Beyond Champagne: The Best Red Wine for New Year’s Parties

Best Red Wine for New Year's

The best red wine for New Year’s is rare or unique–choose special styles that you rarely get a chance to taste. Photo Credit: maxpixel CC user Nikon D7000

When you think of the aftermath of a New Year’s Eve party, you probably picture dozens of empty and half-empty Champagne bottles scattered around the room. But while many people love a splash of bubbly on December 31st, not everyone wants to sip on it all night. Even though Champagne (and, increasingly, sparkling wine) has had a virtual monopoly on New Year’s for the past few decades, it’s certainly not your only option. In fact, some of the best red wine for New Year’s can be just as impressive as a vintage bottle of Krug, and may win the hearts of even the most diehard bubbly fans. Whether you want to break out of a Champagne rut or you simply want to offer your red wine-loving guests a few more choices this year, choosing a handful of high-quality, rare red wines could make your New Year’s party a raving success.

Choose Rare, Cult, or Legendary Red Wines

When choosing the best red wine for New Year’s, you only have to follow one rule: make sure the bottle is special. Since the red wine is competing with Champagne (which is both traditional and well-loved by most wine drinkers), you’ll need to take extra care that your red wine selections are as attention-grabbing as possible. Now is not the time to pull out that bottle of California Cabernet that you grabbed as an afterthought in the grocery store. Seek out rare grape varieties, cult wine producers, or legendary vintages that were especially high in quality (any vintage rated between 95 and 100 points is a safe bet).

Rare Grapes and Styles

One of the best red wines for New Year’s that I’ve ever had was a Rioja Gran Reserva. This smoky, spicy style is supremely rare; Spanish producers only make it when the quality of the grapes is especially high. Starting with only the finest grapes available, the winemakers use a delicate aging process in which the wine sits in oak barrels for two years or more and spends at least an additional three years, often longer, in the bottle before release on the mass market. In short, this is a wine that most people will only get to experience a handful of times, making it an ideal candidate for a New Year’s celebration. This is not an everyday table wine.

When buying red wine for New Year’s parties, look for qualities like unusual grape varieties, specialized winemaking techniques, and unusual flavor profiles to narrow down your choices. Ask yourself, “Is there something about this wine that stands out?” Some great red wine options include:

  • Proprietary red blends from renowned producers (especially those that are unique with every release, like Sine Qua Non).
  • Amarone from Italy (which, like Rioja Gran Reserva, is rare due to the labor-intensive winemaking methods required to produce it).
  • Any type of fortified dessert wine, especially good-quality vintage Port.

The more unique the wine, the better, since this will make the drinking experience memorable, even for wine lovers and collectors who have tried just about every style of wine imaginable.

Cult Producers

New Year’s is your chance to introduce your guests to fantastic cult wine producers or unusual second wines from well-known estates. For instance, Leflaive usually creates high-quality wines, but if you want to make the tasting experience even more memorable, you may opt for one of the producer’s more unusual vintages (like the 2016 Montrachet). If the producer is well-established, try seeking out vintages that were noteworthy for one reason or another, whether as a result of superb weather conditions or a historical change in the blend.

You may decide to move beyond well-known producers entirely for your New Year’s party. For instance, Napa Valley’s Spadarotto makes small-batch Cabernet Sauvignon that many of your guests have likely never tried before. So, rather than serving a bottle of Opus One, which many wine enthusiasts have sampled, you may opt for one of these small-scale, lesser-known wineries instead.

Legendary Vintages

The best reds for your New Year’s party will be high-quality vintages that are ready to drink right now. To determine whether the wine is high in quality, analyze a few published tasting notes from critics and peers, then see if you can find an average score between them. Wines that fall between 95 and 100 points will likely be ideal candidates for your New Year’s Eve table. Beyond looking at the average score for the wine, you should also consider whether it’s mature enough to drink. Unlike Champagne, which often is ready to drink relatively early (unless you get a vintage that’s designed for long-term aging), red wine tends to require more time in a cellar to mature. A high-quality Bordeaux blend, for example, may not be close to maturity until 20 or 25 years old, at minimum, although many will be enjoyable within 10 years or so. Take a look at our guide for storing red wine to determine whether your New Year’s pick is ready to drink.

The Best Red Wine for New Year’s Food

The flavor profile of the red wines you choose will vary depending on what, if any, food you plan to serve with it. Like New Year’s Champagne, serve your lighter red wines with appetizers and first courses and save your bolder styles for heavier main dishes and midnight toasts. Here are a few wine picks for each moment of your New Year’s party:

When guests first arrive: Serve a light, acidic red like 2000 Leroy, or a fizzy Lambrusco.

During appetizers: Serve a spicy, complex red like 1976 Lopez de Heredia or 2009 Dal Forno.

During dinner or the midnight toast: Serve something bold and memorable, like 2004 Duckhorn Merlot or Sine Qua Non Red Handed.

During dessert, or as a nightcap: Serve fortified wine, like 1995 Smith Woodhouse or 1989 D’Oliveiras.

The most important thing to remember when picking out the best red wine for New Year’s is to make sure that your guests have the best tasting experience possible. It doesn’t matter whether you serve a simple French Merlot or an obscure Xinomavro from Greece; as long as there’s something about the wine that makes it stand out from the crowd, your guests will find the experience just as memorable and festive as sipping bubbly all night.

At Vinfolio, we help our clients buy, sell, store, and manage their most treasured bottles of wine. But in our spare time, we’re just a group of passionate and slightly obsessed oenophiles--we love sharing a great glass of vintage Champagne, followed by a Burgundy, and then a Bordeaux, to get things started. We’re always obsessing over the latest (and oldest) vintages, and we want to share that knowledge and passion with our readers.