The Right Wine for the Occasion
Which wines to bring—or serve—with a holiday meal?
It's a question that plagues many at this time of year, when plans for turkey, ham and root vegetables conquer your to-do list. Choosing which wine pairs well with what is being baked, roasted or frosted can compel one to reach for the boxed Franzia. No worry. We've consulted a handful of wine and food experts to do the work for us.
Click ahead and read which wines experts like Royal wine advisor Jancis Robinson and Wine TV creator Gary Vaynerchuk recommend for your holiday soiree.
Posted Nov 2, 2009
Paul Mabray, VinTank
2008 Benessere Pinot Grigio - $26
I enjoy the feeling of “well-being” when starting the holiday circus known as our family get-together. Italian for well-being and prosperity, Benessere’s Pinot Grigio is a bright start to any event. Full of floral qualities that entice you, it is coupled with sharp tropical fruit (pineapple, mango, and citrus) allowing the wine to jumpstart the day with everyone smiling and getting ready for cheese appetizers while I slave... er, cook away in the background.
2007 Thomas George Estates Russian River Valley Pinot Noir - $38
For my family, nothing says Thanksgiving like Pinot Noir. Thomas George Estates’ Pinot is a cacophony of flavors in your mouth that show you why Russian River is the king of Pinot in Napa Valley. With a wild mix of explosive cherries (think fireworks in your mouth) and classic Russian River qualities hinting towards “leather,” this is a wine to truly savor on Turkey Day.
Bill Daley - Food and Wine Critic, Chicago Tribune
2006 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape Telegramme - $43
Telegramme is the second-label of the Rhone’s Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe. The wine proves that big and assertive doesn’t automatically mean brash or brassy. The wine filled the glass with color, the nose with aroma and the palate with flavor. It’s elegantly balanced, with fruit countered by a refreshing acidity and a dose of black pepper. Long slow finish; aromatic incense-like nose invites slow savoring.
2008 Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling - $12
A vibrant riesling from Washington’s Columbia Valley with notes of watermelon and lime, a sweet-tart nose and lots of mouthwatering acidity. It’s a seriously good wine from Charles Smith of K Vintners but it’s marketed in a lively fun way. The front label sports an arty white and black drawing of a robe-clad woman with arms outstretched in a martial arts pose. The back label sports a pair of chopsticks and a rice bowl, clearly pointing the wine toward an Asian food pairing (which will be needed after all that turkey).
Jancis Robinson, MW
Emilio Lustau Puerto Fino Sherry - $15
I’m suggesting the perfect appetite stimulant—light, bone dry sherry—as I think we all tend to overdo it during the holidays and it’s great to have something really tangy that can be drunk before a meal with salted sautéed almonds or fresh green olives, perhaps stuffed with anchovies. It can also go well with a wide range of foods that you would more often pair with a Chardonnay. We used to worry that sherry, at 15 percent alcohol, was "too strong," but nowadays many so-called table wines are this strength too.
The sad thing for sherry producers in Andalucia is that their wines are so unfashionable that they are sold at ridiculously low prices—but of course we can benefit from this. Emilio Lustau Puerto Fino Sherry, a fine, delicate wine in the super-tangy fino style that was matured in Puerto by the sea, can easily be found for just $15 a bottle.
And if you want the deluxe, connoisseur’s version of this unique, and uniquely useful wine style, seek out Equipo Navazos, La Bota de Manzanilla No 16 Sherry (for more information contact Jesus Barquin at firstname.lastname@example.org). Only 4,000 bottles were filled from this specially selected barrel of top quality seas-scented pale dry sherry.
Jancis Robinson, MW
Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2007 Central Otago - $65
It was difficult to plump for just one red wine, but I have always thought (long before the movie Sideways) that Pinot Noir is particularly suitable for the holidays because it is not too dry and tough, so appeals to a wide range of palates; is light enough to appeal to white wine drinkers; and is fruity enough to hold its own with the wide range of often fairly sweet things that are served with birds and meats at this time of year. To find one I really rated, I checked out my tasting notes database on JancisRobinson.com and looked for one I had given a top score to.
Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2007 Central Otagocomes from a great, pioneering estate in southern ski country in New Zealand’s South Island which is now farmed biodynamically. (They have, incidentally, a cat named Jancis but I swear this played no part in my choice.) This is the sort of Pinot Noir that has the energy and nuance of a fine red burgundy but is already seriously appealing (unlike most 2007 red burgundies).
Almost as delicious is Felton Road, Block 3 Pinot Noir 2007 Central Otago and a great bargain is the regular Felton Road Pinot Noir 2007 Central Otago. Top quality New Zealand Pinot Noir really does belong on the international wine map and, as co-author of The World Atlas of Wine, I should know.
Joe Roberts, CSW
I'm a big proponent of drinking whatever wine you like best for the holidays—usually you're on vacation or have time off from work, so why add the extra stress of trying to come up with a perfect wine pairing? Having said that, some folks may just want a multi-purpose, "workhorse" wine to help carry the meal and also please any budding oenophiles who might be among the dinner guests.
Other folks may just not know what the heck they like! If you're either of those folks, a dry or semi-dry Riesling won't let you down—this white beauty is versatile and it absolutely shines in company of hearty poultry and sweet or salty side-dishes, all of which are mainstays on most of the North American Thanksgiving and Winter holiday tables out there. Just about anything from New York Finger Lakes producer Hermann J. Weimer will work, and for an extra-elegant touch check out the awesome Rieslings coming out of Germany's Mosel region, like S.A. Prum (the 2007 vintage has been stunning).
Joe Roberts, CSW
When bringing wine to the holiday table, lots of folks forget about dessert. Pairing wine with dessert is usually a more expensive proposition so in these times of heightened uhmm... fiscal responsibility, it's best to save the dessert wines for more intimate gatherings, where they will pack the most punch on your end-of-meal fun and the least punch on your wallet. For fruity desserts, try a well-chilled Vidal icewine from Canada (Inniskillin is a star producer).
For Chocolate ganache, try a half bottle of Recioto from Italy's Valpolicella region (Giovanni Allegrini). The super-concentrated dried-prune, flavors will blow your wine mind (but hopefully not your wallet)."
Ryan Opaz, Catavino
When we think of warm holiday meals amongst friends and family, rarely do we think of Spanish Cava. It's prestigious northerly sister, Champagne, tends to steal the show with her sassy packaging and historic attendance at any celebratory event. Spanish Cava, however, rightfully deserves some attention.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva ($8) displays rich, warm bread notes behind more subtle aromas of vanilla and white flowers. This is a wine to pair with food, and would show beautifully with any holiday turkey, cutting the rich fat with its bright, festive acidity. While this wine can surely start the meal, there are options for greater structure and prestige, try the Sabaté i Coca reserva familiar 2006 by Castellroig ($15). Big structure,with a burnt peach creme brulee with lemon zest shaving like character! Great to celebrate with!
Ryan Opaz, Catavino
Holiday nights with family huddled around a fire, or just relaxing after a long day of family politics, call for Port wine.
Smith Woodhouse 20yr Tawny Port ($45) is ideal for those of you inclined to sumptuous dark flavors of caramel, cinnamon and honey. This is a true treat. However, if you are someone who's more inclined to dark berries and rich red fruits, look out for a single quinta such as Taylor Fladgate's Quinta de Vargelles 2005 ($25). A wine meant to be decanted, this is stunningly complex, and perfect alternative to heavy desserts. Its enveloping spiced chocolate and dark berry flavors will go beautifully with that last piece of dark chocolate or cheese sitting idly on the plate.
Gary Vaynerchuk, Wine Library TV
La Cana Albarino 2008 - $14
Albarino is a funny category, both underrated and overrated. 97% of the people out there have never heard of it, but many of those other 3% tend to overrate it in my opinion, like it's the greatest thing of all time. This bottle, imported by the great Jorge Ordonez, is an exception to that rule. Incredibly intense aromatics of citrus, acacia flowers, and crushed seashells, followed by peach and pear flavors. Delivers ripping acidity, making it a versatile wine with a wide variety of foods and a safe play for bringing to someone's home.
Il Poggione Burnello di Montalcino 2004 - $53
2004 Brunello is one of the hottest things in the market right now, and could go down as one of the legendary vintages from any area in our lifetimes. This wine is big and bombastic, with strawberry taffy flavors on the nose. Super silky smooth, rounded out with gorgeous bright red cherries, and a long dry finish. A special bottle to share with friends and enjoy now, but also makes a great gift for the collector in your life as it will last for more than two decades!
Craig Drollett, Bin Ends
Thanksgiving is not the time to bring out that 1990 Bordeaux you've been incubating in the cellar for the past few decades. Resist the urge... Because chances are you see but one sip of whatever you open. Instead focus on true quality and value, there are loads of incredible wines in the $10-$25 (excluding bubbles) range that are perfect for the occasion.
Thanksgiving is also the most difficult holiday to pair.. White or red? Light or rich? It's always tough and regional differences in cuisine make it even more difficult.
For whites, aromatics are classic pairings: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Torrontes from Argentina come to mind.
Red: Light in style and/or fruit driven is the way to go: Cru Beaujolais is the best bet, fruit driven selections from southern France or Spain after that.
Craig Drollett, Bin Ends
Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Reserve Particuliere - $35
Bubbles: Here in Duxbury MA (right next to Plymouth), we'll be putting away loads of oysters, and with them, bubbles. Champagne to be exact. Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Reserve Particuliere is perfect. It is everything a true Champagne should be and still available for under $35 a bottle.
Michel Torino "Don David" Torrontes 2008 - $13
White: Along a similar direction of the traditional Gewurztraminers and other aromatic varietals, I'm going with Torrontes, because I've been tasting a ton of them lately! The quality is enormous,most selling around $10-$15 and they serve up the perfect balance of fruit and a crisp dry finish. My favorite at the moment: Michel Torino "Don David" Torrontes 2008 from the Salta region of Argentina. Aromatic, dry and medium in body.
Cellar Pinol "Ludovicus" 2008 - $10
Red: Skipping Beaujolais because many others will likely pick it. I'm going to Spain and an incredible value for just around $10. Cellar Pinol "Ludovicus" 2008. It's a beauty. This unpretentious, easy drinking blend of Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, Syrah and Cabernet is almost impossible not to enjoy. What a great blend; Garnacha and Syrah lead off with vibrant berry fruit, Tempranillo kicks in on the mid-palate with a wonderful dose of spice that is undeniably spanish, and the Cabernet lends body and grip through the entire experience. Simply put; this crowd pleaser!