Take Five: Sommeliers Share Their Holiday Wine Picks

Food & Drink

This month, the wine pros weigh in on best sips for the holidays

Unlike Thanksgiving with its more predictable menu, December holidays—Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Festivus (!) present myriad menus, and wine selections (except Festivus, the Seinfeld-created holiday at which George Costanza’s mother served meatloaf on a bed of lettuce).

All kidding aside, ‘tis the season for feasting, and along with that comes all kinds of flavors, textures and layers that variously interplay with wine. And for this, holiday, one size does not fit all.

“It’s like the sommelier dilemma when you get to the table and someone is having beef and another is having chicken,” says Jeff Harding, wine director at Manhattan’s Waverly Inn. He says Burgundy is the easiest pick but he also recommends other light, bright reds.

“I think a lot of people could enjoy a Cabernet Franc from Saumur (Loire Valley). It’s on the lighter side of reds, as is cru Beaujolais, which is very well-priced, has a tannic structure, but a bright red-fruit freshness that will be a counterplay to heavy dishes,” he says.

Kristie Petrullo Campbell of Petrullo Wine Co., and managing director at Blacksmith Wines, a fine-wine retailer in the Hudson Valley, says working in the high-end sector of the wine business often comes with lofty expectations.

“During the holidays, especially at my house, people expect these mind-blowing wines to be served, but not everyone has a palate for aged wine like me,” she says. “I’m constantly thinking of various palates, both developed and developing, and I try to find something I like that will work for everyone.”

Campbell says turns to Chateauneuf du Pape as a crowd pleaser.

“It has enough earth character in it for me and the fruit character for someone who wants something bigger and riper,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds and that’s the best thing to do for a gathering of multiple-level palates.”

Here are what other pros recommend for your holiday dining. (For Festivus, you’re on your own).

Nick Dadonna, wine director at the French-focused Deuxave in Boston, anticipates holding a smaller holiday gathering that will allow him to “stretch [his] culinary muscles at the table.” For him, that will be Julia Child’s French onion soup—“something I have been meaning make for years”—paired with a white Rhône blend.

“These wines are fantastic for pairings that focus on texture. Think of the full weight of the soup, a big culinary hug!” he says, noting that a Grenache Blanc-based Rhône will “stand up to the soup, without the oaky notes typical in full-bodied whites. It is a great re-set for your palate as you sip from soup to wine.” His choice: Gassier Costières de Nîmes Blanc “Lou Coucardié” 2016, a Grenache Blanc and Roussanne blend that doesn’t break the bank. 

His scaled-down version of the typical feast of the seven fishes involves a simple whole salmon filet as the centerpiece with just a bit of lemon standing in for sauce. For wine, Dadonna encourages people to think outside the box.

“Do not be afraid to pair red with fish! I think about the most important part of the dish to pair, and if it is a full-bodied sauce or fish, medium-bodied reds can pair beautifully.” For his simple salmon, Dadonna is turning to Piedmont for a Langhe Rosso by G.D. Vajra, a blend of Nebbiolo and other local varieties. “It is a lovely mid-weight wine with an aromatic edge that pair well with the texture and slight fattiness in the fish.” 

Gabriela Davogustto, wine director at Clay in Harlem, turns to Valdeorras in northwest Spain to change things up. “I would say that reds from Galicia, where the production of white wine is dominant, are always exciting,” she says. “It means that those vines were kept instead of pulled to replant with the more popular Albariño, and often means that they are planted in impossible places, in vineyards as steep as those in the Mosel.” 

Her pick: Casas de Enriba from Daterra Viticultores, a blend of 80% Mencia and 20% Godello. “The wine is floral and mineral, with fine tannins and vibrant acidity that would pair fabulously with one of my favorite dishes for the holidays, roasted rack of lamb.”

Waverly Inn’s Harding likes to showcase sweet wines and the various styles of wines from southern France. He recommends wines “with a little skin contact or some age on them.”

“For holidays I always tell people to bring Sauternes. You’ll always be the only one to bring it … it goes with festive meals like ham and all the sides,” he says. For whites, Harding says look for full-bodied whites from Gascony, Roussillon or other under the radar regions in Southwest France that over deliver in quality, given their approachable price points. “You could also go with a bigger white like a white Chateauneuf du Pape, or other white Rhone, or a Viura from Rioja—something that won’t get lost with a big roast but will work with lighter dishes, too.

Claire Paparazzo, founder of “Wine If You Want To” and the incoming wine director for Manhattan’s newly refurbished Hotel Chelsea, turns to her Italian lineage for inspiration.

“My holiday wine will be a bottle I first tasted over the summer and have not been able to get it out of my head ever since, 2018 Vigneti Tardis,“Martedi” Aglicanicone,” she said. Hailing from Campania this Paestum Rosso IGT, is made from Aglianicone grapes, the forefather to Aglianico with larger berries and a thinner skin.

“I think the striking character of this wine is the balance of fruit and acidity. I am not talking about over-extracted fruit but an alluring mix of flavors that all brought me to a happy place—bruised cherry fruit, black Nicoise olives, cola, sage and wet leaves,” she said. “It has a certain energy I connect with. I dare say the best bottle of wine I tasted this year.”

Paparazzo says the wine offered diverse pairing opportunities: with meat and cheese antipasto, her dad’s “famous” lasagna and roasted meat whether prime rib or fresh ham.

“This wine will be a bright spot with all the riches at the table. For me, it is a mix of nostalgia and comfort and that is just what a special holiday wine pick should be.”

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