An Expert's Guide to Picking Holiday Party Wines
Whether you’re hosting Christmas dinner, a holiday cocktail party for dozens, or an intimate evening dinner party, chances are you’ll want an assortment of wines on hand to serve to guests. While it isn’t possible (or practical) to have your bar stocked with everyone’s favorite bottle, you can be strategic with your picks by selecting options that will satisfy—and even pleasantly surprise—your guests’ palates. To help us pick the perfect wines for our festive holiday occasions, we turned to the experts at Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Ranch Acres Wine and Spirits, a family-owned retailer that has been selling carefully beer, wine, and spirits to locals for more than 50 years. Here, Emily Stewart of Ranch Acres shares recommendations for a variety of wines that will delight your guests; for more specific recommendations, we recommend asking the experts at your local wine purveyor.
Think outside of Champagne when selecting a sparkling option. “Nothing says holiday cheer like sparkling wine,” Stewart says. While most people immediately think of Champagne when shopping for something bubbly, she notes that the sparkling wines from this region of France start around $30-$40, which can quickly take a toll on your budget. Fortunately, there are a few excellent alternatives for the price-conscious. “You can get a great bottle of Cava from Spain for anywhere around $15-$30 that drinks like a much more expensive bottle,” she notes. “We are now getting a lot more French sparkling wine that is not from the Champagne region that goes for much less, also. They still have the classic labels and are just as nice to drink, but since they are not from Champagne they are not priced as high.” In addition to being festive, Stewart says sparkling wine is a good pick because it will pair well with lots of traditional holiday party fare, including shellfish and any salty fried food.
Reach for a red Bordeaux. “This is another area you can have some fun in,” Stewart says. Wines from this region range in price from $10-$10,000, she notes, and while you can certainly invest in a high-priced bottle for your cellar, she says it’s also a great region from which to select a hostess gift. As with Champagne, the labels are classically French, so for $15-$30 you will be able to grab a bottle sure to impress. “These also pair nicely with beef tenderloin, which is what my family makes for Christmas,” Stewart adds.
Spend time in the Spanish section. “Spanish wine is the bargain region right now,” Stewart says. “Most of the Spanish reds we carry here at the Ranch retail for less than $30, and deliver as if they were much pricier.” If you’re not a Spanish wine aficionado, never fear: an expert should be able to steer you in the right direction. “Your best bet is to ask the experts at your favorite local wine shop,” she says. “They are sure to have the inside scoop on their specific inventory.”
Don’t relegate rosé to the warmer months. “These gems aren’t just for pool parties and beach bonfires,” Stewart says. “These wines are incredibly versatile. They are equally at home paired with cocktail appetizers as they are with opening stockings Christmas morning.”
Rely on Rieslings to pair with your holiday party fare. A somewhat out-of-the-box option that’s ready to please any palate, Rieslings range from bone dry to dessert sweet, according to Stewart—meaning there is something to satisfy every person and pair with almost every food. “The flavors also have the kind of structure that can stand up to foods typically thought of as red wine pairings, like everything on your Christmas dinner table,” Stewart says. She recommends trying a dryer Riesling with a chicken dish or thick soup, and a sweeter Riesling with a banana pudding or a gingerbread cookie. Stewart does note one exception when you might want to skip the Riesling in favor of something with more mineral notes: “If you’re serving a seafood, you need a versatile, mineral white.” In this case, she says, reach for a white Burgundy.