Restaurants / Bars

Holiday Wines That Shine — How to Make Sure You’re Drinking Something Special Without Getting Too Fussy

Bringing Stress to the Table Defeats the Joy of a Great Holiday Wine

BY // 12.13.22

It is never a good idea to get too fussy about the wines you serve during the holidays. Don’t overcomplicate things. After all, the focal point should be the people. The ones we gather with and host and cook for. There will be parties and cocktails and dinners, and no matter what you serve, you’re there for the smiles and hugs, the fellowship and conversation. And the food.

Now, before I offer up three holiday wines for you celebrations, let me direct a few words to readers who are thinking, “What is he saying? In my house the wines are special, and I want the guests at my table to know how special my wines are.”

Yes, your wines are special, and I admire your taste. And your enthusiasm. Don’t let that approach to holiday wines cause distress. And remember, while it might be a better world if everyone cared about wine as much as you and I do, that’s not the world we live in. Make sure you brine your bird (if that’s what you’re serving) and dry rub your beef, try your hand at Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish, and have fun.

As for Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve, why not gift a few of your special wine bottles to some special people? Sharing is caring, no?

We are all busy at this time of year, and the last thing I want you to do is fret about your choice of wines for the holiday table and celebrations. Keep it simple. Select a sparkling wine, a white wine and a red. That’s it.

Chill the former two, make sure the red selection is not too warm (many people drink their white wines too cold and their reds too warm), and if you desire to do so, offer your guests three stems from which to drink. But I won’t judge you if you choose to keep things really simple. It’s fine to go with one glass for the sparkling and white wines and one glass for the red.

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Dry, brisk, confident minerality: The Ultra Brut from Domaine Carneros is one of the best holiday wines.
Dry, brisk, confident minerality: The Ultra Brut from Domaine Carneros is one of the best holiday wines.

A Holiday Champagne

We’ll begin with bubbles, because that’s never a bad way to kick a holiday celebration. One that I’ll enjoy and share with my fellow diners this year is the 2016 Domaine Carneros Ultra Brut. It’s 57 percent chardonnay and 43 percent pinot noir, and all estate-grown fruit.

Look for it for around $49, and if you decide to serve smoked salmon as an appetizer course you will be in for a special pairing experience. (A few years ago I shucked some oysters and paired a sparkling wine from Domaine Carneros with them, and I can taste the combination still. Oyster are a fine choice here too.)

The 2017 vintage is available on the Domaine Carneros website for $49, and if you cannot locate the 2016 at your favorite merchant, you won’t go wrong with the ’17.

Your Holiday White

For a white wine, I’m going with riesling. We venture to New York for this bottle, to Hillick & Hobbs, an estate on Seneca Lake. (Yes, that Hobbs. Paul Hobbs, he of winemaking excellence.) The 2020 Estate Dry Riesling ($35) is a great domestic expression of this grape, and you can be assured your guests will enjoy drinking this with a smoked fish dip.

Paul Hobbs named this winery, which was founded in 2013, after his mother and father — Joan Hillick and Edward Hobbs — and if you are unfamiliar with the Seneca Lake AVA, you owe it to yourself to get a few bottles of this riesling. The fruit for this wine was picked  and sorted by hand. It’s stainless steel (100 percent) fermenting and aging, and 13 percent alcohol.

A Perfect Holiday Red

And to my red selection we go. I like to make a rack of lamb during the holidays, and if you are hosting dinner I recommend adding this dish to your menu. Jonata Fenix is what I’ll serve with this course — yes, I am making a rack of lamb this year, and here’s the recipe I’ll adapt and use, if you want to do the same.

Matt Dees is the winemaker at Jonata (click here to read a PaperCity story about Dees), and he’s been evolving his craft in an impressive manner (get some of his Hilt chardonnay and let me know how much you love it). The 2018 vintage of Fenix (66 percent merlot, 23 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent petit verdot and 5 percent cabernet franc) is beautiful now (the 2019 is also available). Since this is one of my 2002 holiday selections, that’s a good thing.

However, this wine will age well, and I urge you to buy an extra bottle or two and put them away for five years or so. I’ve seen the 2018 for sale at various locations for anywhere between $87 and $99, and Houston Wine Merchant is offering a 2015 Fenix for $109.00.

That’s it, three wines that will appeal to your guests, pair well with your menus and courses, and give your holiday gatherings some extra deliciousness. Serve the Domaine Carneros first, of course, and if you opt for oysters, go for a classic mignonette.

When the cork pops the party begins, and I wish you and yours bright days, warm nights, and a peace of mind and soul that brings comfort throughout 2023.

Coming soon, my year-end roster of commendable wines I sampled in 2002, a diverse and large lineup from around the world that encompasses a multitude of winemaking approaches and styles. I tasted hundreds upon hundreds of wines this year, and many of them made me quite happy, so look for my 2002 compendium in The Pour.

For more wine, travel and other stories from James Brock, check out his Mise en Place.

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