Thanksgiving & Christmas: Ultimate Wine Guide

Selecting the best wine for your holiday festivities insolence + wine

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We’re rounding the home stretch of 2016 with less than 60 days remaining. That’s right, there’s less than 20 days until Thanksgiving and right about 50 days until Christmas. It’s alright to panic slightly, I’m here to help with at least one task on your list—wine for your holiday fiestas.

Wine pairing can be a daunting task, especially when you’re on the hunt for the ideal pairing. If you’ve been fortunate in your pairing adventures, you’ve experienced a pairing so delicious that every bite tastes better and that’s what we’re aiming for when it comes to selecting wines to enjoy throughout the holiday season.

The basics: light, delicate dishes will be overpowered by tannin-driven full bodied wine and vice versa. Tannin and acid will cut through fatty cuts of meat without leaving the flavor of battery acid behind. Pair price points–it wouldn’t make much sense to serve a $12 bottle of wine with your $100 roast, would it?


On average, we spend 5.5 hours each year cooking our turkeys so it only makes sense that we do it justice by pairing with a wine that will highlight the flavors and aromas you’ve spent hours creating. At the advice of a former wine director for a local renown restaurant, it’s best to steer away from bone-dry wines because of the salt and fruit usually found in most Thanksgiving meals, so reach for wines with fruity aromas.

Expert tip: avoid full-bodied, dry wines such as Chardonnay.

While not a light fare by any means, the dishes most of us enjoy on Thanksgiving incorporate rich elements alongside of some delicate, buttery dishes so it’s best to select three or four wines to have available to your dinner guests and their varying wine preferences.

Bubbles are always a fantastic opener, to any special occasion. You have the option of going for the traditional and more expensive Champagne from France, such as this non-vintage Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee ($70), which is everything and more than you could ever possibly want in a Thanksgiving sparkler. If you’re looking for a more affordable option that won’t cause an instant headache, this extremely popular Schramsberg sparkling wine from California comes at an affordable price ($26) with an elegant finish typically found in traditional Champagnes.

My personal pick is Cotes de Tablas Rouge ($36) from Tablas Creek, a local winery on the Central Coast as it really brings out the bold baking spice blend I use for my turkey brine. For under $40, you’re getting the ideal Thanksgiving wine, especially if you’re buying a pre-cooked smoked turkey (yum!), or using autumn-friendly spices and dried fruits such as anise, juniper berries and apples throughout your recipes makes it a can’t miss pairing. If buying from your local wine merchant, ask for a GSM blend heavy on the Grenache.

For white wines, choose aromatic white wines such as an off-dry well-structured German or Austrian Riesling with some fruit elements or a mineral-driven Chenin Blanc from California (which also pairs delightfully with squash gratin). The high acidity of both wines is a great way to cleanse your palate between a mouth full of food, and neither wine will leave an aftertaste tarnishing the flavors of your dinner.

Other great wines for Thanksgiving: fruit-forward Gamay from Beaujolais, a classic smooth and supple Pinot Noir from The Santa Lucia Highlands and a quality Rosé, such as Miraval (thank you Brangelina, RIP).

Christmas and Hanukkah

Both Christmas and Hanukkah seem to be centered around some kind of elaborate roast. A well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon (wine braised short ribs’ best friend), a traditional Argentinian Malbec is pretty tasty with brisket or a Bordeaux blend with your grandmother’s prime rib recipe are all solid pairings, with neither the meat or the wine taking the upper hand.

Smoked fish such as salmon calls for something on the lighter side with moderate acidity, such as a Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc from California because neither will accentuate the fishiness of the fish.

For a roast goose (or duck), choose a well-balanced wine with equal parts acidity and texture, such as a big and bold Pinot Noir from Burgundy or an older (and expensive) Bordeaux vintage if you want to really impress your dinner guests. The less obvious, and perhaps genius pairing, however just might be a traditional German Riesling with apple spices and enjoyable minerality.