What do people usually drink for the holidays? Check out the most traditional and classic holiday wines for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s. By learning the classics you can either adopt them or pave your own holiday wine drinking tradition. We also included several value-priced alternatives
Not everyone eats turkey on Thanksgiving or roast beef on Christmas, but the theme of winter seasonal vegetables and roasted foods are common. So what are the best wines for the holidays? Instead of listing brands, this article focuses on the food pairing methodology that leads to the best pairings. You’ll be able to choose your holiday wine like a pro!
Holiday Wine Guide
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Thanksgiving Wine (or Friendsgiving)
There are basically 4 fundamental components that go into a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
- Protein usually Turkey
- Dry spices including cinnamon and clove
- Roasted dishes anything that’s prepared in the oven
- Winter Fruits & Vegetables including potato, onion, cranberry, squash and brussel sprouts
When you add all four elements together, you start to realize each food eliminates several wines. For instance, a white wine won’t pair with roasted foods as well as say, a Rosé wine or a Red wine. Additionally, turkey pretty much eliminates a full-bodied red wine because of its more subtle flavor. If you want a wine that pairs well with exotic spices or baking spices, it’s great to seek out wines with similar tasting nuances. For example, many Barbera wines have nuances of nutmeg, vanilla and anise.
Selected Thanksgiving Wines
Keep your eyes peeled for the following wines, perfect with a classic Thanksgiving dinner.
- $ Barbera Will do very well with meals that include meats other than turkey such as roast beef, venison and roasted pork. Learn about Barbera wine
- $ Gamay Will pair perfectly with turkey, chicken or other lighter proteins. An ideal wine with cream and cheese-based dishes. Look for Cru Beaujolais
- $ Zinfandel or Primitivo Will pair perfectly with turkey and spiced cranberry sauce or other dishes with dry spices. Find out what regions make the best Zinfandel
- $ Lambrusco Will pair awesome with turkey. Slightly sweet Lambrusco will hold up to sweet side dishes such as yams or the saccharine American classic: sweet potato marshmallow casserole
- $$ Pinot Noir Will pair perfectly with turkey, chicken or other lighter proteins. An ideal wine with cream and cheese-based dishes. Read up on Pinot Noir
- $$S Châteauneuf du Pape Will pair nicely with turkey and ham. Will work wonderfully with roasted root vegetables. Learn about wines from Côtes du Rhône
- $$$S Amarone Will pair nicely with turkey and ham. Amarone works great with dry spices like cinnamon and clove and dishes with inherent sweetness. Learn more about Amarone wines
Today, Thanksgiving is the 2nd most popular holiday behind Christmas. Over 50 million turkeys will be for sale around the US and nearly a half million vegetarian ‘tofurkeys’.
There are several classic dishes served at Christmas including:
- Roast Beef
- Winter Vegetables and roasted sides including gratin and casserole
- $ Carmenere A medium-bodied Chilean wine with herbaceous qualities similar in style to Cabernet Franc
- $ Nero d’Avola A full-bodied Sicilian wine that is often compared to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
- $ Cabernet Franc An herbaceous medium-bodied red wine probably more famous for the regions that produce it such as Chinon in Loire Valley, France.
- $$ Aglianico A high tannin bold red wine from Southern Italy that’s very savory and herbaceous.
- $$ Tempranillo Look for ‘Reserva’ Tempranillo from Rioja or check out the awesome Spanish wine value region called Ribera del Duero
- $$S Sangiovese Sangiovese is known by many regional names, keep your eyes peeled for Montalcino Rosso, Vino Nobile de Montepuliciano and, of course, the opulent and tannic Brunello di Montalcino. Learn to read an Italian wine list/label
- $$S Merlot Blends An outstanding alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon (and usually quite a few bucks cheaper) is Merlot. This a great opportunity to seek out a 7+ year old Bordeaux Superieur
- $$S Cabernet Sauvignon Blends For value, look into the 2010 vintage in Argentina and Chile for some excellent Cabernet-based blends with either Carmenere (in Chile) or Malbec (in Argentina)
- $ Rosé Wine The classic region for great dry rosé is Provence. Learn more about Provence wines (including the famed Bandol).
- $$ Grenache or Garnacha Grenache has the fruitiness to stand up to inherently sweet ham. Many American producers are making outstanding Grenache in Paso Robles
- $$ Côtes du Rhône Blends This wine is actually a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Seek out the 2010 vintage.
- Red Wine (dark red)
- White Wine (golden)
- Rosé Wine (hot pink)
- Sparkling Wine (titanium)
- Fortified Wine (purple)
- $ Cava Most Cava are dry and fruity. You won’t find a lot of brioche or butter in these wines, but you will find them to be refreshingly cheerful. Check out several great brands of Cava.
- $ Crémant Crémant is the name for sparkling wine from all the other French wine regions (excluding Champagne). Crémant de Limoux in the Languedoc-Roussillon offers several zesty 100% Chardonnay (aka ‘Blanc des Blancs’) and the Alsace region makes a crémant rosé that, by law, must be 100% Pinot Noir. These two wines offer incredible alternatives to Champagne.
- $$ Metodo Classico If you need a little buttery, nutty brioche in your Champagne flute, check out Italian bubbles (and I’m not talking about Prosecco). ‘Metodo Classico’ are made in the same way as Champagne and can be found predominantly in Northern Italy. Need a couple of examples? Look for Franciacorta DOC and Trento DOC. Find out more about Italian sparkling wine options.
- $$$S Champagne If you’re ready to commit to Champagne and want that yeasty, bready style, you need to acknowledge that the ‘breadiness’ of Champagne comes from extended aging. Look for reserve level Champagne and/or the 2002 or 2005 vintages. If you’re afraid of messing up your purchase, be sure to tell your wine seller what style of Champagne you’re looking for (elegant vs. opulent). Find out more about getting what you want with wine descriptions
Since Christmas has several traditional variations, make your wine match the main protein dish.
Selected Christmas Wines
Wine with Roast Beef
Wine with Ham
Looking to explore different types of wine?
Use this chart to explore over 200 types of wine by style. Find new favorites by flavor profile and style.
Champagne for New Years
Well, if you haven’t already blown your entire month’s salary on Thanksgiving and Christmas, then there’s one more holiday beckoning. Ack! The Champagne region has been marketing its wines as a celebratory beverage since the 1890’s. The entry price of Champagne is closer to $40 (for bottom rung bottle bubbly). Expect to spend closer to $60 for good Champagne.
Let’s take a look at several types of bubbly, all made in the classic style: