Sarah Cyr, a sommelier and former co-owner of The Wine Cellar & Bistro, a onetime Columbia restaurant, is an expert on all things vino. Here are her picks for three perfect holiday wines, written while her restaurant was still open.
As holiday office parties and family gatherings begin, wine stores everywhere stock up and promote their favorite holiday wines. Some of these wines are good values, some have great labels and some are to complement holiday meals. But, walking through the aisles of any wine area can be overwhelming. In addition, you might be buying wine for group of people that have diverse wine preferences… while also hoping to find a wine that complements your food. No problem, right?
I get asked about holiday wines a lot… “What red wine with turkey? What white wine will actually work with prime rib? What wine should I give as a gift? What should I bring to the host? What wines will pair with all my appetizers?”
Every year I try to give suggestions to customers, family and friends based on my experience. And over the years, there have been some clear wine winners for the holidays. (Not to discourage anyone from splurging on a beautiful Châteauneuf-du-Pape or an elegant aged California Cabernet or even a big and bold Super Tuscan or Amarone della Valpolicella — all of which are excellent choices for the holidays.) But, to get through your holiday season, you really only need these three perfect wines which retail for $30 or less.
First, the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier Blend was a white wine I featured in August for being fabulous with fruit-inspired dishes. This white wine is very versatile with food and can hang with all your appetizers from cheese and fruit to crazy holiday dips and can even hold its own against spicy flavors. In addition, this wine is loved by white drinkers of all types. It seems to please those who like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and even Riesling lovers. The Viognier gives the wine a nice floral note and a touch of creaminess, so even though this wine is not oaked like a typical California chardonnay, that creaminess can please a chardonnay palate too.
Second, is Elyse C’est si bon, which translates to “It’s so good!” And who doesn’t want to drink a wine that says that in French on the label? This California red is blended with grapes indigenous to the Rhone Valley in France — grenache, syrah and mouvedre. The wine is soft, juicy and yet elegant. It has notes of raspberry, cooking spice and fresh herbs. This wine is stellar with Thanksgiving dinner and it is big enough to compliment beef. It is lovely enjoyed without food and it has enough finesse to be a wonderful gift to give to anyone who enjoys red wine. (Just get more than one bottle, you’ll want to enjoy a glass by yourself after the holiday craziness is over.)
Third, is Raventós i Blanc de Nit. When you need something bubbly that pleases a wide crowd, this one is a winner. It isn’t yeasty like Champagne, which some people find off-putting. It isn’t pricey like Champagne, which can be outrageous. But yet, somehow this Spanish bubbly seems to capture all the elegance, flavor and liveliness of a fine Champagne. Maybe it is outstanding because they believe in biodynamic practices and connecting to their land. Or maybe it’s because they left the Cava D.O. to become their own single vineyard Spanish sparkling which showcases their unique terroir. Regardless, this biodynamic sparkling is fantastic. A touch of the Monastrell grape gives the wine a slight pink tint and a hint of wild strawberry. This crisp sparkling is great for celebrating, giving toasts, to accompany your meal or dessert, and it is perfect as a gift all through the holiday season.
I once had the experience at a KC Chiefs football tailgate with some friends (including chefs and wine experts), and I thought bringing some nice red wine to a cold, rainy tailgate would be a bonus. Under a tent in the parking lot, while it drizzled, the chefs grilled veggies, burgers and brats, and I happily poured glasses of Elyse C’est si bon. That little red wine completed the food, pleased a variety of palates, and kept us warm and toasty. Ever since that tailgate, that wine and I have been good friends. This holiday season enjoy these three perfect wines. They can ease the tension at your next holiday gathering, liven up your toast salutations, be given as a thoughtful gift, complement your amazing spreads, or they can simply warm up a rainy tailgate. Happy holidays.