Festive Wine Pairings

Follow this expert advice to select the red wines you serve at your Christmas or Hanukkah dinner parties, and to find the best sparkling wines to ring in the New Year.

Written by Barbara Ensrud

Barbara Ensrud is an author and journalist living in Durham, North Carolina. Her wine articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Garden and Gun, GQ, Vogue, Decanter and Parade. She lived in Mississippi during the 1990s and taught wine classes. The most delightful way to learn about wine, she says, is to taste it, and comparing different wines of the same type is even better. See her wine blog at bewinewise.com.

Holiday Reds

Holiday dinners featuring meats like brisket and prime rib — including the one featured in our December holiday magazine — are particularly rich and flavorful, so they call for richly flavorful reds to complement them. While a mature Cabernet Sauvignon (10 years or older) could be ideal, currently available Cabernets are younger and likely quite tannic. Instead, try blended reds, such as Meritage or Bordeaux blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec), Rhone blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre), well-structured Merlot or Cabernet Franc.

Barbara recommends:

Joseph Phelps Insignia

Beaulieu Vineyards Tapestry

Rodney Strong Symmetry

Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Pahlmeyer Red (Merlot blend)

Emmolo Merlot

J. Monmousseau Chinon (Cabernet Franc)

Bring out the Bubbly

I love sparkling wines and choose them depending upon the event and the number of people involved. For smaller dinners with a few friends (six to eight or ten) I want the best I can afford: French Champagne, Cremant d'Alsace or premium California bubbly such as Schramsberg or Roederer Estate. For larger gatherings, the best values are Cavas from Spain, Prosecco from Italy or such California sparklers as Domaine Chandon, Gloria Ferrer or Domaine Mumm.

Barbara recommends:

$30 and up

  • Veuve Clicquot non-vintage Brut

  • Champagne Gautron-Godet Brut

  • Stephane Coquillette Brut Champagne

  • Schramsberg Brut Rose

  • Cremant d'Alsace Brut


  • Cremant de la Loire La Bergerie Brut

  • Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir

  • Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noir

  • Avinyo Cava Brut Reserva

  • Prosecco Bellissima Brut

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