My idea of the perfect Valentine’s Day wine is generally either vintage Champagne or aged red Burgundy. However, last year, we decided to try something a little different. We chose a bottle of 1961 Château Prieuré du Monastir Del Camp Rivesaltes–a truly special wine that had fascinating flavors of fresh citrus and dried fruit. Serving decades-old Grenache was an unexpectedly great Valentine’s Day wine idea because it made the evening much more memorable. My spouse and I have shared dozens of bottles of Champagne together, but we’ve only had one bottle of 1961 Grenache from the Languedoc.
For Christmas one year, my mom invited her childhood friend to stay over for a few days. As a gesture of gratitude, my mom’s friend brought her the most thoughtful gift: a beautiful wine basket filled with my mom’s favorite Champagnes, including bottles of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame and Perrier-Jouët. Not only was the gift attractively packaged in a beautiful wicker basket, but the wine itself was of spectacular quality. Although my mom appreciates fine wine, she rarely buys it for herself, so the gift allowed her to enjoy the bottles she loves for the first time in years.
Whenever I see a magnum from one of my favorite producers, I almost always buy it without a second thought. That’s because I host a Christmas dinner party with my extended family every year, and we go through around a dozen standard-size bottles over the course of the night. Hosting a party like this is a serious 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’s diverse tastes. It took my family and me a number of years to refine our Christmas wine list, but we have finally come up with the perfect combination of wines that make everyone in the family happy.
For much of my life, New Year’s Eve celebrations revolved around dancing, fireworks, and flutes of Champagne. However, in the past few years, I’ve made wine a much bigger part of my holiday celebrations. It all started when I was invited to a friend’s house for a formal New Year’s Eve dinner party. I brought along a magnum of 2001 Ridge Monte Bello to share with everyone. As the night wore on, I noticed that several of the guests had pulled their chairs over to my side of the table hoping for a refill. They’d never had Ridge wine before and wanted to learn more about the producer. This gave me an idea: what if I hosted a New Year’s Eve wine tasting party?
A wine collector I know buys dozens of bottles online around the holiday season, and over the years, he’s become acquaintances with the UPS driver who drops off the packages. They often have conversations about their favorite bottles of wine while he signs for the deliveries. One year, my friend decided to get the UPS driver a Christmas wine basket to show his appreciation for handling the deliveries with such care. He chose three bottles of wine that he thought the driver would enjoy and gave the basket to him during one of his usual deliveries. The driver was thrilled with the unexpected gift and the thought that went into it.
About ten years ago, one of my colleagues was looking for the perfect Champagne gift basket to give to his brother for Christmas. His brother is a huge fan of Dom Pérignon and was particularly fond of the 1998 vintage. After shopping around, my colleague heard about a gift basket at Costco that included a bottle of 1998 Dom Pérignon. By the time he got to the store, though, the baskets were sold out. Rather than buying a different pre-made basket, my colleague decided to make his own version instead. He bought a beautiful Longaberger basket and two bottles of 1998 Dom Pérignon online, then filled the basket with his brother’s favorite snacks. In the end, his brother appreciated the gift that much more, knowing that it had been made with him in mind.
My father loves to drink Pol Roger, especially as Christmas approaches. Starting in early December, he brings a bottle to just about every holiday party and dinner event on his calendar. I’ve seen him drink Pol Roger with everything from festive cheese platters to Christmas ham to gingerbread cookies. No dish is too salty, too sweet, or too hearty for his favorite bottles of Blanc de Blancs and Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
Three years ago, I was invited to a New Year’s Eve dinner party with a small group of close friends. I knew that I wanted to bring a bottle of wine, but I was having trouble deciding what type to bring. I assumed that everyone else would be bringing the usual Champagne for New Year’s Eve, so I crossed that off the shortlist. I wanted to choose a wine no one else in the group would think to bring, like New-World Pinot Noir, Riesling, or Torrontés. I eventually decided on a bottle of Rhys Pinot Noir, and it turned out to be the perfect choice for the event. The wine paired beautifully with our food and it was a nice change of pace from the sparkling wine everyone else brought.
Couples are under a lot of pressure to plan for Valentine’s Day. There’s the restaurant that has to be booked weeks in advance, the romantic gift and bouquet of flowers that have to be bought, and the perfect bottle of wine that needs to be found. What’s more, that wine not only has to taste delicious with dinner, it also needs to be special in some way. After all, if you’re dining at a James Beard Award-winning restaurant and it took you months to book a table, you need a wine that will match the caliber of the food. Whether you already have reservations at a fine restaurant, or you plan on cooking a rustic, romantic meal at home, the perfect wine for Valentine’s Day will complement your meal, making the occasion feel even more luxurious.
For Christmas one year, my aunt gift-wrapped an entire case of wine for me. At first, I was excited to receive what was clearly a case of wine, but when I finally got the wrapping paper off, my excitement turned into dismay. The wine was low-quality white Zinfandel that I knew I would never drink. Although my aunt clearly meant well, she didn’t realize that the wine she had given me wasn’t at all to my taste. Moreover, I had no place to store those 12 bottles. I politely accepted the gift, but later on, I ended up regifting a few bottles to some white Zin-loving friends and taking the rest to a massive New Year’s Eve party.
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.
From nutty, caramelized pecan pie to spiced gingerbread cookies, the holiday season is chock-full of decadent desserts. When you find the perfect dessert wine pairing for each of these classic treats, you make the experience feel even more indulgent for your guests. A honey-like German Riesling can bring out the nutmeg and cinnamon notes in a slice of pumpkin pie, while a rich ruby Pinot Noir can add a complex layer of fruitiness to a cup of chocolate mousse. Fine wine has the power to elevate even the simplest desserts, making them taste as though they were made from scratch in a French patisserie.