First, let’s look at your menu. If it’s a buffet-style meal or a table like Thanksgiving, where dishes come in all varieties of savory and sweet with complex herbs and spices, you’ll want to serve lighter-bodied reds and fuller-bodied whites.
The reds should be easy on the tannins and very fruit-forward: think Beaujolais Villages, made from Gamay; an Oregon Pinot Noir or a Burgundy from France; Merlot from Washington state; Nebbiolo from Italy’s Piedmont region; a Bonarda from Argentina; a Dornfelder from Germany.
For whites, a Kabinett Riesling (or an off-dry style). Riesling is perhaps the most versatile varietal wine out there; it has the weight and complexity to carry any meat-based or highly-flavored main dish, with the acidity to lift dishes heavy in fat, or laden with creamy, cheesy sauces. It plays beautifully with spicy dished, sweet desserts and salty snacks. A dry Gewürztraminer fits the bill beautifully, as well. I would also reach for Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, a lilting, fresh Grüner Veltliner , and anything with bubbles, such as an elegant Lambrusco Grasparossa or a Cava from Spain, both inexpensive ways to add some “WOW” to your holiday table.
But if the meal calls for a richer, heavier wine- say a beef or lamb roast-seek out a Bordeaux or Côtes du Rhône or a Northwest blend inspired by these French classics. Bordeaux blends feature Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and sometimes Petit Verdot; Côtes du Rhône-styles are often labeled as GSM: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. You cannot go wrong with a Washington state Syrah, a Barolo from Piedmont, Italy, or one of my favorite powerhouses: a Priorat from Spain’s Catalonia region, made from Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan) grape varieties.
And for dessert, you might want to have some Tawny Port or Pedro Ximénez (PX) Sherry on hand. These are desserts in a bottle in and of themselves (and outrageous with blue cheeses and salty nuts), but also pair gorgeously with holiday treats.
Written by: Julie Johnson