Holiday dinners can be tricky for wine pairings since your dishes are sweet, savory, meaty, smoky, and salty. Plus there’s always that one relative or friend who “doesn’t drink red wine” or “hates Champagne” (gasp!). But just as you don’t cook to appeal to every palate, nor can your wine appeal to everyone. My mantra is to have a few quality varietals open, let them know which pairs best with the food or might satisfy a finicky palate, then let them taste through. One of the great joys of wine is how the taste changes with different foods. Cooking a memorable feast is pressure enough; you don’t have to stress over the wine.
We typically go from Christmas morning coffee and cinnamon rolls to mimosas and a hardy breakfast. Next is sparkling rose and a Christmas movie, where my husband and I typically nod off. Once revived, the cooking begins with a glass of something white—hopefully a riesling or chenin blanc. Then the festivities really kick in as bottles of rioja, beaujolais, chardonnay, and more sparkling are opened for self-serving while cooking, watching football, and assembling toys. Set out a charcuterie tray of cheese, nuts, a sliced baguette, and little jams, and it will be quickly gobbled up by kids and wine drinkers alike while all await the big Christmas meal.
Here are a few red wines worthy of your Orange County holiday feast, and they make great wine gifts.
Elouan Pinot Noir 2016, Oregon
Famed Winemaker Joe Wagner produces pinot grapes from three regions in Oregon—Willamette, Umqua, and Rogue Valley—giving the wine great personality and vibrancy with just the right amount of acid. Pinot noir is perfect for your appetizers and main course—it works with nearly everything. $24, available at Sprouts, Total Wine, and BevMo.
Purple Heart Red Wine 2014, Napa Valley
This wine makes your heart soar and is a thoughtful gift. Purple Heart Wines make an annual donation to the Purple Heart Foundation, which supports military veterans and their families with unmet needs. The winemaker is John Moynier, who served in the Air Force and graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelor of Fermentation Science. This red blend of mainly merlot with a balance of cabernet sauvignon and smidge of petite sirah and petit Verdot is a Right Bank Bordeaux style wine grown in the Sonoma Valley. This will pair well with your feast’s centerpiece roasted meats. $19, available at OCWineMart.
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley Spring Mountain District
You have to have a hearty cabernet on Christmas Day. This Smith-Madrone Napa cab is oozing with character since it is grown at a high elevation under the duress of dry-farming and old-school principles. It is uniquely velvety and plush. It will showcase your grilled meats and delight any wine lover as it can be enjoyed now or cellared for 20-plus years. $52, available at Pavilions in Newport Coast.