Sommelier Holiday Guide

December 5, 2022

Written by Hilary Thorne, Beddington Sommelier.

Officially December, which means the holiday get-togethers are full steam ahead! If you're attending or hosting an event for people who love wine, check out this guide so you can be the official expert at your parties. 

What wine should I pair with traditional holiday meals?

Pair turkey with medium-body whites and light to medium-body reds. Try a classic Pinot Noir, a French Beaujolais (or any Gamay), or a light Chianti for reds. For whites, dry Riesling, a lightly oaked Chardonnay, or a Canadian Pinot Blanc.

Pair ham with using any of the same wines, or introduce a slightly off-dry style - say a Germany Kabinett Riesling or a sparkling Prosecco. For reds, try a Spanish or Australian Grenache.

There are many rules for food and wine pairing but remember the most important rule: the wine must be a style you enjoy! Even the best pairing won't make you enjoy a wine that's not your style.

What temperature should wine be served at? 

The temperature a wine is served is very important! The proper temperature for a wine can highlight its aromatics, texture and flavours. And if done incorrectly, mask the true character of the wine.

Sparkling, light whites and light roses should be served ice cold (4-6 ⁰C). This can be achieved by chilling overnight in the fridge, and the cool temperature makes popping the sparkling wine cork easier! Keeping the wine on ice can be beneficial to ensure it doesn't warm up while sitting on the table.

Examples include; Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Sauvignon blanc and Provence Rose.

Medium-bodied whites and roses should be served at a cool fridge temperature (10-12⁰C). This can be achieved with around 2 hours in the fridge, but be careful not to over-chill. If the wine is ice cold, it will lose fresh fruit notes and become bland. Luckily warming it back up is as simple as leaving it on the counter.

Examples include; Chardonnay, Tavel Rose, Grenache Blanc, sweet style Gewurztraminer or Riesling.

Light to medium-bodied reds should be served just slightly cool (12-15⁰C). This can be achieved with a quick 45 minutes to 1 hour in the fridge and the bottle should be just a little cool to the touch.

Examples include: Chianti, Pinot Noir, Valpolicella, Joven Rioja.

Full-bodied reds should be served just below room temperature (15-20⁰C). If you have a wine storage fridge, they should be good to go out of there. Or an easy 20 minutes in the fridge before serving. Heavy reds that are too cold lose fruit flavour and the tannins become to astringent and bitter. 

Examples include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Zinfandel, Rioja Reserva

Sweet wines depend on style for how long they should be chilled. As a rule of thumb, chilling a sweet wine is always good. Typically, somewhere between the (4-12 ⁰C). Chilling a sweet wine enhances the acid profile and helps cut through all the texture and sweetness these wines are known for.

Examples include: Ice Wine, Dessert Wine, Moscato, Port 

Is there particular glassware I should use? 

Arguably, every style of wine could have its own glass shape and style, but who has the cupboard space for that? 

For a holiday party or dinner, I recommend finding good quality glassware and ensuring you have enough for all your guests – the standard glass size and shape is referred to as "Bordeaux Glass." The only wine that really demands its own style of glassware is sparkling wine. Champagne flutes are designed to focus the nose and bubbles of the drink for the most enjoyable experience.

Should I decant a wine?

To decant, or not to decant. That is the question. Decanting is beneficial for some wines but not needed for others (and can be harmful to some wines).

As a general rule, white wines don't need to be decanted, they focus more on vibrant fruit and flower notes that can be lost after decanting. As for reds, young reds that are fruit-driven or light-bodied wines will not need a decant. Once you get into heavy reds with deep earthy notes, a quick 30-minute decant can help open up the bouquet so you can enjoy all the nuisances for the style. 

The most important wine for decanting is back vintage wine; anything in the bottle for five or more years could benefit from a decant. Vintage bold styles like Barolo or Cabernet Sauvignon can be decanted for up to an hour and a half, while light-bodied vintage wines like Pinot noir will suffice after approx. 45 minutes.

Don't have a decanter? That's okay! While the shape and size of a decanter are specifically designed to allow the most airflow through the wine, any large vessel to pour a bottle of wine into will suffice. Your favourite juice jug? Good. A large serving bowl? Good, but hard to pour back out of! You can also find little wine aerators, which work fanatically to quickly decant a full-bodied red, but a real decant may still be needed for a back vintage style.

Is there a fun and easy holiday cocktail to serve to my guests?

Yes! You can make a few awesome and easy cocktails to wow your guests at your next holiday shindig.

Sparkling Poinsettia

Sparkling wine is a great festive way to welcome guests to your house and if you wish to add a festive twist, add a splash of cranberry juice, then top with frozen cranberries and a sprig of rosemary to create the easiest super festive cocktail.

Holiday Punch

An easy drink for the masses, and easily made alcohol-free to include all guests at your holiday party. You simply put all of the following in a large bowl and serve with ice.

  • 1 orange sliced
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 cup cranberry juice
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 2 cups or Sprite
  • 1 cup white rum (optional)

Mulled Wine

You can find pre-made mulled wine in-store or you can make your own. It is super easy and makes your house smell like holiday cheer. For the base, you need a fruity red wine (try Zinfandel, Malbec, Merlot or Grenache), sugar, orange juice, a slighted-up orange, a slow cooker (a pot will do!), and some of your favourite holiday spices. Combine the bottle of wine, 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1 cup of sugar (more or less to taste), orange slices and all your favourite spices in the crockpot. Set to low and gently simmer for 1 hour. Ladle out of the pot and serve in a mug with a stick of cinnamon. Some of the most common spices to put in the pot are:

  • Cloves (2-3 whole cloves)
  • Star Anise (1-2 whole)
  • Cinnamon sticks (1-2)
  • Rosemary (3-4 sprigs)
  • Ginger (minced or peeled)
  • Peppercorns (a small palm full)

What should I bring when I am invited to a party?

I always prefer to show up to a party full-handed, but if you don't know what your host drinks, it can be a daunting task to choose! The easiest method is to ask, but if you'd rather not, I always go with a nice bottle of sparkling wine. Champagne, Cava, or Prosecco can make great host/hostess gifts. Sparkling wine embodies holiday celebration, and New Year's is just around the corner to give your host an excellent excuse to pop the cork.

 

 

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