The holidays bring friends, family, celebration, and cheer to your home – sometimes unexpectedly. When you have a meal to plan, invitations to send, and people stopping by without warning, you shouldn’t have to make any last minute wine purchases. Keep a selection on hand so that when the need arises for a bottle, you’ll have it ready to go. This post will give you ideas about which wines to keep around for an even more fun and festive season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve.
Whether you’re welcoming guests to a party, serving brunch, or ringing in the new year, sparkling wine makes the holidays special. I suggest having at least two selections on hand: one for more casual entertaining and one for toasts or other special moments. For the first category, try Prosecco, an off-dry sparkler from Italy that features pleasant flavors and great value. You can find many examples for less than $15 with plenty of quality to impress your guests. It’s also worth having a few bottles of Champagne, the classic sparkling wine from France that’s been used for celebrations the world over for centuries. Champagne is more expensive to produce than Prosecco and therefore commands higher prices, but it’s worth it for the added complexity and luxury. When it comes to pairing with food, sparkling wines are among the most versatile, and they make great gifts if you discover that you accidentally omitted someone from your list.
Chardonnay remains among the most popular wine varieties throughout the year and, though red wines are associated with cooler weather, you should have some Chardonnay on hand. I recommend trying something from California’s Santa Barbara region, where the coastal influence of the Pacific Ocean provides a surprisingly moderate climate given the region’s southerly position. These Chardonnays are bright and refreshing but still maintain that classic oaky, buttery California taste. These wines will make great sippers at parties and also serve as elegant gifts for the Chardonnay lovers in your life who may not have tried Santa Barbara wine.
Pinot Noir not only works with a wide variety of dishes from fish to poultry, but it’s also smooth enough to drink on its own. If you’ve never explored the great Pinots from Burgundy, this season provides a great opportunity. Red wines from Burgundy are nearly always made from 100% Pinot Noir and showcase the incredible diversity and appeal of their native region. Two of my current favorite types of red Burgundy include Santenay and Savigny-lès-Beaune – make sure you keep an eye on the color, as both appellations also produce some white wine. Santenay Pinot is bold and spicy, with tart red cherry and earthy flavors. Savigny-lès-Beaune tends to be lighter with sweet berry and vanilla characteristics. Both bottles will serve you well when you need a last minute wine for entertaining or gifting.
Pinot Noir and Merlot were set up as rivals in the movie Sideways, but there’s no reason you can’t have both at your events this holiday season. Pair Merlot with your richer dishes, like beef and winter stew. You can also serve it to your friends who prefer richer, full-bodied wines. The quality of Merlot has generally increased over the past several decades due to its relative lack of prestige when compared with Cabernet Sauvignon. I suggest Merlot from Napa Valley, which tend to be very silky and full bodied with dark fruit flavors accented by notes of coconut, chocolate, and vanilla.
For my final recommendation, I suggest you take your holiday guests outside the box and introduce them to something new. The Spanish region of Bierzo has been gaining prominence lately through its exotic red wines, striking quality, and great value. The grape used in the Bierzo area is called “Mencia” and produces wines of medium to full body, with intensely aromatic fruit flavors tinged with dusky spice notes. Offering this wine to your friends will give your guests both a delicious wine and a new experience.
Keep an eye out for our upcoming posts on specific ideas about holiday parties, but know that these are the wines you should have on hand throughout the season for unexpected opportunities to celebrate. Enjoy!