Guide to Christmas Dinner Wines from White to Red, Sparkling to Sweet
There’s enough going on in the kitchen, along with relatives from out-of-town and a variety of differing tastes at the table, for you to worry too much about Christmas dinner wines. Having a wide assortment on hand will please any picky palates and complement the food on every plate.
Stock up on the essentials: sparkling, white, red, and, when the pies come out, sweet wines. Since providing for a thirsty crowd can become costly, we’ve made sure all our recommended wines are $25 and under.
Sparkling wine is the standard-bearer of celebrations, particularly during the holidays. You can’t go wrong greeting your guests with a glass of bubbly as they arrive, but don’t confine it to an aperitif. Sparkling wine is incredibly food-friendly and provides ample refreshment with a heavy dinner spread. Look for bottlings from sparkling wine producers with a Champagne pedigree, like Roederer and Mumm, to please guests without going broke, or if you want to there are countless affordable Crémants (sparkling French wines made outside of Champagne). Don’t forget Prosecco and Cava for high quality at a nice price. Meanwhile, for any like-minded wine geeks at the table, break away from the ordinary and pick up a stellar Sekt produced in Austria.
Roederer Estate NV Estate Bottled Brut Sparkling (Anderson Valley); $24, 93 points. This is an assertive, flavorful and robust wine, with a medium to full body, a mouthfilling texture and fine-beaded bubbles. A creamy viscosity and wonderful layers of butter, apple, vanilla and ginger make for a delicious palate. Editor’s Choice. —Jim Gordon
Bisol 2016 Crede Brut (Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore); $21, 92 points. Enticing scents of white flowers and citrus blossom lead the nose of this elegant wine. Silky and crisp, the bright palate delivers yellow apple, pear and a tangy hint of tangerine, framed in vibrant acidity and a polished perlage. Editor’s Choice. —Kerin O’Keefe
Mumm Napa NV Brut Prestige Sparkling (Napa County); $24, 92 points. Floral in lemon blossom, this tastes of lemon peel, grapefruit and spicy gingerbread, its acidity persistent and uplifting. A bite of texture gives it heft without too much ripeness, finishing lean and crisp. —Virginie Boone
Arthur Metz NV Perle d’Alsace Sparkling (Crémant d’Alsace); $19, 91 points. A floral freshness is the first impression on the nose, followed citrus and green apple. There is levity and exuberance here, with a palate that has light-bodied, brightness and a frothy but softly foaming mousse, enlivened by a dry, fresh feel. —Anne Krebiehl
Alta Alella 2015 Mirgin Reserva Brut Nature Sparkling (Cava); $22, 90 points. Light, fresh and direct describes the white-fruit aromas this brut nature is exuding. In the mouth, this is just round enough but mostly linear in plane. Flavors of dry lime, apple and fresh-baked white bread finish mild yet agile. This is affordable brut nature taken to a high level. Editor’s Choice. —Michael Schachner
Szigeti NV Grüner Veltliner (Österreichischer Sekt); $20, 90 points. The nose is shy, showing just a few herbal hints reminiscent of yarrow. Frothy bubbles, however, pronounce the varietal character of Grüner Veltliner, revealing an appealing textural element as well as herb-tinged pear fruit. Fresh, dry and light on its feet, this would be a lovely apéritif. —A.K.
Some of your guests may prefer their whites light, bright and unoaked while others might like something a little richer. Here are a few options across the spectrum to match with salads, sides and poultry. If you’ve avoided Gewürztraminer because you’re afraid it will be too sweet, a dry Gundlach Bundschu will convert you. Riesling often suffers from the same misconceptions, which makes the holidays a great chance to turn some heads with a classic Trocken or a less expected Australian Riesling. In a Pinot Grigio rut? Swap out your usual bottle for the crisp acidity of Pinot Bianco instead.
Gundlach Bundschu 2016 Estate Vineyard Dry Gewürztraminer (Sonoma Coast); $25, 94 points. With zero residual sugar, this winning white comes as advertised: dry and delightful in its floral, fresh and fleshy character, vibrantly supported in acidity. Peach, lime and pear flavors find length and purpose along a medium-bodied texture that’s just the right amount of plush. —V.B.
Kilikanoon 2015 Killerman’s Run Riesling (Clare Valley); $20, 92 points. A pretty nose of lemongrass, lime leaf and a touch of mint are followed by a mouthwatering palate of wet stone, a chalky texture and a long lemony finish. Drink now–2025. Editor’s Choice. —C.P.
Quinta do Pôpa 2015 Pôpa Black Edition Branco White (Douro); $23, 92 points. This field blend of old white-grape vines—a rarity in the Douro—is rich in the bottle from a mélange of stainless steel, wood fermentation and barrel aging. It is smooth with concentration from the toast flavors and floral complexity. Its ripe character and generous texture make it a wine to drink now. —Roger Voss
Alois Lageder 2016 Pinot Bianco (Alto Adige); $13, 91 points. Beautiful aromas of creamy apple, white flower and ripe pear carry over to the bright delicious palate along with a hint of lemon zest. Crisp acidity lifts the lingering finish. Best Buy. —K.O.
Barra of Mendocino 2016 Estate Grown Chardonnay (Mendocino); $18, 91 points. This full-bodied wine does a superb job of blending luscious fruit flavors of Anjou pear and fresh fig with a spice rack of nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon. Good concentration and depth help it feel full and creamy on the palate and extend the finish nicely. Editor’s Choice. —J.G.
Try to use the wide variety of styles and grapes to your advantage when picking reds for entertaining. Pinot Noir fans should consider trying a Cru Beaujolais. A departure from the more well-known Beaujolais Nouveau, the Cru Beaujolais designation signifies that grapes come from one of the 10 top sites in the region, and represent the best of the best of the area’s Gamay. And for a fresh take on Cabernet Sauvignon, quality bottlings from Chile are offering unique takes on the classic grape at a value that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Pellegrini 2014 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $25, 93 points. This is a heck of a value for a wine that would shine no matter its price. Juicy in exuberant red fruit along the lines of cherry, plum and pomegranate, it shares deeper undertones of concentration and richness on the midpalate, with subtle accents of rose, cardamom and dried herb. Editor’s Choice. —V.B.
Stolpman 2016 Para Maria de los Tecolotes Red (Santa Barbara County); $22, 93 points. This Syrah, which is enhanced by 15% Petit Verdot, is one of the better wines from the region on the market for less than $25. Awesome aromas of pepper, blackberry and charred beef are intense and deep, while the palate is lifted by bountiful acidity and flavors of boysenberry, white, black and green peppercorns, incense and sagebrush. Editor’s Choice. —Matt Kettmann
Domaines Dominique Piron 2015 La Chanaise (Morgon): $20, 92 points. A blend from different parts of the Fleurie appellation, this wine is elegant and floral. Crisp red fruits are sustained by acidity and by a juicy character. As often with this appellation, it is a wine to age and will be better from 2018. —R.V.
Lucatoni 2013 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Colchagua Valley); $20, 92 points. Ripe blackberry and spice aromas are a touch meaty and earthy but mostly straightforward. A grabby, fleshy palate is obtuse but still balanced, while this tastes of berry and cassis, which are textbook flavors for Cabernet Sauvignon. A dry, woody finish with a chocolate note renders this better than most for $20. Editor’s Choice. —M.S.
Coeur de Terre 2014 Oregon Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley); $22, 91 points. Crafted principally from estate-grown fruit, this has the complexity and downright panache of a far more expensive bottling. Mixed brambly red fruits combine seamlessly, punching through to a lingering finish etched in minerals. What a terrific value! Editor’s Choice. —Paul Gregutt
Though the world’s great sweet wines should not be confined simply to dessert, there’s no arguing how special they can taste after a great meal. While sweet wines are often used to compliment sweet foods, they’re also one of the world’s best pairings with blue cheese or as a balance for savory dishes. Get a seat close to the fire, relax, and savor some sweet sips.
Royal Tokaji 2016 Late Harvest (Tokaji); $21/500 ml, 94 points. This late harvest wine from Hungary is comprised of Furmint, Hárslevelu and Muscat. It has aromas of acacia flower and pear, with flavors of apricot, pear juice and dried rosemary. The finish is pleasantly sweet without being too cloying. —Jeff Jenssen
Husch 2014 Estate Bottled Late Harvest Gewürztraminer (Anderson Valley); $25/375 ml, 93 points. This sweet and vibrant wine is a rare find. Wonderful floral, grapefruit and honey aromas lead to incredibly concentrated ripe flavors on a lush texture that’s lifted by underlying acidity. It’s almost irresistible now, but will be best after 2022. —J.G.
Willi Haag 2016 Juffer Brauneberg Spätlese Riesling (Mosel); $24, 92 points. This wine’s unassuming nose belies the thrilling depth of juicy, sweet white peach, tangerine and quince flavors that burst on the palate. Luminous fruit and spine tingling acidity collide, hinged by a kick of phenolic bitterness that lingers on the finish. —A.I.
Château la Tour Blanche 2014 Charmilles (Sauternes); $25, 90 points. This soft wine is still waiting for its intensity to come through. The acidity is there, as is ripe, honeyed fruit. Wait until 2022 to open it. —R.V.
Domaine de Ménard 2016 Moelleux Gros Manseng (Côtes de Gascogne); $12, 88 points. Along with its relative Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng is the source of many of the great sweet wines of southwest France. This late harvest wine is sweet while retaining bright acidity and freshness. That lemony acidity cuts its honey and apricot touches. Lightly textured, it’s ready to drink. Best Buy. —R.V.
- 1Sparkling Wine
- 2White Wine
- 3Red Wine
- 4Sweet Wine