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Hosting a holiday get-together? From finalizing recipes to dialing in the guest list, you’ve made your entertaining checklist (and checked it twice). But have you stocked up on one of the key elements for assured success? We’re talking wine, and lots of it. In our November/December 2013 issue, we offer tips for building a mixed case of vino with enough variety to see you through the holiday season. But which wines pair best with which occasion? From turkey-friendly Thanksgiving wine to the best kosher bottles for kugel, we’ve got your holiday food-and-wine pairings covered.
What we’re eating: Roasted turkey with all the trimmings (hello, gravy-capped potatoes, braised Brussels sprouts and stuffing). And slice after slice of pie.
What we’re drinking: Between the a.m. parade, mid-morning basting sessions and football galore, Thanksgiving is a day-long marathon. Which is why we stock up on wines that can be sipped solo and poured alongside a full seasonal spread. Oak-kissed Chardonnay from Chablis matches perfectly with side dishes (even Brussels sprouts!), while California Pinot Noirs fit the bill for more robust dishes. And with several hours of imbibing ahead, it’s good to have a low-alcohol offering on hand, like wine made from the fresh and fruity Gamay grape grown in France’s Beaujolais region.
3 to try:
Domaine Jean-Claude Bessin Chablis 2011
Steely and brisk, this Chablis comes from a non-interventionalist winemaker with three generations of family vintners behind him. Maloloactic fermentation and a nine-month rest in neutral oak make it a great go-between for those on either side of the “buttery” Chardonnay debate. $26, madisonwineexchange.com
Clos de la Roilette Fleurie 2011
No, this is not Nouveau. Though it hails from the same region and grape, this Beaujolais is far from the quickly fermented, mass-produced vino released on the third Thursday of each November. Instead, it offers an exquisite (and inexpensive) expression of the Gamay grape, with flavors of violets, thyme and black currants. $20, astorwines.com
Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2011
As pretty as its name suggests, this organic, hand-harvested Pinot Noir ferments partially with whole clusters, lending a savory layer of fresh herbs and savory spice atop cheerful fruit flavors of fresh plums and citrus zest. $45, flowerswinery.com
What we’re eating: Spanning eight days, our Hanukkah plates are loaded with helping after helping of brisket, latkes and kugel. Oh, and plenty of jelly-filled doughnuts (aka sufganiyot) for dessert.
What we’re drinking: Keeping kosher? Thanks to a growing number of vintners from Israel to Italy to Long Island who adhere to the practice, it’s now easier than ever to drink good kosher wines. From a pairing standpoint, uncork fresh and floral dry Rieslings from France’s Alsace region alongside some of Hanukkah’s lighter dishes, and robust New World reds (like Australian Shiraz and plump Argentinian Malbecs) with heavier fare.
3 to Try:
Willm Riesling 2008
Fresh-cut flowers, stone fruit flavors and a brisk minerality all make this Alsatian Riesling a great candidate for the Hanukkah table. Kosher. $20, sothebyswine.com
Flechas de los Andes Gran Malbec 2001
Ripe plums, brambly blackberries and an edge of earthy spice—this Malbec is classic Mendoza, through and through. Kosher. $25, onlinekosherwine.com
Geographe K Shiraz 2009
Dense and fruit-forward with a sturdy tannin structure, this Australian Shiraz will stand up to the traditional fryer-focused holiday dishes. Kosher. $15, onlinekosherwine.com
What we’re eating: Roasted goose, holiday ham, prime rib—the decadence of December 25 knows no bounds.
What we’re drinking: When it comes to Christmas, we dress our table with the holy trinity of Old World wines—Bordeaux blends, Tuscan reds and dessert-friendly Sauternes. Stretch your buck with Bordeaux from the underrated Right Bank where Merlot rules the roost (as opposed to the Cab-centric Bordeaux of the Left Bank)—it’s a superb pair for goose. And match supremely rich and meaty mains (think rib and crown roast) with rustic Italian reds that balance both acid and tannin (while also keeping your pocketbook in check). For dessert? A glass of unabashedly sweet and unctuous Sauternes. This plump, concentrated wine is lighter and brighter than port or Madeira, with a juicy, fruity freshness that deliciously accompanies both Christmas cookies and cheese.
3 to Try:
La Fortuna Rosso di Montalcino 2011
Often referred to as a “baby Brunello,” Rosso di Montalcinos offer maximum value, and this barrique-aged, 100% Sangiovese is no slouch with vibrant acidity, balanced cherry fruit and dusty tannins. $12, klwines.com
Château du Gaby Canon Fronsac 2009
Heralded as a vintage among vintages in France’s Bordeaux region, this approachable, organically grown mix of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is ripe and ready with fleshy fruit flavors of dark plums and figs, savory herbs mid-palate and a sprinkling of cocoa on the finish. $22, klwines.com
Chateau d’Arches Sauternes 2006
Château d’Yquem not in your budget this year? Situated mere miles away, this botrytis-flecked beauty from Château d’Arches (which dates back to the 16th century) will similarly impress with enveloping flavors of dried apricots, citrus and clotted cream. $30/375 ml., williams-sonomawine.com
New Year’s Eve
What we’re eating: Finger foods, leftovers, takeout—by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, we’re ready to roll out of the house and into the gym. Still, that won’t stop us from raising a final glass to toast one heck of a holiday season.
What we’re drinking: Bubbles are an obvious choice when it comes to New Year’s Eve celebrations, but this year forgo mass-produced sparklers in favor of unique bottles with personality. Grower Champagnes are a great place to start, since they’re produced on a smaller scale with estate-grown fruit that’s carefully tended throughout the growing season, and often fermented with indigenous yeast that imparts its own individuality on the wine. Beyond France’s Champagne region, look to domestic wines, which encompass an array of budget-minded bubbly crafted in our own backyard. Want something more unexpected still? Add a bottle of fino sherry to the mix. A dry fortified wine made in Spain’s Jerez region, finos rest under a layer of yeasty flor, which imparts a bright, mouthwatering tanginess to each bottle. But you really can’t go wrong—all three are party sippers perfect for rounding out the festive flavors of the season.
3 to Try:
Tio Pepe Fino NV
Dry and nutty with a soft salinity, Tio Pepe is the name in fino sherry. Plus, it’s easy to find and won’t break the bank. Serve it chilled alongside finger foods or as an aperitif as guests arrive. $12, drinkupny.com
Pierre Brigandat Brut NV
Whereas most Champagne is crafted with a mix of varietals, this “grower” (meaning it comes from a vintner who grows and harvests his own grapes, as opposed to the more common practice of buying grapes in bulk) offering relies solely on the structure and nuance of the wily Pinot Noir grape. It pays off with rich, full flavors of apricots, freshly baked bread and honey—at a price that can’t be beat. $37, astorwines.com
Iron Horse “Wedding Cuvée” Green Valley Brut 2009
Sonoma County’s family-owned Iron Horse crafts this blanc de noirs with high-acid fruit grown in the Russian River Valley. Decadent and yeasty, its sprightly bubbles zing around the palate with flavors of honeysuckle and lemon zest. $40, ironhorsevineyards.com
A Few Final Tips …
How much wine should you buy? A standard 750-ml. bottle of wine holds just over 25 ounces, which breaks down to five five-ounce glasses of wine. Though the number of bottles you stock will depend on how much your friends and family drink, you can safely assume you’ll uncork close to one bottle of wine per person during a full-blown feast. For shorter snack-style occasions, plan on opening one bottle for every two people.
What’s the proper white-to-red ratio? This will depend on the food you’re serving and the tastes of your guests, but for holiday feasts, we typically recommend one bottle of white per four bottles of red. Fresh, low-alcohol white wines (and bubbly) are great to kick off the celebration, but once the red is open, unless someone is strictly a white-wine drinker, guests will swap out their glass. And once they make the move to red, they’ll rarely switch back.
To open or not open a gifted bottle? It’s a long-debated wine-etiquette question without a clear answer—whether or not to open and share a bottle gifted from a guest. The simplest solution? Do whatever feels right to you. If the bottle arrives unwrapped, the guest is likely assuming they’re making a contribution to the meal. If the bottle is tied up with a bow or in a bag, the gesture is meant more as a gift for you to enjoy now or later. Take a peek inside—if it’s a food-friendly bottle you’re happy to share, then pop it open. But if it’s a nice one that you don’t see easily divvied between a dozen glasses, thank your friend and stash it away with the suggestion that you two meet up and open it post holiday season.