With Thanksgiving long gone, save for the poundage left behind, it’s time to begin planning for rib roast, lamb loin, pork shoulder braises and bone-in steaks – now there’s some real holiday food.
The December celebrations provide great opportunities to open those special wine bottles you’ve been saving, whether it’s the big red you picked up on your last trip to Napa or that wine in your cabinet that just seems too massive for everyday fare. Now is the time to give those bottles a pop.
Rich, wintry dishes can stand up to the weight of bigger whites and reds, and vice versa. For whites, look to a Chardonnay that’s seen some oak or has undergone malolactic fermentation. With any luck, the bottle notes will give you a clue to both. If there’s no mention of barrel aging or what’s known as “malo” for short, the watch words in reviews and back labels include buttery, vanilla, toasty, rich and mouth-filling.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a leaner style of Chardonnay with your holiday meal. Unoaked or crisper styles are usually more food friendly, and might pair better with the lighter dishes on your table than a burly Chardonnay.
Other whites you might consider include Roussanne (Andrew Rich makes a great one, as do many of the Central Coast’s Rhone Rangers) and the more floral Viognier. Some vintners allow some oak with Viognier, which can add to the headiness of these wines. With its floral and apricot notes, Viognier brings its own more festivity to your holiday celebration, as will a sparkling wine. If you prefer a still wine to wow your revelers, open a Viognier and listen for the silence of satisfaction.
Red wine choices for your holiday feast cover a lot of ground. Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural choice, and aged versions with softer tannins will make great pairings for braised or slow-cooked and roasted meats. Serve a younger, tannic or fruitier (yes, Napa, we’re looking at you) with that bone-in steak or filet.
If your holiday meal includes lamb, make your red a Syrah. Not only is Syrah gorgeous with its exciting, deep color, a captivating, berry-rich nose and both finesse and weight on the palate, there are also many styles to choose from. You can go huge with Châteauneuf-du-Pape or go huge at a gentler price by choosing a winner from Washington state (Reininger and Reynvann are two favorites) or the Central Coast (Alban, Stolpman and Tablas Creek, among many others). Don’t forget South Africa and Australia too, and remember that Syrah wines from these countries are usually labeled as Shiraz.
Big-fruited Malbec from Argentina delivers a lot of value no matter what your price range. While some can be colossal, Malbec is easier to pair with food than other big reds because they’re lighter in tannins and thus, won’t put up a fight with many dishes.
Other big reds to consider include Grenache, Rhône blends, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Italian reds, which some wine lovers equate with medium-body or a Chianti style, can also be immense. These bigs make great wine partners for holiday meats and heavier pasta dishes such as lasagna. The choices are immense too, from Barolo and Barbaresco in the north to the super-Tuscans and southward for the inky Aglianico and Montepulciano of Campania and Abruzzo. Italian Primitivo tends not to be as big as American Zinfandel, so if you enjoy Zin’s flavor profile but just wish it weren’t so aggressive, try a Primitivo for a change. Tannins can be an issue with some Italian wines, with Barolo being famously tight after aging a decade or more, so opt for older vintages.
Spain is better known for its medium-bodied Tempranillo than for its bruiser reds. While Tempranillo will work beautifully with your December feasts, find complex, elegant versions from Ribera del Duero or wines made from Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Garnacha too. You won’t go wrong with dark and luscious Clio, a Monastrell-based blend. Check the back label for Spanish imports from Jorge Ordoñez. While he’s now also partnering with others in winemaking, Ordoñez imports a variety of modern-styled head-bangers from all over Spain.