.

Riesling: Dry and off dry riesling possess all of the acidity to cut through the richest of foods. Plus, low alcohol means that guests can drink them all day long without fear of reprisal (at least too much).

Geek Alternative
Northern Italian Whites: Friulano, kerner, gavi, arneis are awesome under-sung gems year round. What makes them really shine are their mineral rich, medium-to-full bodies and high acidity flavor. Dynamite for any gathering.
Gewürztraminer: The darker, exotic sister to lean, pure riesling. It has a warm, spicy bouquet brimming with tropical fruit, sandalwood, rose hips, and jasmine, while the palate is rich and unctuous. The complexity offers a refreshing contrast to everything from appetizers through mains.


Safe Bet
Pinot Noir: Tried and true, pinot noir is a great "go to" for the holidays.  Burgundian and Oregonian pinot pairs perfectly with white meat, the gamier flavors make it perfect with roast beast, and the bright red fruit and high acidity hold its own with. Californian pinots do all of the above but offer a richer flavor profile to boot, making it a crowd-pleaser.

Syrah: Notice that we said syrah, not shiraz. We do love gob-smackingly fruit-forward luscious shirazs and zins, and yes they can more than hold their own with the richest of holiday dishes. However, it almost feels like too much of a good thing. For a more full-bodied holiday red, try a smoky, spicy syrah, preferably from the Northern Rhone or Central Coast.

Geek Alternative
Beaujolais: Released in November each year, Beaujolais Nouveau is light, fruity, and positively gulp-able. However, the real treat is Cru Beaujolais. At a slight premium, it offers amazing depth of flavor, yet it remains light and fruity, with loads of that great acidity we talked about earlier. It plays nicely with everything you can think of on the holiday table. 
Cabernet Franc: Although it does not get nearly as much press as its Bordelaise brethren cabernet sauvignon and merlot, this variety kills it in both the Old and New World. In the Loire valley it is used to produce the red wines of Chinon and Bourgueil. Although light- to medium-bodied, these wines have scads of berry fruit, a nervy acidity, and almost plush velvety tannins on the palate.


--Aimme Ullman