Consider your wine purchases for the season in three categories. There are seasonal food and wine pairings, holiday gift wines for the receiver to enjoy now, and wine gifts for the wine collector. Get your list-making tool of choice ready, because we are going to make a plan for some delicious wine experiences. While you’re at it, pour yourself a glass. Enjoy it as you learn how to select a great bottle of this delicious gift to give — and receive.
Note: I have provided bottle suggestions in each category, from producers I love big and small. I have included shopping links so you can see the bottle. Unfortunately wine shipping laws kind of stink, and they are getting worse. That means you may or may not be able to find everything from the same sources in your area. Write your congressman or woman a letter.
Holiday wine for seasonal food and wine pairing right now
Pairing wine with food generally means selecting a wine whose flavor profile complements (or intentionally contrasts) the food. In this case, we will focus on the typical food of the American winter holidays. For a primer on food and wine pairings, check out my Thanksgiving wine post (also helpful if you serve Turkey for your December holiday meals). Regardless of what protein or holiday fare you select, follow this general rule: the richer and fattier the food, the more tannin you need. For example, if you are serving prime rib, break out that Bordeaux or Super Tuscan. Finally, your wine should have a “sweeter” profile than your food, particularly important once dessert rolls around.
Our seasonal food will generally work well with a particular set of grapes, narrowing your choices. If you look for those grapes from regions with ideal terroir, in a vintage “drinking well” now, you can drink it tonight at its best.
photo by jenn kosar
When shopping, I think of this as the “current inventory” of wine [yes, I am an accountant]. These are the bottles I need to have on hand now for casual guests, special dinners, and cozy nights by the fire. Consider a range of price points, as they are served at special meals as well as larger gatherings. In other words, you may want to buy in value-priced quantities or focus on pleasing a crowd.
Let’s start with white. Winter whites need to be richer and bolder to pair with the flavors of the season. California Chardonnay is the way to go, and the 2012 vintages are drinking beautifully now. Consider a full-bodied but balanced Mauritson Chardonnay with Roasted Acorn Squash with Honey and Ancho Chili Glaze from Food Fidelity. I also love La Crema Chardonnay, readily available in most locations and generally priced below $25. And of course, for fans of sparkling wine, my guide to champagne and champagne alternatives is a must-read.
photo used with permission from Food Fidelity
We are in the northeast, so baby, it’s cold outside. It is finally time to crack open those reds. Sticking with wines that are drinking well now, if you love American reds, look no further than 2007. It was a great year for Cabernet and Pinot Noir throughout California wine country. 2012 and 2013 are also delicious vintages, extending to Oregon Pinot Noir as well as Washington state Syrah (and Whites if that is your preference). California fruity Pinot would do well with a cherry- or fruit-infused meat; try this Baked Ham with Citrus Glaze from Beyond the Chicken Coop with any of Duckhorn’s Pinot Noir offerings.
If you like your wines a little more global, the best values are in the new world. Western Australia produced wonderful Chardonnay and Cabernet in 2007 and all indications are the trend is continuing. 2010 and 2012 were good years for Shiraz. I find this grape a value alternative to those expensive Bordeaux productions. Head to the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand for delicious regional reds at very reasonable prices. [If you can find a 2010, it was a great year for them – and a not-so-great year in the U.S. wine producing regions]. This red blend from Craggy Range gets high marks across the board and is a steal at only $24. If you are serving prime rib, look no further, or try it with this Ina Garten-inspired dish from Domesticate Me, a Slow Roasted Rosemary Beef Tenderloin served with rich and creamy gorgonzola sauce.
photo used with permission from Domesticate Me
For old world fans, I’ll start with the bad news — It is tough to find value in France and Italy, and personally, I find it harder to please a crowd with wines from this region. I would save bottles from those regions for the special wine lovers on your list. Spanish reds tend to be more accessible and did well across the board in 2004 and 2005, but I am partial to Tempranillo from the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions. Priced well, they pair beautifully with the pork tenderloin and ham dishes so popular during the holidays. They are so versatile, you can also serve them with duck or even a Christmas goose. Try this Rioja from Biga de Luberri for only $20.
photo used with permission from Beyond the Chicken Coop
those special holiday gift wines
These wines are to consider giving as a gift, but are also a fine option if you are looking for your own special bottle to serve with a special meal. While they are at a point in their aging where you can enjoy them in the near future, you do not have to be bound by the seasonality of the particular grape. Go ahead and choose based on what you know your recipient will enjoy. They are harder to find or from areas known for their pricey bottles, so will likely cost a little more than those meant for more mass consumption.
Champagnes and sparkling wines are a classic gift, and they don’t have to break the bank. The recipient can tuck the bottle away for New Years Eve or hold it to celebrate any way they like. A great bottle at a reasonable gift price is the NV Champagne Drappier Brut Nature Zero Dosage at $50. For a really special gift, focus on the 2002, 2004, and 2007 vintages from a favorite producer. Try any of these now with this perfect French Cheese Board, complete with a guide on how to put it all together from Innocent Delight.
photo used with permission from Innocent Delight
If you are buying for a California fan, you are in luck — there are plenty of areas that have done well in vintages both recent and old, giving you many pricing options. If your wine lover likes their wine white, head to Washington State and the Columbia Valley and pick up a 2012. For red fans, 2001, 2005 and 2007 were excellent years for Napa Cabernet and Pinot Noir, but they are now harder to come by. If you can snag one, give it to the wine lover in your life and tell them to drink it soon as they celebrate that 2017 is finally over. The Anderson Valley produced great Pinot Noir in 2012 and 2007 was a knockout for the Russian River Valley as a whole. For those who like their Pinot a little less fruity, a 2012 Williamette Valley from Oregon will hit the spot.
Back in Australia, you can focus on Shiraz from the Barossa/McLaren Vale region. Wines from 2005 or 2010 will really stand out if you can get your hands on a bottle. Consider Chilean Reds from the Maipo region; a 2005 vintage will definitely be a special gift for the fan you love. If you have access to a wine merchant willing to do some searching for you, have them hunt down a 2001 Rioja for the Spanish red fan in your life. If you snag one, serve it with roasted duck and this Pear and Goat Cheese Salad with Apricot-Balsamic Vinaigrette from The Anthony Kitchen.
photo used with permission from The Anthony Kitchen
I promised you some French and Italian lessons, I know. For Bordeaux, it is all about 2000 and 2001, and it is not much different a few miles south in Tuscany. This Sangiovese from Valdicava is described as “sexy decadence”, so I just might have to acquire a bottle for one of those cozy fire evenings.
holiday gift wines to buy and hold
These are the investment bottles to consider giving (or acquiring) for the true wine collector in your life. “Buy and hold” these wines and set them aside to enjoy years from now and remember holidays past. These are not value priced, but there are bargains to be found, especially for the gamblers out there. Wine pricing follows simple supply and demand economics; if others have figured out that the vintage is “good”, it will be priced accordingly. If you are willing to bet on a lesser known winemaker producing a good wine in a year generally known to have yielded quality wine in the region, or to assume continued quality in a year that has not yet peaked, you just might hit the wine lottery.
photo by jenn kosar
For a special sparkly bottle, consider a 2008 vintage from the Champagne region. The weather was cooler, leading to more powerful fruit. The experts say this creates ideal balance with the acidity naturally present in the champagne technique. If you can get your hands on a 2008 Philipponnat (they are increasingly rare), they are a value for their deliciousness, typically under $80. When you are ready to celebrate, pair it with these Caramelized Onion and Cream Cheese Bites from Happy and Harried.
photo used with permission from At the Corner of Happy and Harried
In California, 2012-2014 is rapidly becoming known as the years you would have had to work hard to screw up a Cabernet or a Pinot Noir. If you have a winemaker or producer you like, this may be those betting years I speak of. Odds are, these wines will pour well in 5-10 years. Consider a 2014 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon ($70) or a 2013 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($125). California Chardonnay is no different, but Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Santa Barbara are faring best. Just remember they don’t age for quite as long. My investment-bottle Chardonnay vineyards of choice are Jarvis, Ridge, and Littorai.
2009 and 2010 are both predicted as excellent years for the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions in France, with 2014 also looking particularly delicious for Bordeaux. This Saint Émilion from Chateau Sansonnet is already drinking well at a young age, and at under $40 a bottle, if it ages as predicted, you will look like a wine genius. If you just cannot wait, decant it and serve it now with a slow-roasted meat, like this Roast with Horseradish Cream from Cooking Chat, a great blog to follow if you love exploring food and wine pairings.
photo used with permission from Cooking Chat
If you would like to head over to Italy, consider the 2009-10 Tuscans, especially the 2010 Brunello di Montalcino. This Carpazo rated well at only $80 a bottle, or you can knock their socks off with this Sangiovese from Fulgini.
Interested in dessert wines? Gary loves Port, so I’m eyeing 2011 as a special year to add to his collection. After all the holiday fuss is over, a simple glass by the fire with these delicious Baked Figs with Goat Cheese from Happy Kitchen Rocks will be just what we need to relax and reflect on the joys of the season.
photo used with permission from Happy Kitchen Rocks
Happy holidays to all my Food with a View readers. I wish you the happiest of seasons and the best for 2018. If you think others would love these ideas, share this post using the buttons on this post, and of course, encourage them to follow me on Facebook and Pinterest for more tips and tricks for entertaining and wine pairing all year long.
Still feeling stressed about holiday planning? Don’t be! Join The Food Brood and a group of savvy international food bloggers as we continue throughout December. We’ll keep going with survival strategies for the holiday season and gear up for resolution time in January. Hope to see you in our Facebook group Smart Meals for Busy Cooks.