Hosting Christmas can be a challenge—not only do you need to make sure there’s enough wine to go around, but you also have to choose those wines carefully so that they appeal to everyone. As a wine enthusiast, you might have a tradition of drinking aged Bordeaux on Christmas Eve, while your uncle prefers California Chardonnay. Even if you’re invited as a guest to Christmas, it’s customary in some families to bring along a bottle or two of wine to share.
There’s a way to make everyone in the family happy this holiday season. With a thoughtful Christmas wine list in hand, you’ll know exactly which bottle goes best with the Christmas turkey and which wines will impress your guests as everyone cozies up by the fireplace.
What makes a great Christmas wine has less to do with any specific variety and more to do with the quality and rarity of the wine. Picking wines that are in some way remarkable—whether that’s due to the way they’re made, the terroir in which they were grown, or their scarcity—is the best way to celebrate this season.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to pick out the best wines for your own Christmas celebration and you’ll receive several recommendations on top-tier bottles you can order now.
What Makes a Great Christmas Wine?
When most people think of Christmas wine, they picture flutes of Champagne and perhaps a little glass of port. While these are excellent choices for Christmas celebrations, they’re not the only options. A great selection of Christmas wine can be anything from Chablis to Brunello di Montalcino. Serving a range of different wine varieties and styles is a great way to cater to everyone’s tastes and keep the holiday interesting. What good Christmas wines all have in common is that they either pair well with traditional holiday dishes or they feel particularly celebratory. For example, a fine wine like 1982 Château Latour is so spectacular on its own that it deserves to be savored with little, or any, food. While this wine is a little too special to serve over Christmas stew, it could still be a perfect holiday wine in the right circumstances because it gives you and your guests an unforgettable tasting experience. The holidays are a perfect occasion to open some of your best bottles and share the experience with the people you love most.
Whether you plan on serving a high-quality wine with dinner or are looking for a showstopper bottle to enjoy on its own, here’s how to decide which wines to serve at an upcoming Christmas celebration:
- If you’re serving the wine with food, pay attention to how heavy or light your Christmas dinner is. For instance, the best wine pairing for ham is a full-bodied, fruit-forward red wine. If you’re serving turkey, opt for a lighter-bodied white wine, Pinot Noir, or rosé.
- Choose wines from top regions and terroirs. The holidays are a time to splurge on the best-quality wines. For example, if you know your Christmas dinner will pair well with red Bordeaux, shop for wines from first-growth producers and top-quality appellations such as Château Margaux or Château Lafite-Rothschild.
- To serve wine with dessert, find wines that have flavors of baking spices and dark berries. Look for tasting notes like plum, spice bread, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, licorice, toffee, and anise, as these are flavors used in many Christmas dishes. A wide range of wines can have these flavors, but some of the most common ones are Gewürztraminer, Meursault, Rioja, New-World Pinot Noir, Sauternes, and Australian Shiraz.
- Buy several varieties or styles of wine. Palate fatigue is a very real problem during the holidays; too much Champagne, port, or Shiraz can feel heavy or dull after a full day of celebrating. Offer two or three very different wine options during each part of the celebration, from appetizers to dinner to dessert. It’s often best to have one still white wine, one red wine, and one Christmas Champagne, as a solid baseline.
- Buy magnums whenever possible. It’s difficult to share just one standard-size bottle of wine, especially if you have a large family. Shop for the largest format bottle that you can find so everyone can have a glass. You can also buy multiple bottles of the same wine if you can’t locate any magnums.
- Research the best vintage for that particular variety, style, or region. Once you have a producer, terroir, or variety in mind, look up the top-rated vintages that are drinking well right now. This could either be a wine that has already aged in a cellar for decades, or a recent vintage that’s meant to be drunk young.
Ultimately, Christmas wine is anything you want it to be; the bottles you choose depend entirely on your preferences and those of your family. But whether you pick out traditional wines like Champagne, port, Madeira, and Sauternes or more unusual styles like Rioja, think carefully about the wine’s flavor profile and quality to find the best holiday wines for your celebration.
The Best Red Christmas Wines
Champagne often gets the most attention at Christmas, but red varieties should be a staple at every dinner table over the holidays. That’s because red wines are great at standing up to dense, rich holiday flavors. Moreover, some of your guests might enjoy red wine more than Champagne, and you’ll have to cater to their preferences, too.
Which red wines should your family imbibe this December? Here are a few great options, based on the type of wine you want to serve with your appetizers or main course:
|Earthy, Savory Reds|
When it comes to choosing the perfect red wine for a Christmas dinner, the flavor profile is the most important factor. For instance, a wine that tastes strongly of Brettanomyces (a yeasty, “barnyard” flavor) won’t pair as well with holiday foods as a wine that tastes like baking spices or tart red fruit.
One effective way to select a red wine for Christmas is to make a list of the spices or flavors you’re using in the main course and shop for wines that have at least one or two of those flavors. However, if you’re not planning on serving the wine with food, the most important factor is how storied the wine is. Choose wines that come from fascinating terroirs, such as the Pauillac subregion of Bordeaux. Since you don’t have to worry about how well it pairs with the food, you’re free to seek out the rare or aged bottles that make wine enthusiasts swoon.
The Best Still White Christmas Wines
White wines are a great choice for Christmas celebrations because they typically don’t overpower most foods. Fine Chablis pairs just as well with creamy cheese platters as it does with Christmas turkey. Bright, acidic white wines are an especially good choice for the holidays because they lift traditionally heavy winter foods. Beyond taste alone, many white wines are rare and collectible, such as fine Sauternes and Chardonnay made by cult California estates. If you want to impress your Christmas guests, you can’t do much better than a rare bottle of still white wine, especially if your guests are used to being served reds or Champagne over the holidays. It’s a way to make sure the wine you pick is memorable.
Here are a few excellent still white wines to serve this holiday season:
When you serve white wine at Christmas, select wines with a range of flavor profiles so that every guest at your table will find a wine that they enjoy and ensure their palates won’t get tired as the night wears on.
The Best Champagne to Serve at Christmas
No Christmas celebration is complete without a fine bottle of Champagne. This wine is a holiday classic for many reasons: it’s festive and fun to drink, often very high in quality (even non-vintage labels), and pairs well with nearly every dish. The top-rated Champagne vintages from renowned houses are also quite rare, which makes for a special occasion when you open them at Christmas or give them to a loved one.
However, there are many different bottles of Champagne to choose from. To find the best Christmas wine, consider whether you want vintage or non-vintage labels. The benefit of a vintage wine is that it’s especially rare and typically higher quality than a non-vintage wine. This is likely the best choice if you want to impress wine enthusiast guests or you simply want to splurge on the highest quality wine possible. If you’re planning on serving many bottles of wine with appetizers and dinner, non-vintage wines are a better option. You can still find quality bottles, but at a lower price point and in greater quantities.
Here are just a few top-tier vintage Champagnes you should add to your Christmas shopping list this year:
|Vintage Blanc de Blancs and Other Vintage Chardonnay-Based Champagne Blends|
|Vintage Rosé Champagne|
As with your still white wine selections, pick a variety of different Champagne styles to avoid palate fatigue and to complement the food. Serve light, crisp wines early in the night with a cheese platter or appetizers. Later, over dinner, bring out richer and bolder wines, such as rosé Champagne. And finally, as a nightcap, serve aged bottles, as these often have delicate flavors that can only be fully appreciated on their own.
The Best Sweet and Fortified Christmas Wines
Champagne generally pairs well with dessert; however, if you want a bolder wine to serve with your Christmas pudding or decadent chocolate truffles, then sweet whites and fortified reds are a great option. The best Christmas wines in this category have layers of flavor; they’re more than just sweet and high in alcohol. Port and other sweet fortified wines are a great match for Christmas, but only if they have the complexity to keep your attention. This is why you should choose wines made by top-rated producers, preferably wines that have already aged for a decade or more.
Here are a few sweet and fortified wines that will amaze your guests and end your Christmas celebration on a high note:
The key to putting together a great Christmas dessert wine pairing is to find a wine that is as sweet or sweeter than the dessert you’re serving it with. A semi-sweet wine often works best when served alone as a digestif after dinner, so you may wish to revisit some of the sweeter still wines or Champagne that you served earlier in the night after everyone has cleared their plates.
How to Buy the Best Christmas Wine for Your Celebration
Choosing at least one wine from each of the categories above is a great way to create a versatile Christmas wine list that appeals to a broad range of palates. You should never rely too heavily on one particular style, region, producer, or vintage. The best way to find wines that will appeal to your own family and friends is to look up detailed tasting notes on each wine.
This can be a challenge if you’re shopping for wine in a brick-and-mortar shop. Most shops simply list the wine’s average score or feature a short snippet of a review from just one critic. Moreover, it’s difficult to confirm that the wine is drinking well right now. If you’re splurging on age-worthy wine this holiday season, you’ll want to make sure that it isn’t too closed-off or past its peak. Some wine shop staff are very knowledgeable about which wines are currently drinking well, but it’s difficult for any one staff member to know the ideal drinking window for every bottle in the store. To get a fuller picture of the quality and taste of a wine, you often have to look it up on your phone while standing in the aisle or know exactly which wines you’re looking for before you set foot in the shop.
Shopping for wine online makes all of this information easily available to you. Not only can you see the latest tasting notes from critics and casual drinkers, but you can also search for other wines with similar scores or from the same region within seconds. Online retailers also often have rare bottles in stock that brick-and-mortar shops don’t, so you have a much broader choice of wines. By taking the stress out of the shopping process, an online retailer lets you spend less time looking for the perfect Christmas wine and more time enjoying your wine with loved ones.
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