High/low Holiday Wines
10 great holiday wines — from sparkling to dessert — that won't bust your budget
Looking for the perfect holiday wine? If you need a little help, and you're willing to take the advice of two relatively well-informed wine enthusiasts, then look no further than our very own "'Tis the Season wine list."
CultureMap contributor Matt McGinnis of WhatAreYouDrinking.net and food editor Jessica Dupuy bring you a short and simple list of 10 wines. Two sparkling wines, two whites, two reds, two dessert whites and two dessert reds.
You don’t have to be ostentatiously extravagant or break the bank, but don’t skimp on the most important element of your holiday meal, the wine.
Matt McGinnis: "If you follow just one guiding principle for selecting wine for your holiday celebrations, by all means make it this one: don’t be a Scrooge. Whether you are hosting guests or celebrating just with your family, the holidays demand that you go the extra mile. You don’t have to be ostentatiously extravagant or break the bank, but don’t skimp on the most important element of your holiday meal, the wine."
Jessica Dupuy: "McGinnis' list may appeal to the Champagne and Lace wine lover, but let's say you've got to host a large group of people and don't want to shell out the big bucks for a crowd who — most likely — doesn't care what alcohol-infused beverage you put in their hands. Or let's just say it, you're like a lot of us Scrooges out there and are just plain cheap, my list is the one for you."
McGinnis Picks: Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru
The first wine you should grab for any holiday occasion is bubbly. Every aspect of opening, pouring, serving and drinking Champagne excites the senses in ways no other wine can. This Christmas, look for a smaller Champagne house that grows its own grapes and produces its own wine. You can find these Champagnes, known as grower-producers, by looking for a tiny “RM” on the label. This is a good short-hand for finding high-quality bubbly without overpaying.
Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru fits the bill for “party-in-a-bottle.” Once popped open, riotous showers of bubbles race to the top of the glass to form a creamy mousse and the bubbles continue to dance and play on the tongue with aplomb. It fills the nose with walnut, apple and pear with the burst of each festive bubble. The Godmé has toasty bread and bright green apple, ripe strawberries flavors and a jangling citrus zip.
The best way to start off any holiday celebration is a kiss under the mistletoe quickly followed by a toast with lovely Champagne. It’s a perfect mate with soft creamy cheeses, ripe berries and just about any hors d'oeuvre you choose to serve before dinner.
Price: Around $55
Dupuy Picks: Gruet Rosé Non Vintage
While Matt's philosophy is certainly altruistic if not a bit showy, there was a time when shelling out a few extra bucks to ensure you could show up to a holiday dinner with a good wine was key. But these days, the global market for wine has been blown wide open with a whole slew of impressive wines on the shelves for under $15. You just have to know how to find them.
Everyone loves a good celebration. And a few bubbles in the bottle is a sure fire way to summon a good time. While the best from the large French Champagne houses or even the most delicate of small production grower-producer Champagnes can be instant show-stoppers. And sparkling wine is no doubt the go-to wine for that. But you're just as likely to turn heads with a little bubbly from the sandy loam soils of New Mexico.
The Gruet Rosé is bright with flavors of strawberry and raspberry as well as hint of lemon zest and warm limestone. When it comes down to it, it's really just as sophisticated as the real deal. It doesn't hurt that the winery was started by a French family in the mid-1980s while looking to make a mark with wine on the American frontier.
Price: Around $15
McGinnis Picks: Fritz Haag 2010 Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
Coming to Christmas dinner without a white wine is like going to church without any pants. You just wouldn’t do it. Riesling is among the most food friendly wines on the planet and a sure bet to pair well with almost anything you choose to serve at the holidays. I recommend an ever so slightly sweet Spätlese variety which will accompany savory, spicy and sweet dishes alike.
Here is the second place where you shouldn’t be a cheapskate. Spend a bit more to get a fine German Riesling like the Fritz Haag from the Mosel region. This is an absolutely delightful wine that smells of honeysuckle, ripe pear, baked apples and cotton candy. It has luscious cocktail pears and peaches, honeydew flavors balanced with an electric acidity that makes it sing. It’s great with your salad and appetizer courses.
Price: Around $40
Dupuy Picks: Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay
McGinnis's shrewd selection of German Riesling for the holidays is certainly noble, but potentially foolish. I'm not about to waste a few drops of precious angel tears on someone who doesn't appreciate them. And when it comes to holiday celebrations, you are usually running the gamut of wine drinkers who love anything from the oakiest of Rombauer Chardonnays to the most delicate of German Rieslings. I'm in favor of meeting somewhere in the middle.
Offer all the citrus and apple notes that a fine Chardonnay can offer, with an extra boost of minerality from the French region of the Loire Valley. This crisp little wine barely has a kiss of oak, but finds its strength in its acidity, which makes it a great food wine for your average turkey dinner to grilled fish or pork tenderloin.
Price: About $10
McGinnis Picks: 2011 Domaine Chignard Fleurie 'Les Moriers'
Christmas dinners can be a cacophony of clashing flavors with several brash dishes competing for your tongue’s attention. It’s tough to pair a red wine with diverse dishes like goose, turkey or beef Wellington and Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and Waldorf salad. Beaujolais, made with the Gamay grape, are soft, fruity and versatile enough to go with almost any dish.
The engrossing experience of drinking a Beaujolais cru is a departure from the unfussy toss back of inexpensive Beaujolais Nouveau. It has bold scents of wild strawberries and maraschino cherries. Unlike the Nouveau, it has complexity on top of the fruit-forward juiciness. The sassy cheery cherry and blueberry flavors are balanced with granite minerality, crisp acidity and soft tannins. It is a festive accompaniment to almost anything you choose to serve.
Price: About $25
Dupuy Picks: Marques de la Musa Garnacha
True, Beaujolais is an elegant and beautiful choice — and I look forward to joining McGinnis’ holiday dinner to enjoy some. But just as with Riesling, it’s the type of wine that is more on an acquired taste for some than for others. I choose to move to the warmer climate of Spain, specifically to the Cariñena region where Garnacha (Grenache in French) reigns supreme.
Similar to the Gamay grape found in Beaujolais, Garnacha is a thin-skinned grape often used to bring more depth of fruit to blends with a breadth of earthiness and tannin. This wine is light, but with a fair amount of complexity. And as it is a warm climate grape, it lends itself to foods with a little spice — as is fairly typical of holiday dinners in Texas. Smoked pork loin with an apple, cranberry and jalapeño chutney would be ideal for this wine.
Price: About $9
White Dessert Wine
McGinnis Picks: Sandeman Royal Corregidor Rich Old Oloroso Sherry 20 Year Old
Sherry is one of the most complex and difficult to produce wines in the world. I could bore you with the intricacies of how it’s made, but suffice to say that if someone shares Sherry with you, it’s because they think you are worth it. That’s reason enough to put it on the holiday table.
The Sandeman aged Oloroso smells as good as a holiday party with roasted candied pralines, almonds and baked pear. It tastes like kissing the gorgeous, foul-mouthed intern in the coat closet at the end of that Christmas party; nutty and bitter mixed with 20-year-old sweetness and the saltiness of a reluctant tear. I can’t imagine another wine combining sweet, bitter and brine in a more pleasurable way.
Back at home, serve it slightly chilled, but not refrigerator cold, in a tulip shaped white wine glass. It is a perfect compliment to the end of a holiday meal. Its rich raisiny sweetness goes well with many traditional holiday deserts like gingerbread, rum cake and chocolate-cherry trifle.
Price: About $20
Dupuy Picks: King Estate Pinot Gris Ice Wine
While McGinnis is manipulating the intern into the coat closet, I'd rather keep my dessert wines on the classy side. They can be sweet, but more in the vein of angelic seraphim and cherubim rather than tawdry underaged tarts. So I'm going with a lovely little ice wine from Oregon.
The King Estate uses the often mis-represented Pinot Gris grape for this crisp and delicate wine brimming with ripe pear, apricot, peaches and wildflower honey. At only 11 percent alcohol this wine is searingly delicate, but the fragrant aromatics and the higher level of residual sugar will do doubt ensnare your senses. Serve chilled alongside a cornmeal cranberry-orange zest cake and you'll certainly hear the songs of angels.
Technically, I'm barely shaving a few dollars off the price of his Sherry with my ice wine, but with the difference, you can still do your best to entice the intern with a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boy — she probably won't know the difference.
Price: Around $18
Red Dessert Wine
McGinnis Picks: Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Porto
Port has always been one of my favorite fortified wines. The Port screams "Happy Holidays!" Drinking Port at Christmas is definitely a British tradition, but it’s getting more and more traction in the states as people are more open to explore fortified wines. This 20 Year Old Tawny has a boozy nose of dried orange peel and figs. Port is always bold and this one doesn’t disappoint. Orange, cherry, leather and cigar cling together in a sweet vanilla present.
When you are all done with your feast having eaten every tidbit of Who-pudding and every morsel of roast beast, sip on this nectar and you won’t have a care in the least. Sit back by the fire and sip a snifter of joy while enjoying visions of sweet fairies dancing, oh boy. It’s just as sad to finish the glass as unwrapping the last present under the tree.
Price: Around $50
Dupuy Picks: Pedernales Cellars Glögg
McGinnis does have me here. I am a sucker for Port. But while he's savoring his last drop of Tawny, I'll likely be polishing off the last of the dirty dishes from the Holiday feast. But I'd never leave my guests without something to talk about. Which is why I'm going with something a little unorthodox: a Swedish-inspired wine made from a local Hill Country producer.
Glögg is a seasonal holiday fortified red wine infused with a whole range of spices including cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It's typically served warm with a cinnamon stick and handful of raisins or dried cherries tossed in the bottom of the glass — an excellent treat to enjoy when the Glogg is at its end. This velvety red sticky is made in homage to Pedernales Cellars co-founder Fredrik Osterberg who grew up in Sweden and now finds his home among the rolling landscape of the Texas Hill Country. Serve this libation with a handful of Swedish-style ginger snaps and know that you're not only spreading good cheer but supporting a local producer all at the same time.
Currently Glögg can only be found at the Pedernales Cellars winery in Stonewall for about $19. You can order it online and still probably stay under the price of McGinnis' Port.