Holiday Wine Guide

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Holiday Wine Guide

From cocktail soirees to dinner parties and gift-giving, wine is at the center of the holiday season. We asked wine expert Jordan Mackay for his tips on the best wines to serve, give and enjoy for every occasion. Read his tips below, then visit Williams-Sonoma Wine to find the perfect bottle. Cheers!


I don’t know what your December calendar is looking like, but in short order mine has morphed from peaceful as a freshly snow-covered field to crowded as a shopping  mall on the weekend before Christmas. It’s a busy procession of dinners, get-togethers, cocktail parties and lunches. It’s going to be another month of good eating and, of course, wine drinking.


Wine is an exuberant fact of holiday life, and the variety of occasions we encounter call for various vinous responses. Here are some tips for dealing with some of these common  holiday wine scenarios.


The Holiday Cocktail Party


You’re hosting. It’s an early evening affair, not meant to go late. Maybe you’re even consulting the Williams Sonoma Holiday Guide, with its well-chosen hors d’oeuvres recipes.


Don’t make wine selection more complicated than it needs to be: sparkling, white and red — one of each. Depending on the tenor of the party, no need to shell out on Champagne. Something like the Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne is a fantastic choice–juicy, smooth and satisfyingly bubbly without breaking the bank. The white should be versatile, able to go with samosas with chutney or pigs in a blanket. Dry Riesling is the answer here, like the Axel Pauly Generations from Germany. The red should be fruity and easy to drink without food. The White Hart Pinot Noir from California ably fits that model.


The Holiday Dinner Party


You’re cooking.  Plan on multiple courses. Plan on multiple wine pairings. Plan on great conversation and fun (especially if you choose dishes like soups and roasts that can be prepared ahead of time, so you can enjoy the party). Here’s what my wife and I typically do.


Champagne aperitif: a dry, brut style like Grand Prieur. Then we have a fish or shellfish course like lobster or crab bisque or oyster stew: the perfect time for a great Chardonnay like white Burgundy, Chablis, or a food-friendly American version. From the Williams-Sonoma Wine cellar, I’m loving the 2009 Patrick Piuze Chablis Premier Cru Les Forêts here. And then some sort of roast — prime rib, leg of lamb — which deserves a high-end Cabernet Sauvignon like 2007 Paradigm from Napa.


With a cheese course, you can revisit the white (if there’s any left) and polish off the red. Pull out a nip of port of Madeira after the dishes are cleared to send everyone home feeling great.




You’re attending a latke party. Even though such staples as smoked salmon and latkes with applesauce would seem to demand a dry or off-dry white, I always associate red wine with Hanukkah parties.  Again, easy-drinking, low-tannin, juicy reds are the way to go. Pinot Noir, Gamay (as in Beaujolais), and Zinfandel — these are all wines that can benefit from an ever-so-slight chill at serving.




You’re invited to a holiday party. What should you bring for the host or hostess? I’ve got one piece of advice: Don’t overthink this. Just bring Champagne.


It doesn’t have to be the most expensive bottle (though something like the Alfred Gratien Rosé will win a lifetime of affection) — your host will love you, no matter what. They may either pop it on the spot or put it away for another occasion. Either way, you win — you get to drink it or your host pulls it out days or weeks later in a time of need and, as the cork is popped, thinks glowingly of you and your perfectly elegant, yet eminently useful gift. Mission accomplished in true holiday spirit.

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