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‘Tis the season to be jolly, and there’s little better way to get everyone in good spirits then with, well, spirits! So we tapped four wine experts to spill their picks for the best holiday wines. From a $19 bottle of bubbly to a cellar-worthy $165 cabernet sauvignon blend, there’s a dazzling bottle of wine for every occasion and palate.
On our panel:
Katherine Sturgill, the beverage director and front of house manager at Daisies in Chicago
Brianne Cohen, a Los Angeles-based certified sommelier and wine educator
Ashton Keefe, chef and culinary stylist in New York City
Courtney Quattrini, the San Francisco-based vice president of global communications for the wine app Vivino
So what makes a wine worthy of a spot on this superlative list?
Whether it’s for enjoying with the food or as a gift to your host, secret Santa or a loved one to enjoy later, “a big factor when choosing wine is the food it might pair with, especially around the holidays when there are so many delicious treats to enjoy,” Sturgill says.
With that in mind, Sturgill explains that a safe bet would be seeking out wines that are flexible with many seasonal dishes.
Lighter-bodied red wines, such as pinot noir, cinsault, St. Laurent, trousseau and gamay, offer structure and vibrancy, but are not so tannic that they overpower your holiday fare.
Fuller-bodied white wines, including some chardonnays, gewürztraminer and marsanne/roussanne blends, have enough weight to hold their own against a prime rib or creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, but are still easy-breezy on the palate.
Sparkling wines are festive, and they also tend to have lots of tartness which pairs well with lighter dishes. The effervescence of Champagne, cava, prosecco, lambrusco and other sparkling wines lends weight and texture, so it can also pair well with richer foods too. When in doubt, pop some bubbly.
If you are stocking up on wines to sip and share with a holiday meal that you’re hosting, “start with one stellar wine—when people haven’t imbibed yet—so you can really enjoy it and then choose bottles that have enough structure and acidity to carry you through a long meal. This will keep your taste buds interested, awake and excited for the next course,” Keefe adds.
It’s also a wise idea to stick with wines on the lower-alcohol end of the spectrum—ideally, no more than 14 percent ABV—so there are less chances of anyone getting too tipsy.
7 of the Best Red Wines for the Holidays
Best Holiday Wine for Brisket or Lamb: 2019 Luigi Bosca De Sangre Malbec
Keefe describes this medium-bodied, slightly acidic red “a wine with both grit and grace.” Dark violet in hue and juicy in flavor, nodding to blackberry, blueberry and mocha notes, this Argentinian malbec is drinking beautifully now or could be cellared for a few more years.
Buy it: $33, Wine.com
Best Holiday Wine for Steak or Pork: The Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard Pinot Noir
“Pinot noir is an ideal food pairing wine, thanks to its lighter body, higher acidity and lower tannins,” Quattrini says. This bottle in particular is a crowd-pleaser and a Vivino member favorite since it's smooth, dry and balanced with notes of vanilla, baking spices, red fruit and black fruit. While it pairs beautifully with meat, save a few sips to enjoy with cheesecake with a berry topping or any other berry dessert.
Buy it: $42, Drizly
Best Holiday Wine for Roast Beef: Meyer Näkel Sonnenberg 2018 Spätburgunder
For an unexpected light red wine, seek out this German pinot noir. The grapes are grown in vineyards that have south-facing slopes angled towards the sun. The soil warms up and stores heat so the grapes can fully ripen. “The bottling is made with precision and elegance, and balances flavors of spice like clove with an earthiness that reminds me of walking through the woods in autumn and an array of fruit like cherries, pomegranate and cranberry,” Sturgill says.
Buy it: $35, Bassin’s
Best Holiday Wine for Charcuterie: Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2019
Build that board, then uncork this bottle. “When I think of charcuterie, I think Rhone Valley in southern France,” Sturgill says, which is where this 100 percent Syrah wine is created. This juice’s earthy, smoky profile is balanced with savory spice and plum fruit, making it ideal to pair with any smoked and cured meats.”
Buy it: $40, K&L Wine Merchants
Best Holiday Wine for Ham: Pedro Parra “Imaginador” 2018
Imaginador translates to “the imaginer,” and is named after the winemaker’s own inspiration for the wine, Sturgill explains. This 100% cinsault (a punchy, fresh-tasting red) comes from vineyards in southern Chile, all of which were planted around 200 years ago. “It has very delicate tannins and bright acidity, making it a great choice for a pinot noir drinker looking to branch out. It’s a little lighter but full of fresh red berry fruit, roses and a hint of earthiness, too,” Sturgill says.
Buy it: $20, Astor Wines & Spirits
Best Holiday Wine for Turkey and Cranberry Sauce: Maison Noir O.P.P. 2020
Sure, your golden roast turkey and sweet-tart sauce are the centerpiece, but Cohen’s choice for a “perfect, light, versatile red” might just steal the show. The Willamette Valley, Oregon pinot noir’s name is a nod to hip-hop music, but here, the O.P.P. stands for “other people’s pinot.” “Maison Noir is a black-owned wine brand you don’t want to miss,” Cohen adds.
Buy it: $24, Wine.com
Best Holiday Wine for Prime Rib: DAOU Soul of the Lion 2019
“THE splurge-worthy wine for the Cabernet Lover in your life,” according to Cohen, this bottle makes for a generous gift or an unforgettable pairing for red meat mains. Soul of the Lion, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Bordeaux blend from Paso Robles, California, “is the crown jewel in the DAOU portfolio,” Cohen says. “The Daou brothers, hailing from Lebanon, aim to make Paso Robles a destination for world-class Cabernet Sauvignon, and with this wine they have succeeded. It’s a structured and powerful wine showcasing black fruit, dark cherry, sweet tobacco and licorice notes.”
Buy it: $165, Wine.com
3 of the Best White Wines for the Holidays
Best Holiday Wine for Salads: 2020 Cuvaison Chardonnay ATS
A blend of the best of the best barrels of chardonnay harvested at this Napa Valley vineyard that year, Keefe recommends this California chardonnay due to its “notes of brioche (hello, holidays!) and apricot. This wine can dance from appetizers to dessert, satisfying and pairing with every dish in between,” Keefe says, but the hints of citrus make it really lovely with vinaigrette-tossed salads. Open it with the first course and enjoy this all night long.
Buy it: $75, Cuvaison
Best Holiday Wine for the Feast of the Seven Fishes (or Any Seafood): Clif Family RTE Blanc Sauvignon Blanc 2021
If you ask Cohen, “you can’t have a party or a dinner party these days without the ever popular ‘Sauvy B.’” This crisp Napa Valley, California white wine is bright and uplifting, and smells like grapefruit and fresh cut grass, with hints of ripe peach and pineapple. “The mouthwatering acidity and zippiness from this wine is a great foil to the sometimes heavy and rich holiday food,” Cohen says. It also makes a dreamy partner to any fish or seafood dish.
Buy it: $28, Back Room Wines
Best Holiday Wine for Spicy Entrees: Hermann Wiemer Semi-Dry Riesling 2020
Did someone say Thai or Chinese food? “The original founder of Hermann Wiemer was a German immigrant to Finger Lakes, New York from the Mosel region, and he sought to make wines that emulate the Mosel region. This worked exceedingly well in New York’s cooler climate,” Sturgill says, and the result is this surprisingly affordable riesling that packs enough citrus to balance the sweeter orchard fruit flavors. Try it with anything with a spicy kick or sip alongside a cheese board.
Buy it: $20, Hermann Wiemer
3 of the Best Sparkling Wines for the Holidays
Best Holiday Wine for New Year’s Eve: 2014 Le Rêve Blanc de Blanc
“Often regarded ‘best’ of American sparkling, this is a highly-respected bottle of bubbly,” Keefe says. French for “the dream,” a fitting homage to manifest good energy for the 365 days ahead, Le Rêve is crafted from 100 percent estate-grown chardonnay grapes. Stock up on a few; while this sparkling wine can age for decades, we say this elegant vino with flavors of honey, lemon pie and yuzu begs to be enjoyed now.
Buy it: $125, Domain Carneros
Best Holiday Wine with Holiday Cookies and Pastries: Vietti Moscato d’Asti 2021
“Moscato d’Asti is a sweet, frizzante (slightly sparkling) wine from Piedmont in northwestern Italy, and Vietti is a fantastic producer in the region,” Sturgill says. With delicate notes of peaches, apricots, honeysuckle and ginger, and some sweetness, this will pair well with everything from sugar cookies and thumbprint cookies to chocolate chip cookies and chocolate or berry rugelach.
Buy it: $19, Wine.com
Best Wine for a Host Gift or Holiday Gift: No. 1 Family Estate Cuvée Méthode Traditionnelle NV
Even though it’s made in Marlborough, New Zealand, the lucky recipient of this gift (or one of the glasses, if you choose to serve this yourself), will have everyone guessing the grapes must have been grown in the Champagne region of France. Made with 100 percent chardonnay grapes, “this blanc de blancs was held on the lees for 2 years, meaning you’ll find those rich, Champagne-like characteristics,” Cohen says. That means the wine was aged in a vessel along with the yeast cells for a good length of time, resulting in nutty, brioche-like flavors. It’s beautifully toasty with layers of stone fruit and citrus for balance.
Buy it: $33, Wine.com
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