You are here
15 Wines to Try This Holiday Season
As much as we all love a tall glass of vino, settling on a bottle is almost as stressful as planning the holiday dinner menu. That's why we called up Gillian Ballance, one of the few females in the world to become a master sommelier. The golden rule of wine-buying during holiday time? Stick to delicate, fruity notes (think: bottles with more acidity and less alcohol). "When you have a table with so many flavors, you want the meal to take center stage and the wine to accent the high notes," says Ballance. Whether you're looking to splurge, save, serve, or spot the perfect hostess gift, we got the scoop on what to uncork.
Get Amped on Appetizers
"These wines should be festive and light," says Ballance. "Many appetizers or hors d'oeuvres are meant to stimulate the appetite, and these great sparklers help with that. You can serve them with anything, from seafood appetizers like smoked salmon and brioche to cheese gougères and brie with apples." Her favorite bottles:
Chateau St. Jean "Bijou" Chardonnay "It's a lightly oaked, distinctive Chardonnay with golden apple and pear aromas that has a really great finish." ($11, lisasliquorbarn.com)
Moscato d'Asti Vietti "For those who like something a little sweet, Moscato is perfect. It's slightly fizzy, very low in alcohol, and delicious to drink—think grapey and soft, almost like adult soda." ($15, winedeals.com)
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rosé "This wine is from Alsace, France, and is made from 100 percent Pinot Noir grapes. It's a big crowd-pleaser, thanks to the wild strawberry and raspberry aromas, and has a crisp, clean finish," she says. ($16–$20, wine.com)
It's Turkey Time
When you're carving into the main bird, "it's best to serve a wine that isn't too tannic, high in alcohol, or overtly oaked, which will overpower the food," says Ballance. Tannins are found in the grape skins, and the thicker-skinned varieties—like Cabernet Sauvignon—are much higher in tannins and best served with fattier meats, like steak. "You want a wine that will partner well and let the turkey do the talking." Try these:
Maison Louis Tête Beaujolais 2012: "This wine is made from one of the most versatile red grapes. It's packed with juicy red fruits, which gives it a great acidity to cut through rich food without being overwhelming." ($11, klwines.com)
POE Pinot Nouveau: "A more rapid style of fermentation means that this gulpable, fruit-driven wine is ready to enjoy in mid-November, just six weeks after harvest. It's similar to a dry rosé wine but a little lighter and way more festive." ($20, poewines.com)
Etude Carneros Pinot Noir 2012: "An elegant wine with generous fruit, ample acidity, and a well-integrated use of French oak. The cranberry, tart cherry, and pomegranate aromas make it soft on the palate with a lingering finish." ($37–$42, wine.com)
For Roast Beef and Ham
If roast beef or ham will be on the menu, then you're diving into deeper food flavors that allow you to go bigger and bolder with your wine choice, says Ballance. She recommends trying a French Pinot Noir, spicy Zinfandels, Malbecs, Syrah blends, or Cabernet Sauvignon. These varieties are winners:
Tomero Malbec Mendoza, Argentina 2012: "A stunning violet color with lots of plummy, spicy fruit, the sturdy tannins and bright fruit pair perfectly with roast beef or oven-roasted ham." ($17, greatwesternwine.co.uk)
Twenty Rows Cabernet Sauvignon 2012: "This is sourced mainly from Coombsville in the Napa Valley, where cooler temps lead to more subtle and elegant wines. This has lots of classic blackcurrant fruit with hints of cedar and sandalwood." ($25, twentyrows.com)
Chateau Lynch-Bages 2005: Tangy blackberry flavors and cedarwood aromas make this oaky wine stand out on the shelf. "It has a gorgeous length and finish," meaning the taste will linger on your taste buds long after your glass is empty, making this bottle worth the splurge. ($145, ny.sothebyswine.com)
Slice Up the Pies
Heading into dessert, "you want to try to match the wine to the wintery spice flavors in your pie, like apple and pumpkin, and not have the wine be too strong or heavy," says Ballance. Sweet white wines are always a safe bet here—nothing heavy like a port. "Ports are fortified with brandy. They have a very strong, very sweet flavor that pairs better with chocolate," she says. "If you mix that with apple pie, you won't taste any of the apple." Reach for one of these (or all three!) bottles:
Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos: "It has beautiful honeyed and dried fruit aromas." ($40, binnys.com)
Royal Tokaji Late Harvest Mád Cuvée Áts Cuvée: This sweet wine almost takes us back to summer, thanks to its three different grape varieties, tropical fruit flavors and lingering citrusy taste. ($20, snooth.com)
Late Harvest Riesling from Trefethen Vineyards: "It's delicious with apple pie!" ($50, trefethen.com)
Dig into Chocolate
"When you get into rich, intense flavors like chocolate or caramel toffee—those nutty, real earthy notes in bread pudding, for example—that's when you can grab a stronger wine like a tawny or ruby port," says Ballance. These bolder desserts can handle the rich port flavors.
Dow's Fine Ruby Port: If you're going to be filling and refilling lots of glasses come chocolate time, the raspberry and cherry flavors will bring out the sweetness in your dessert. ($16, haskells.com)
Graham's "Six Grapes" Ruby Port: "It's a basic non-splurge port. I love to pair it with any chocolate desserts" because of the dark plum and sweet cherry notes. ($22, klwines.com)
Niepoort 10 Years Old Tawny: Because tawny is usually aged in Portugal's hot Duoro Valley, it develops nutty base notes from the warm climates, making this one "perfect for desserts with more caramel, nutty, and butterscotch flavors." ($42, binnys.com)
Wine Your Way
Calling all Hautelook, ShoeMint and Birchbox fans: Your mail is about to get a bit heftier, thanks to wine subscription boxes. We're talking inexpensive, yet still delicious, wines showing up on your doorstep every month. That's what Club W is all about, and we can't believe we didn't think of it sooner. You'll get three bottles each month based on your "Palate Profile," which you create after signing up on the website. The bottle varieties start at $45, including shipping. And because they're coming straight from the winemakers themselves, each bottle maintains the great quality it started with.
If you're hunting for a new wine in-store, though, Next Glass can help you find your new fave. The free app will fill you in on how much you'll enjoy a bottle without tasting it, because not every store has a somellier on hand. The more wines and beers you rate, the better Next Glass understands your tastebuds. Just scan the label to get your likable score, along with calorie counts, sugar content and alcohol concentration. You can even group app-sharing friends together to find a wine everyone will enjoy, making it perfect for book club gatherings, holiday festivities and more. Cheers!