In the hectic, overextended days of December, the perfect wine pairings aren’t always about food: They’re about matching the right wines with the people, occasions, and holiday traditions that are important to us (and maybe a couple that we just have to endure). Here are a dozen wines that you may not know that you needed this month, but you’ll be so glad you had on hand.
“Wine” and “workplace” are two words that, if used in the same sentence, usually land you in a meeting with the human resources director, but all bets are off during the holiday season. Solve your under-$15-Secret-Santa-gift-exchange conundrum by tying some festive ribbon around a bottle of Zardetto NV Brut Prosecco ($14)—because doesn’t everyone in your department love Prosecco?—and calling it a day. The wine offers easy melon and white stone fruit flavors at a good value, and is in just about every wine shop. Make the office holiday-party-in-Conference-Room-B a more palatable experience by forgoing the jug wine the company is pouring and stashing a nice bottle under the table for personal consumption. Château Lilian Ladouys 2014 Saint-Estèphe ($22), a midweight Merlot–Cabernet with graphite and tobacco notes dressing up its pretty red berry fruit, is a terrific option. This wine is proof that affordable, delicious Bordeaux does exist. And if your boss catches you pouring from your secret stash, hey, you might earn a few brownie points by sharing the good stuff with her.
Because I hate shopping and I’m a terrible gift wrapper, my answer to any activity having to do with the procurement, decoration, distribution or assembly of gifts is wine. A marathon gab-and-wrap session with mom friends calls for a bottle of white, lest we dribble cabernet on the PJs we bought our kids: Grgich Hills’ 2014 Fumé Blanc ($31), an oak-aged sauvignon blanc with fresh citrus, herbaceous flavors, and a long, crisp finish, is one of the best sauvignons I’ve had in a while. I also earmark a couple of bottles from our holiday stash as gifts for those who need a drink way more than I do this time of year: My son’s preschool teacher will be getting some vino as will our FedEx guy, who probably hasn’t had dinner with his wife all month. One option is the $12 Enrique Mendoza 2014 La Tremenda Monastrell from Alicante, Spain, a please-everyone red with a core of ripe plums and blackberries. At just $10 a bottle, the Cantina Riff 2016 Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, a white quaffer with pretty pear and mineral flavors, is an easier, more economical teacher gift than a coffee mug filled with tchotchkes and candy.
My husband and I have a tradition of opening a special wine on Christmas Eve Assembly Night, when we stay up well past midnight helping Santa by piecing together the plastic racetracks, toy kitchens or dollhouses he brought the kids. Because we know we’ll be savoring the wine over the course of a few expletive-filled hours, we choose a big, complex red that will reveal its charms after time in the glass. Dutton Goldfield’s 2014 Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah ($50), with its velvety tannins and blackberry flavors edged in smoke and herb, is just the ticket. What we don’t finish that evening will easily keep for the next day.
When figuring out which wines to serve for holiday meals, it’s sometimes better to let thoughtfulness and family dynamics, rather than hard-and-fast wine-pairings rules, inform your selections. Welcoming visiting relatives with a local wine will give you something other than politics to talk about: Virginians, for example, should seek out the Horton Vineyards 2015 Viognier ($16), a pretty, aromatic white that’s more Condrieu than California in terms of weight and flavor. A pre-dinner blind tasting of the Left Coast Cellars 2016 White Pinot Noir ($24) will stump the wine snob in your family (because there’s one in every family). It’s a white wine from a red grape—Wine Snob will probably guess it’s a pinot gris—that’s rife with cherry and peach flavors. If your family has grand cru tastes but you’re on a limited budget, seek out top producers’ lesser-known (and less expensive) offerings. At about one-third the price of its Barolo, Vietti’s 2015 “Tre Vigne” Barbera d’Asti ($17) has a wiry cherry core, and lively acidity that will cut through rich foods like mashed potatoes and meat gravy.
There’s a reason that every wine store has bubbly on sale this month: You’ll need plenty of it before 2018. Stock up! Figure on having at least two bottles of sparkling wine at the ready: Keep one for New Year’s Eve, and pop the cork on the other on a cozy family movie night because popcorn (popped on the stovetop, not in the microwave—perish the thought) is the simplest and best pairing for Champagne. Piper Heidsieck’s NV Brut Champagne ($40), a lively wine with apple, yellow stone fruit, and pie-crust notes, is one of my go-tos and should be fairly easy to find. For New Year’s Eve, a sparkling rosé like the Jaillance NV Cuvée de l’Abbaye Crémant de Bordeaux Rosé($20) checks all the boxes for a party wine: its cream and cherry flavors go well with a variety of appetizers, it’s a good base for sparkling wine cocktails, and its presentation (on its own, or garnished with berries) looks festive.
The last bottle of wine in that cardboard box is for that blessed moment when guests are gone, and home is buzzing with…silence. The madness is over. For me, being still and contemplative means it’s pinot noir time, and those from Willamette Valley, Oregon are of terrific quality overall. The certified organic and biodynamic Brick House 2014 Evelyn’s Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir ($60) is a pinot lover’s delight, its juicy red berry fruit accented by notes of graham cracker and lavender. The wine is focused and beautifully balanced, just the way everything should be as we usher in a new year.
Do you have a wine you love to drink during the Holidays (or anytime)? Let us know in the comments!