The holidays. That most wonderful time of the year. When tables around the country groan under the weight of crisp-skinned turkey, 101 ways with sweet potato, aromatic sage stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie, chocolatey Bûche de Noël…our waistbands are stretching in anticipation. You’ve poured your heart and soul into a family feast that will be talked about for years so all that’s left is to pair your dishes with the perfect wines. Here are our top holiday wine pairings for 2018.
Aperitif for the Holidays
Fun Fact: Vermouth derives its name from wormwood, a plant found in Eurasia (it was used to cure intestinal worms, apparently, but let’s not dwell on that). The Romans imbibed a wormwood-infused wine to ‘open’ the digestive tract prior their heroic feasting, adding botanicals and spices to tame the eye-watering bitterness. Hey presto! The first Vermouth was born.
Bitterness is a feature of many aperitifs. The fact that poisons are often bitter may be responsible for the interesting way our bodies respond to this flavor profile. By panicking and preparing to get rid of the substance as quickly as possible, the body encourages salivation, a release of endorphins to speed digestion and adrenaline to break down toxins in the stomach.
During the holidays, Vermouth is the perfect preprandial preparation.
This semi-secco bianco vermouth by Santa Barbara's Martellotto Winery is a belter. Elderflower, hazelnut and vanilla tickle the nose while honey, lemon chiffon and roasted almonds frolic on the palate. Use it in a Cardinale cocktail (1 part Campari, 1 part gin, 1 part vermouth, lemon peel to garnish) or drink it the Spanish way, chilled over ice with a slice of your favorite citrus. It's also great with a splash of tonic water.
Red Wines for the Holidays
Whether you like your turkey smoked, herb-roasted or fried (or if you’re planning a meat-free celebration), an elegant, smooth and velvety red wine is always a winner. Of course, you know what your guests like so if Uncle Derek won’t touch anything but Malbec, be sure to get him a bottle or two. Otherwise, you need a good all-rounder. One that complements the broad mix of flavors found in your typical holiday dinner. These beauties are light and delicious and guaranteed to lift your menu.
A perfectly roasted turkey is a thing of beauty so when it comes to wine pairing it needs the lightest of touches. This stunning Pinot is lovingly made from 50 year old vines by two brothers in the heart of Burgundy’s Nuits-St-Georges. Deep, ruby red in colour, it’s resplendent with notes of fresh cherry and raspberry, elevated by crushed violets and rose, with a soft and earthy finish. This wine is handcrafted, seriously special, and it won’t break the bank.
A great Cab is a surefire crowd-pleaser so there’s no wonder it’s often the first choice for the holiday menu. This stunning Cabernet from Santa Barbara-based Martellotto Winery has been scooping awards everywhere it goes with judges agreeing that this 92-point deep ruby red beauty far outperforms its competition in terms of price-to-quality ratio.
More than a match for dark meat and rich sauces, the Martellotto Cabernet is equally at home with vegetable dishes, particularly mushrooms and bitter greens. An easy to drink, classic Cabernet, ‘La Bomba’ (quite literally, ‘the bomb’) explodes with ripe blackcurrants, chocolate, tobacco leaf, and hints of earth.
Perfectly balanced with a beautiful finish, drink it at Thanksgiving (or just keep it for yourself and enjoy later.)
With its raspberry and sweet tobacco notes, Zinfandel is a match made in heaven for turkey (particularly smoked). And honey-roasted ham. Oh, and stuffing. Frankly, you could drink this with anything. A deep, inky purple hue, Cappo Zafferano is big on berries but is beautifully balanced with a distinct earthy edge. It’s robust, but soft with a bright acidity. At this price, you simply can’t go wrong.
White Wines for the Holidays
When choosing a white wine for your holiday dinner, you need something that will stand up to a bold mix of flavors without smothering them. Chardonnay often gets a bad rap but Chardonnay that’s unoaked, clean and lively is the perfect variety for Thanksgiving. Without dominating, it plays beautifully to the saltiness in turkey, sausages and sauces, but the soft fruit complements sweeter dishes like sweet potato.
Every sip of this old vine Pouilly-Fuissé evokes Burgundy’s temperate climate and gently rolling vineyards. Made by the master of Chardonnay, Christophe Cordier, it’s a classic, mineral-driven wine with the lightest touch of oak and delicate toasted almond quality. This Chardonnay is light and refreshing--the perfect balance to all of that heavy food.
This small production Chardonnay from Santa Barbara is a favorite of Chardonnay lovers, but it also wins the hearts and palates of people who claim not to like Chardonnay. Really. The grapes are from a highly sought-after vineyard in a windswept part of the Santa Maria Valley. Sweet baked apples and pears are superseded by notes of vanilla, toasted hazelnuts, and nutmeg, balanced by a light minerality and gentle acidity.
Both Chardonnays are sure-fire winners with turkey, particularly with a beautiful butter-basted crispy skin. It also works with fish, of course. Anything with butter, in fact.
Fortified and Dessert Wines for the Holidays
After consuming heroic quantities of fluffy mash, stuffing and delicious turkey washed down with several glasses of fine wine, it’s time for dessert. Fortunately, pairing wine with dessert is a breeze.
Aged for 15 years, this dessert wine is firing on all cylinders. It’s a perfect digestif and pairs with all manner of holiday desserts, including apple and pumpkin pies. Too full for dessert? This late harvest, sweet Chenin Blanc is the best way to enjoy a little sweetness without any of the heaviness.
You may have your pick of pies of the apple, pecan or pumpkin persuasion. Maybe a squidgy yule log or peel-studded Stollen? If vintage port is the king then tawny is the queen. This NV Andresen Tawny Port, with its nutty caramel flavors is an excellent match for most holiday desserts, including pumpkin pie or anything with chocolate, caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, and coffee. It goes with cookies too so remember to leave a glass for Santa.
You made it. Months of planning and preparation and hours in the kitchen have paid off. It’s time to relax with your favorite tipple and soak up the sight of your many happy guests sporting a satisfied, gluttonous glow. Enjoy it. Because whatever happens the rest of the year, great food and fine wine has the power to bring people together, and for that we are forever thankful.
Treat yourself! Join one of our BHW wine clubs and enjoy the world’s fine wine delivered straight to your door (you’ll be thankful all year round).