Every year I spend almost as much time deciding which wines to serve with our holiday dinner, whether it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas, as the rest of my family does preparing the meal. Part of the reason for this is the simple fact that I know good wine dramatically enhances enjoyment of the meal.
The other more practical reason is that most holiday dinners, whether the traditional “turkey with all the fixins” or something more creative, present such a wide variety of flavors that it truly is challenging to pick a wine to drink throughout the dinner. And there usually are a lot of people at the table, so we need multiple bottles anyway.
So, the question is how to match all that variety. My solution? Quite simply, use different wines with each course. Incidentally, I generally prefer all American wines for these holiday meals.
For instance, a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer are great to start, whether as aperitifs or to pair with appetizers and soup, especially one with a vegetable or chicken base. But both wines provide good acidity and lively fruit to accommodate a wide variety of foods.
A good Riesling is enticingly aromatic with bracing acidity and typically green apple, citrus and stone fruit flavors. Most intriguing, there often is a distinctive mineral component. I especially have been enjoying Washington State Riesling these days. All are slightly sweet unless otherwise indicated.
- 2010 Chateau St. Michelle Dry ($9), Riesling ($9), Harvest Select (sweet, $10)
- 2010 Snoqualmie Winemaker’s Select (sweet, $10)
- 2010 Pacific Rim Dry ($10), Riesling ($10), Sweet ($10)
- 2009 Hogue Cellars Columbia Valley Riesling ($10)
- 2010 Columbia Crest Grand Estates ($11)
I especially like Gewürztraminer because the grape’s typical spiciness adds complexity that helps the wine match with earthy, autumn flavors. Also look for lychee, grapefruit, apricot, and peach aromas and flavors. The wines below are just slightly sweet and each is an exceptional value.
- 2009 Hogue Columbia Valley ($10)
- 2010 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley ($9)
- 2010 Snoqualmie “Naked” ($12) organic grapes
- 2010 Columbia Crest “Two Vines” ($8)
The zesty green fruits and distinctive herbaceousness of Sauvignon Blanc enable this wine to pair with multiple courses. These two are perennial favorites.
- 2010 Grgich Hills “Fumé Blanc” Napa Valley ($30)
- 2010 Matanzas Creek Sonoma County ($20)
For the reds, I like Pinot noir for its versatility. Its most common flavors – cherry, plum, cranberry, blueberry, brown spices, and earthy/mushroom notes – are much like the various flavors on the typical Thanksgiving table. Also, many tend to be on the light side, making them more food friendly. Pinot Noir definitely is pricey but each of these wines delivers fine quality within its price range.
- 2009 Carmel Road Monterey ($20) smooth texture, firm palate
- 2009 Alta Maria Santa Maria Valley ($28) elegant, complex
- 2009 Saintsbury Carneros ($28) bright fruit, nice acidity
- 2009 La Crema Russian River Valley ($40) dark fruit, structured
- 2009 Cherry Pie “Stanly Ranch” Carneros ($50) intense fruit, full body
If you prefer more outgoing, strongly flavored reds, I suggest Zinfandel, the so-called All-American wine. It is a European immigrant that has fully adapted to California’s hospitable wine growing regions. The grape’s bright raspberry blackberry, and black cherry fruit, peppery spice and brash, generous character should hold up well to the challenge presented by all those different flavors on the plate.
- 2009 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve ($16) excellent quality for the price
- 2009 Edmeades Mendocino County ($20) a lot of power
- 2008 Montelena Estate Napa Valley ($30) elegant, Bordeaux-style
- 2008 Dashe Florence Vineyard ($32) spicy, structured and full flavored
- 2009 Frank Family Napa Valley ($37) lots of fruit with fine spice
- 2008 Dutcher Crossing Bernier-Sibary Vineyard ($39) intense and powerful
Holiday Wine Gift Ideas
It is also time to start looking for a special wine to give that wine lover in your life. With ongoing economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever to be extra careful in our purchases, to find those little gems that can make an extra special gift. Well, I’m here to help, suggesting some exciting wines to make your decision easier.
As much as I am an advocate for lesser-known wines, you can’t go wrong with California Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. These are still the most popular red and white wines in America, making them reliable choices for a gift. And they also carry a certain cache; that something that says you cared enough to select a special wine.
For Cabernet Lovers:
- 2007 Stonestreet Monument Ridge ($45) demonstrates why many swear by the quality possible from mountain vineyards; really impressive character and complexity throughout; strong tannins and highly structured; intense blackberry, currant, licorice, and dried herb aromas and flavors; this is one to cellar for at least a decade
- 2007 Hess Collection Mount Veeder ($48) another impressive mountain vineyard; beautiful blackberry, currant and earthy flavors; dry, yet balanced and complex with cedar, and tobacco notes
- 2007 Freemark Abbey Napa Valley ($40) classic Napa Cab; noticeable oak, concentrated dark berries, black currant, chocolate, and spices; somewhat tough tannins right now but lots of potential for development
- 2007 Jordan Alexander Valley ($52) elegant and dry, with seductive blackberry and black currant fruit offset with herbal, and tobacco notes; dare I say “Bordeaux-like?”
- 2008 Treana Red Paso Robles ($35) from Paso Robles pioneer Austin Hope; blended with 30% syrah; ripe, juicy dark fruits and black licorice; hints of tobacco and spice; luscious and graceful
- 2007 J. Lohr Carol’s Vineyard ($40) St. Helena vineyard; admirable depth and complexity; toasty oak, elegant but concentrated blackberry and cherry; firm tannins; immediately enjoyable
- 2008 Justin Isosceles Paso Robles ($62) all five Bordeaux varietals in this intriguing blend; dried berries with earthy tones; scents of iron and herbs; well structured
For Chardonnay Devotees:
- 2009 Stonestreet Bear Point ($55) smoky oak and buttery notes overlay complex citrus, peach and tropical fruit with stony notes; creamy texture but very brisk, so much so it is the rare Chardonnay that needs a few years to open up but will reward patience
- 2009 Alta Maria Santa Maria Valley ($25) just a really delightful wine; juicy tangerine and citrus with a ribbon of lively acidity; honey and cinnamon add complexity
- 2009 Landmark Overlook Sonoma County ($28) another delightful, great value; fairly full-bodied with a complex of aromas and flavors including honey, citrus, nectarine, and peach
- 2009 Patz & Hall Chardonnays: This Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialist produces a wide array of wines from many of the best vineyards in California. Three new releases, though pricey, really deliver the goods:
- 2009 Sonoma Coast ($35) focused tropical fruit, creamy texture with a mineral edge and a refreshing finish
- 2009 Russian River Valley Dutton Ranch ($39) rich, oaky style bursting with pineapple, citrus, and pear
- 2009 Carneros Hudson Vineyard ($55) oaky, buttery, with a lush palate; vibrant pear and tangerine
A final thought. Whichever wines you ultimately choose, and any of these would make a wonderful choice, be sure to take time this holiday season to raise a glass with friends or family and appreciate the goodness in your glass, on the table, and in each other.