Seasonal Sips: A Curated Selection of the Best Wines for the Holidays
The holidays are upon us, and for many, it’s been a very different year. It’s fair to say that we all deserve to indulge in some delicious wine and cuisine this holiday season. Whether you’re having a quiet, socially distanced holiday at home, heading off for a beach or ski vacation or meeting with extended family or friends, you can still pick just the right wine and pair it perfectly.
Here’s what the Winetraveler family will be drinking (and eating) this holiday season — and we highly recommend you do the same.
Why drink it: Who wouldn’t want to ring in the New Year with some bubbly? But this year, the holidays may be a little different, so we suggest deviating from the norm of French Champagne and going rogue with Spanish Cava instead. The notes of peach and melon thanks to the double-step fermentation process (it reduces acidity and amps up fruity notes) are perfect for celebrating.
Pair it: Do things the Catalonian way and pair your Cava with some seasonal artichokes or some Spanish crumbly cheeses. But the joy of Cava is that you can also pair it with nothing at all, just an epic clink of glasses, a resounding ‘cheers’ and a New Year’s Eve countdown.
Why drink it: Merlot gets a lot of flack, and it’s true, it’s definitely not the most sophisticated wine for the most advanced pallet. But for those of us who haven’t worn pants without a drawstring in 2020, it may be just the right fit. The holidays are a time when many people who don’t normally indulge in wine may have a glass or two. Merlot is a smooth, entry-level wine ideal if you’re hosting for first-time wine drinkers, or those just wanting to throw back a few glasses of whatever is available to forget 2020 ever even happened. Plus, varieties from California are affordable, easy to source, and you’ll be supporting your local US economy.
Pair it: Merlot matches nicely with pork and mushrooms, or for an after-dinner treat, chocolate cookies.
Why drink it: A floral, light Gamay is a nice alternative to a Pinor Noir if you feel like trying a similar, light-bodied red. It’s also typically more affordable than Pinor Noir, so it’s ideal for winos on a budget. Hailing mainly from the French region of Beaujolais, Gamay often smells intensely of florals, but has a more subtle, light flavor.
Pair it: If you’re making a Christmas turkey, Gamay is the perfect accouterment. The wine also pairs nicely with seafood like salmon.
Why drink it: Australian winters are warm and mild, and if you’re stuck at home, you can channel this country’s warmth with a glass or two of this Australian red variety: shiraz.
Pair it: Shiraz pairs best with grilled meats — so if you’re having a barbecue Christmas, this is the wine to drink. If you’re opting for something more traditional, the black cherry and peppery flavors go quite nicely with a roast lamb or duck, too.
Why drink it: If you can’t drink ice wine in the dead of winter, when can you drink it? Ice wine is made from grapes frozen on the grapevine, resulting in a sweet, highly acidic wine. Say cheers in honor of our Canadian neighbors, the largest producers of ice wine, as you sip. If you’d rather support the local wine industry, some varieties do come from New York’s Finger Lakes wine region.
Pair it: Enjoy this sweet wine for dessert, paired with light, spongey cakes or soft, strong cheeses.
Why drink it: Because we’ve all already tried Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Barolo and other famed Italian reds. And New Year, new you, right? Plus, Piedmont is one of Italy’s most under-the-radar gastronomic regions, and Barbera is the most produced red variety in the region.
Pair it: The red wine’s notes of licorice and herbs pair perfectly with lighter main courses such as chicken or fish. Or, go fully Italian and pair it with rabbit (popular in Piedmont), hearty pasta with meat or Italian sausage.
Why drink it: White wine isn’t just reserved for summer. For those wanting a crisp winter white, a German Riesling has those aromatic notes that match perfectly with hearty holiday meals and desserts. Prost!
Pair it: Sausage and hard cheeses are top choices for pairings. Dry Rieslings pair well with vegetarian cuisine (including bean dishes). Sweet Rieslings match best with desserts like shortbread, almond cookies or vanilla-infused sweets.
Why drink it: So your grandmother will be thrilled — she probably already drinks this Spanish fortified wine. But in recent years, Sherry has also emerged as a sexier, more youthful drink. It’s also a hot number in the gastronomy scene, but we’ll get to the pairing below. Enjoy a pre-dinner white manzanilla or fino or a dark Amontillado for dessert.
Pair it: Pair a lighter, white sherry with olives, or sharp cheeses like Manchego or Cheddar. It also matches well with shellfish, like oysters or clams, as well as charcuterie. Darker, dessert sherry should accompany gingerbread cookies.
Indulge this season
Remember, these are just suggestions, and you should drink what you love to celebrate the holidays. Pairings are also optional, we won’t judge on how you combine your favorite wine with your favorite foods. Different palettes enjoy different tastes, and these are just suggestions.
Whatever you’re drinking this holiday season, enjoy yourself responsibly, and make it memorable. Winetraveler wishes you a wonderful end to the year and the best for 2021. Cheers!
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