As they say, ‘tis the season to eat, drink, and be merry, and between all the parties, dinners, and events in the coming weeks, this phrase will pretty much be the theme of our lives until after the ball drops into the new year.
So, with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve celebrations around the corner, we know there’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing what to eat and drink during your festive gatherings. To help guide you, we’re sharing some of the best California wines to pair with all the flavors adorning your table this season.
Sparkling wine, regardless of where it’s from, remains a go-to during the holiday season. Not only is this effervescent beverage universally festive, but its bright acidity and refreshing profile offer a welcome respite from the salty, fatty fare often served during the holidays. Try a crisp, Brut style with salty popcorn, fried olives, Dungeness crab cakes, or potato latkes, which will cut through the oil and richness of the food to cleanse your palate. Or, pair a sweeter style, like a Demi-Sec or Sec, with holiday desserts, such as bread pudding and apple pie. But don’t feel limited to traditional Chardonnay- or Pinot Noir-based sparklers; something unexpected, like an earthy Sparkling Syrah, is not only a conversation starter, but a nice option for roast duck, pork belly, or even wild mushroom dishes.
Wines to Try:Iron Horse Winter’s Cuvee, Sonoma County, $72 Frank Family Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Napa Valley, $55 Municipal Winemakers 10-Year FIZZ Sparkling Shiraz, Santa Barbara County, $100
Pinot Noir is a lighter red that happens to be one of the most food-friendly wines around, as its red fruit flavors, earthy characters, low tannins, and noticeable acidity make it a great match for all sorts of fare. Plus, it tends to have lower levels of alcohol than some other reds, so it won’t overpower your meal (or weigh you down while you eat it). Try pairing Pinot Noir with soft cheeses, chicken, turkey, duck, pork, salmon, lamb shanks, or mushrooms this holiday season.
Wines to Try:Landmark Hop Kiln Estate Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, $85 Patz & Hall Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, $70 Lumen Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, $62
Chardonnay is one of the more versatile white wines for pairing with food–holiday favorites included. Unoaked or lightly oaked versions are natural choices for lighter meats, such as roasted turkey and chicken, as well as pasta in a light butter sauce. On the other hand, fuller bodied, oaked Chardonnays offer more richness than their unoaked counterparts, which make them prime candidates for creamy and/or rich dishes like mac n’ cheese, ham, butternut squash soup, and pumpkin lasagna.
Wines to Try:FEL Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $52 Morgan Winery Double L Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, $46 Bien Nacido Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, $50
California Cabernets tend to have concentrated black fruit flavors, lush tannins, powerful structure, and earthy, sometimes dusty qualities, with a noticeable amount of oak influence. Ideal for winter sipping, this robust, full-bodied varietal is a perfect partner for rich, flavorful foods that match the weight and intensity of the wine, from braised beef short ribs to roasted rack of lamb. No need to feel limited to red meat, however, as Cabernet Sauvignon also plays nicely with aged cheeses, including Blue cheese and cheddar.
Wines to Try:Fantesca Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $250 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, $95 The Setting Wines Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, $95
Zinfandel is a medium- to full-bodied red wine noted for its ripe fruit flavors (often described as jammy), black pepper and exotic spice notes, and high alcohol content. Simply put: Zinfandel is no shrinking violet, so you’ll want to serve it with fare that packs just as big of a flavor punch. Beef roasts, bacon-wrapped anything, rack of lamb, duck, sausages, and roasted veggies are all great options, but Zinfandel is also well-suited for spice-forward cuisines, like Moroccan and Indian, which will bring out the wine’s inherent spice notes.
Wines to Try:BACA Somersault Zinfandel, Mendocino, $40 Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma County, $40 Williams-Selyem Bacigalupi Zinfandel, Sonoma County, $65
‘Tis the season for hearty casseroles and prime rib, but when you’re craving something on the lighter side, you’ll need a wine suitable to drink with it. Sauvignon Blanc is a light, high acid white wine known for its clean, refreshing flavors of citrus and tropical fruit, along with green herbal notes and saline-like minerality. This popular wine is a lovely match for goat cheese, salads, white meats, herb-driven dishes, crab and other seafood, as well as a variety of vegetables.
Wines to Try:Dragonette Grimm’s Bluff Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, $55 Aperture Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, $45 Storm Wines Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, $28
Grenache from California can vary in flavor profile, from savory and herbal to more bright red fruit dominant, but it differentiates itself from other medium-bodied reds by its spice character–think black pepper, anise, and clove. A natural pairing for lamb and sausage, whether braised, smoked, or roasted, Grenache is also a great choice for meats and veggies featuring exotic spices.
Wines to Try:Kunin Alisos Vineyard Grenache, Santa Barbara County, $38 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas, Paso Robles, $40 Kimsey Grenache, Santa Barbara County, $72
Syrah is a rich and powerful red known for its expressive notes of black fruit, tobacco, black olive, and black pepper, with cured and smoked meat nuances. Though it can be big and inky, other times it can showcase velvet-like texture and a seamless elegance on the finish. A natural fit with bold foods, we enjoy pairing it with duck, beef, venison, and lamb–whether roasted, braised, or grilled–as well as wild mushrooms and hard cheeses.
Wines to Try:Kukkula Noir, Paso Robles, $65 Melville Estate Syrah, Santa Barbara County, $40 Clos Solène Fleur de Solène, Paso Robles, $78
Riesling often gets lumped into the ‘sweet wine’ category, which doesn’t do this impressive varietal justice, as sweetness is only part of its story. Incredibly aromatic and food-friendly, this versatile grape can produce white wines ranging from lean and minerally to off-dry with balanced sweetness, not to mention aged dessert wines that showcase wonderful complexity. Try Riesling with roasted chicken, duck, pork, ham, shrimp, scallops, and soft cheeses this season. Or, look for an off-dry Riesling for serving with spicy cuisines, including Asian and Thai, as it won’t accentuate the heat in the food-rather it will act as a refreshing mouth cleanser. Sweeter dessert styles, on the other hand, are perfect for rich cheeses, bread pudding, and fruit-based desserts.
Wines to Try:Smith-Madrone Estate Riesling, Napa Valley, $34 Tatomer Kick-on Ranch Riesling, Santa Barbara County, $38 Trefethen Family Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, Napa Valley, $50