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The Definitive Guide to Holiday Wine

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By Matt McGinnis

December is stuffed with more parties, festive meals and holiday get-togethers than anyone can possibly manage. Getting in the way of that merriment is the mad scramble to meet year-end work deadlines, extra family obligations and the dreaded burden of shopping for gifts. The last thing you need is the extra stress of figuring out what kind of wine to buy for dinners and parties. Relax. We’ve got you covered. Here is your map and compass for navigating holiday wine shopping.

Perfect Parings: Picking Wine for Your Holiday Meals

Holiday dinners can be a cacophony of conflicting tastes with several dishes demanding your tongue’s attention. Selecting the right wine to pair with diverse dishes like ham, goose, turkey or prime rib and truffled creamed spinach, scalloped potatoes and cranberry relish is downright daunting. The three keys to success are:

Pick a variety of versatile wines, make sure you have enough and don’t be a Scrooge.

Sparkling wine is a sommelier’s clutch wine for crazy food pairings. No matter what is served with it, those festive bubbles perk up the palate and put a smile on your face. The characteristic that makes bubbly so food-friendly is its high acidity. Several styles of white and elegant, refined red wine share that same trait.

Don’t be caught with thirsty guests. It’s safe to plan to serve one bottle for every two people at the table (two if I’m on your guest list).


The best way to start off any holiday celebration is with a kiss under the mistletoe, quickly followed by a lovely Champagne toast. It’s a perfect mate with soft, creamy cheeses; curvy mounds of mashed potatoes and just about any luscious dish you encounter.

Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ de la Marne NV. As exhilarating as a kiss with a strawberry tucked in her lips, the vivacious bubbles and lush, layered berry flavors of this rosé satisfy. Intense, complex flavors riding an edge of tremendous acidity and minerality make it extremely versatile with food. It’s a bargain for $45.


Serving holiday dinner without a white wine is like watching old reruns of Sex in the City without your girlfriend. You just wouldn’t do it. Put food-friendly sauvignon blanc on your shopping list.

2013 Fall Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. This is a beautiful Texas wine that you might mistake for French. Locals and out-of-town visitors will both appreciate an enchanting local wine with fresh scents of honeysuckle and green apples, and bold flavors of lemon zest, peach and apricot. It’s perfect for savory, spicy and sweet dishes alike, at $12.


That shimmering Christmas goose or succulent turkey breast might make you crave white wine, but pinot noir will give it wings. Its bracing acidity, sumptuous fruit and soft tannins make it the perfect bedfellow with not only fowl, but also just about anything. Pinot noir is elegant and complex without being fussy.

2012 Starmont Stanly Ranch Estate Pinot Noir, Carneros. Only 214 cases were made of this exquisite wine, made with handpicked grapes from a single vineyard. Vivid violet scents marry with tart red plum, cherry, strawberry, caramel and cedar flavors. Its velvety texture has the right balance of acidity, smooth tannins and light alcohol to let the fruit flavors ease into a long finish with toasty fig and vanilla. Pick it up for $55 a bottle. When a holiday feast calls for a big red meat beast, nothing fits the bill quite like a sumptuous cabernet sauvignon.

2011 Merryvale Profile, Napa Valley. Serving the signature wine from this storied St. Helena winery will signal to your guests that you mean business. Only 957 cases were made of this family-owned estate wine with fruit grown on the east-facing hillside of Spring Valley. The 2011 is a blend of cab, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec, giving it brooding flavors of plum, blackberry, black cherry and dark chocolate. Bring on the tenderloin or beef Wellington. This spicy treasure with grippy tannins will bring out the best in any rich dish. It runs $175 a bottle.


Holiday parties are fun, and buying the wine for them can be almost as enjoyable. Take the stress out of planning the wine for your party with these simple tips.

Get the Right Amount. Figuring out how much wine to buy is as simple as understanding how many servings are in a bottle, how much your guests will drink and the number of guests you expect.

Step 1: Serving size

  • One 750-milileter bottle = five 5-ounce servings
  • One case (12 750-milileter bottles) = 60 servings

Step 2: Consumption average

  • Assume guests at a holiday party will knock back two glasses of wine per hour.

Step 3: Simple equation

  • One hour at two glasses per person x 10 guests = four bottles of wine. Extrapolate from there.

Get the Right Mix. If your party begins before 5 p.m., get a mix that includes 40 percent sparkling wine, 30 percent white wine and 30 percent red wine. If your party starts after 5 p.m., your mix should include 30 percent sparkling wine, 20 percent white wine and 50 percent red wine.

Get the Right Wines. It’s always nice to pick crowd-pleaser wines that are both versatile with food and recognizable. Buying full cases will typically land a 15 percent discount.

ATX Man’s Pairing Guide


  • Ripe, lush black cherry, concord grape jam and blueberry flavors with vanilla and baking spices.
  • Cheese: strong cheeses
  • Meal: wild game, lamb and beef
  • Dessert: banana pudding


  • Velvety plum, blueberry and raspberry with mint and bayleaf flavors.
  • Cheese: Swiss
  • Meal: pizza, prosciutto, burgers, grilled meats, beef Wellington, seared ahi
  • Dessert: berries

Pinot Noir

  • Acidic, light-bodied and food-friendly, with tart cherry, cranberry, tea-leaf and red licorice flavors.
  • Cheese: goat cheese, Brie
  • Meal: lamb, veal, sausage, filet mignon, salmon, swordfish
  • Dessert: creme brulee


  • Sour cherry, raspberry and red apple accentuated by dried flowers, fennel and just a hint of balsamic vinegar.
  • Cheese: asiago, mozzarella
  • Meal: beef, chicken parmigiana, veal and lasagna


  • Racy, jammy raspberry, cherry-blackberry jam, raisin fruit flavors with a spicy black pepper finish.
  • Cheese: Brie, aged cheese
  • Meal: pizza with spicy meats, burgers, pork, duck, cioppino
  • Dessert: gingerbread

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Bold blackberry, and plum flavors with tones of violets, sage, green bell pepper, mint, and cocoa.
  • Cheese: cheddar, gorgonzola
  • Meal: pizza, burgers, grilled steaks
  • Dessert: bittersweet chocolate


  • Big and bold from Australia or meaty and masculine from France, it’s full of blackberry, black cherry and rosemary.
  • Cheese: sharp cheddar, Roquefort
  • Meal: barbecue, ribs, beef brisket, spicy sausage, pulled pork
  • Dessert: black forest cake


  • Creamy with green apple, pear, lemon, honeysuckle, crème fraiche, caramel, butterscotch and baking spices.
  • Cheese: asiago, Havarti
  • Meal: veal, chicken, pork loin, ceviche, sushi, cream and pesto sauces
  • Dessert: banana bread and vanilla pudding

Chenin Blanc

  • Viscous and mouth filling with golden apple, quince, tangerine, almond, jasmine and chamomile-tea flavors.
  • Cheese: camembert, goat cheese
  • Meal: foie gras, clam chowder, game hen, creambased chicken dishes


  • Intense pineapple, ripe peach jam, grapefruit pith, floral perfume, cinnamon and honey.
  • Meal: turkey, duck, goose, pork chops, roasted ham, non-spicy sausages and Asian food

Pinot Gris/Grigio

  • Crisp, light-bodied with apricot, yellow peach, Meyer lemon, apple blossoms and lager yeast.
  • Cheese: cheddar, feta
  • Meal: chicken breast, ham, light seafood, halibut, mussels
  • Riesling
  • Laser acidity with green apple, bosc pear, lemon peel, white peach, jasmine and a faint impression of gasoline.
  • Cheese: havarti, Swiss
  • Meal: spicy sausage, ham, duck, barbecue, sea bass, trout, swordfish, tuna tartare
  • Dessert: apricots, pears and apple pie

Sauvignon Blanc

  • Assertive, tart grapefruit, green apple, pineapple, citrus blossoms, cut grass and green bell pepper.
  • Cheese: goat cheese, feta
  • Meal: asparagus, pesto, turkey, chicken, pork chops, sushi, lobster, sole, oysters, scallops
  • Dessert: key lime pie


  • Ripe apricot, peach, mandarin orange, mango, honeysuckle and cinnamon.
  • Cheese: gouda
  • Meal: Thai or spicy chicken dishes, hot wings, Indian curries, crab, shrimp, scallops, artichoke, asparagus
  • Dessert: vanilla ice cream


Prosecco From Italy. If you like a slightly less fizzy and sweeter wine, try Italian Prosecco. It’s made with the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless-steel tanks rather than in the bottle. Prosecco is readily available at prices that won’t kill your budget. Delicious wines to consider are Nino Franco Rustico, La Marca Prosecco and Enrico Brut.

Cava From Spain. Spanish sparkling wine called Cava is typically made using the same traditional method as Champagne, but with different grapes. It’s known for its high acidity, fresh-cut citrus and melon flavors, and lighterstyle body. Both the white and rosé Cavas are dry (not sweet) and refreshing. Excellent bargains are easy to find. Try Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Gramona III Lustros or Segura Viudas.

Sparkling Wine From the U.S. Domestic bubbles typically deliver great value. American sparkling wines are typically rounder and mouth filling. Quality American bubbles are made in the traditional method in California, Oregon, Washington and even lesser known wine-producing states like New Mexico and North Carolina. Some solid choices are Scharffenberger, Argyle Brut and Roederer Estate.

Champagne From France. If you go for Champagne, you will spend a little extra. It’s worth it. To get the best bang for your buck, consider grower-producer Champagne, meaning wine made by the same house that grows as much as 88 percent of their own grapes. Look for a tiny RM on the label. Small growers are able to control their crops and the quality of the product by bottling their own. Put Billecart-Salmon, Pierre Gimonnet & Fils and Guy Charlemagne high on your list.


Chardonnay From France. Chardonnay is extremely popular, and also pairs well with a wide variety of foods. Consider Bourgogne blanc wines from producers like Joseph Drouhin or Bouchard Père et Fils. Chablis and Mâcon are outstanding growing areas of Burgundy, making crisp yet creamy wines with ripe peach, lemon peel and honeysuckle flavors. Try Domaine Daniel Dampt and Domaine Guillot-Broux.

Sauvignon Blanc From the U.S. or New Zealand. Zippy, light and refreshing sauvignon blanc is always a crowd pleaser and readily available at great prices. Juicy wines from New Zealand shimmer with lime, grapefruit and edgy jalapeño pepper. Cloudy Bay, Kim Crawford and Greywacke are good bets. U.S.-made sauvignon blanc has the same bracing citrus flavors as its New Zealand sisters, but trades fresh-cut grass for the jalapeño. Solid producers include Matanzas Creek, Galerie and Cliff Lede.


Syrah Blends From France. The Côtes du Rhône region of France produces earthy, fruity and food-friendly wines made with a mix of grapes, including grenache, syrah and mourvedre. The medium-bodied wines pack bold flavors of blackberry, licorice, herb and black olive on a graphite backbone. They are great on their own or go well with a wide variety of holiday nibbles. Saint Cosme Côtesdu- Rhône Rouge and Domaine d’Andezon Côtes du Rhône are solid wines to consider.

Cabernet Sauvignon From Chile or Australia. Cab is king in the familiarity column. Bordeaux and California cabernet are some of the most sought-after wines in the world. To get similar pizzazz with less impact on the wallet, go for wines made in Chile and Australia. Chilean cabs pair dark fruit and chocolate flavors with herbal and peppery tastes. Strong choices are Santa Rita, De Martino and Montes. Australian cabs are powerful, with rich black currant and cedar flavors. Try Ringbolt and Penfolds.


When attending a holiday party, aim to impress. Skip the poinsettia and bring a big-ass bottle of wine. There is no better time for excess than the holidays, so go for it. Present the host with a magnum, jeroboam or even a rehoboam of festive Champagne or red wine. You can’t go wrong. Here’s a handy reference guide of wine-bottle sizes:

  • Piccolo: It means “small” in Italian, and is also known as a quarter bottle or split. It is the common size served when you order bubbly by the glass.
  • Demi: It means “half” in French, and is a reasonable size if you want a little wine with dinner by yourself.
  • Standard: This is your normal bottle that you see everywhere. If you are absolutely common and ordinary in every way, bring this size bottle.
  • Magnum: This is the double bottle. Relatively easy to find and affordable, it’s just big enough to make a good impression when you walk into a party. It says, “I’m not messing around here.”
  • Jeroboam: Oh yeah, the double magnum. It is named for a biblical king and has kingly dimensions. If you tote this bad boy into a party, you’ll definitely get invited back next year.
  • Rehoboam: This beast is about as big as you can get and still feasibly carry it to a party. We’re talking about an entire half case of wine in one bottle.

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