Mom doesn’t do reds. Dad only drinks red. Aunt Jackie prefers a sweet white and will say so loudly if you don’t remember. Your brother-in-law will sniff, swirl, and declaim 15 characteristics he detects in his glass, much to your sister’s embarrassment.
Meanwhile, you just want everyone to get along, for dinner to come out perfectly, and for the wine to flow freely within a budget whether those idealistic wishes for a holiday gathering come true or not.
The good news is, buying the right wines for the wide variety of guests and cuisine during the holiday season doesn’t have to be nearly as intimidating or expensive as it may seem. To help ease your wine-choosing trepidation, three local wine experts adept at recommending wine to even the pickiest of palates have provided guidance for many of the scenarios you’re likely to encounter.
The main takeaway? When in doubt, choose bubbles. But if you’d like to get a little more specific, here’s what they suggest.
What to drink while cooking
One for the pan and one for the glass is the proper sip-and-stir technique, if you’re drinking for the type of cuisine you’re cooking. But even then, there are some parameters to keep in mind.
Christy Kendig, Husk Greenville sommelier, says the key to not blowing out your palate before dinner even begins is going with a lower alcohol wine. Also, if the pan is partaking, stick with a less expensive bottle in the $10 or less range — there’s plenty of decent wine to be had at that price point, such as a grenache often available at The Community Tap, she says (ask the staff).
Otherwise, start with bubbles: It’s festive, and when guests arrive, they can jump right in with you.
“Bubbles set the tone for a memorable celebration and also aid the digestion of those six deviled eggs that you were not at all sneaky about housing from the appetizer tray,” says James Alford, Foxcroft Wine Co. Greenville general manager.
Annie Tackett, beverage coordinator and certified sommelier for The Cliffs, agrees and offers a budget-conscious option.
“True champagne can get a bit pricey, so if you are looking for something a little more inexpensive, consider a Spanish cava,” she says.
Don’t break the bank
You can impress your wine-loving friends without breaking the bank. You don’t want to be memorable at a holiday dinner for serving bad wine but also have costs to keep in mind. Tackett offers a strategy.
“Many high-end producers make a more affordable option under a second label,” she says. “This takes some research, but can pay off. Also consider looking into a lesser known wine region. Some of my favorites are from Spain. Rioja is a tempranillo-based wine and a great choice for pinot noir lovers, as both share a red-fruit characteristic.”
Kendig suggests going for a cru-level Beaujolais, many of which are available for $20 or less. They drink like much more expensive wines — and you can afford a couple bottles.
How to please everyone
Obviously, you might not be able to please every last palate at your table, but you can get close.
Bubbles often fit the bill. But Kendig uses her family’s tastes as her benchmark. She always has a non-cabernet red, a dry white and a sweet white, such as a gewurztraminer or riesling.
Alford offers this tip for dinner wines.
“Rich holiday food makes you thirsty,” he says. “Why have a beverage that doesn’t quench that thirst? As much as we love those giant, oaky cabs, they aren’t typically what we reach for when we’re dying of thirst. Wines with lower alcohol, lively minerality and snappy acid make you want that next sip, and keep your palate refreshed for your fourth helping of dark meat.”
Kendig and Tackett both also recommend a pinot noir as a crowd-pleasing option that will pair well with the smorgasbord of dishes.
Alford says rosé will also please multiple palates, and some great options are available for less than $20.
A great gift
You certainly don’t want to come off cheap with your gifted wine when a guest in someone else’s home, but if your list of 14 holiday functions looks daunting to the budget, you have options.
Kendig says hands-down, go with a Willamette Valley pinot noir — it’s always a crowd pleaser and affordable. Additionally, if you prefer Old World vino, go with a gamay — also as equally pleasing and affordable.
Alford goes back to bubbles.
“Even if your host already has some bubbly on ice when you get there, no one has ever seen a guest come through the front door with a bottle of Champagne and been unhappy about it,” he says.
Tackett offers a more specific option.
“Red blends have gained a lot of popularity over the years,” she says. “If you’re looking to take a step up from the usual Apothic Red, but enjoy that fruit-driven style, I’d suggest Conundrum red blend, Daou Vineyards’ Pessimist or Leviathan.”
The no-stress mindset
The holidays are a special, once-a-year occurrence that can also cause high levels of stress. Don’t let one of the best parts — the wine — add to it.
Alford suggests a specific overall mindset.
“Mostly, look for the wines that you love the most, that maybe you don’t buy all that often,” he says. “Fill the case with those special bottles that are a little pricier than your Tuesday night go-to, because come on, it’s Thanksgiving! There won’t be a second one this year, so treat yo’self.”
Need more help?
This casual tasting will include a number of wines suitable for a Thanksgiving meal. No advance tickets are required.
- What: Pop-in Tasting with Ian
- When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26
- Where: The Community Tap
- Cost: $15 at the door