As a sommelier, I get asked every holiday season: What wine pairs best with holiday food? My answer is, “Really big bottles.”
People think I say this because wine ages better in large-format bottles. But it’s actually because there’s a lot more wine in those big bottles, and if you’ve ever been around my family, you’d understand why that’s a necessity.
Joking aside, here are five wines that make excellent gifts — and outstanding food pairings — during the holidays:
Sparkling wine is the quintessential holiday thirst-quencher. I never say no to Champagne, but there are killer bottles on the same level as the French, at far better values.
A favorite — only produced in large-format bottles — is Joy 2004 ($200) by Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma. It’s made in the same style as Champagne and aged 12-15 years before release. Scintillatingly fresh, with flavors of fresh-baked biscuits and Granny Smith apples, Joy is the perfect way to prepare for family. Around the holidays, we could all use a little more Joy!
We need something that works well with pineapple and clove-studded ham or a whole pig. This is one time in your life you actually seek out gewürztraminer. In German, gewurz means spicy (not hot-spicy, but like cooking spices) and traminer is the grape. It works incredibly well with these holiday faves.
Maurice Schoech Gewürztraminer 2016 ($26) from Alsace, France has ginger and clove aromas with hints of banana bread and starfruit and is slightly sweet in all the right ways. The real party starts when the clove flavors in the wine dance with the clove and pineapple in the piggy. The sweetness of the wine with the saltiness of the roast pork is yin and yang magic.
3. Pinot Noir!
At Thanksgiving, everyone wants pinot noir with their turkey. Meanwhile, I’m just happy if the bird’s not dry. We should give our neighbors to the north some love: Oh, Canada — it’s not just an anthem!
Hidden Bench Pinot Noir 2016 ($32) from Beamsville Bench, Canada, comes from the Niagara Peninsula on the south shore of Lake Ontario. The cooler weather works well for pinot noir as that grape is a prima donna and doesn’t like to get too hot. Redolent of crushed cranberries, oolong tea and morning rain on the yard, the wine is light, svelte and vivacious — just like J Lo!
At Christmas, we dig prime rib for that juicy, carnivorous love, but it’s the marbling of fat that brings us back for more. Fat needs something to offset it, and since you’re not inviting Jenny Craig to dinner, you need red wine. Syrah, with the body weight of some cabernets and the silky splendor of pinot, parties with everything on the holiday table.
Qupe Syrah 2016 ($23) from California’s Central Coast boasts black pepper, menthol, and smoked-meat qualities. It’s sort of like hanging out near your abuelo’s Caja China.
Craving something sweet with your pecan or pumpkin pie? Get into a bottle of madeira and realize Disney isn’t the only one making dreams come true.
Broadbent 10-Year Boal Madeira ($45) — do not cheap out and get madeira intended for cooking — comes from the island of Madeira off the coast of Africa. Its fresh, bright acidity and nutty, caramel flavors dance with holiday sweets like Pitbull on New Year’s Eve. Madeira is love in a bottle!