BY JAMIE KNEE | NOVEMBER 21, 2023
The holidays are upon us, and it’s a time of delightful chaos. There’s the turkey to roast, gifts to hunt down, parties to attend, and family clamoring for an invite to the American Riviera for the holidays. As a local Montecito wine specialist, clients often turn to me to curate their wine pairings for festive dinners. It’s a magical time of year, and let’s be honest – the last thing you want to worry about is what wines to serve at your holiday party. As your personal sommelier, the “Petite Wine Traveler,” I’m here to ensure your holiday dinner and party wines are nothing short of pure joy.
Thanksgiving, the holiday that kicks off the holiday festivities, is first up. As far as I’m concerned, this holiday, a favorite among many, deserves a sparkling start. There’s no need to save those bubbly bottles for New Year’s Eve – sparkling wines are perfect for Thanksgiving. They set the mood for celebration and whet our appetites before the grand feast. While the turkey (or its herbaceous vegetarian counterpart in my case) takes its time in the oven, I serve a selection of cheeses and accoutrements alongside a chilled bottle of sparkling wine. Its high acidity and effervescent bubbles make it an ideal pairing that extends through the entire meal, cutting through the richness of mashed potatoes and complementing everything from green veggies to savory gravy. A few of my favorite local sparklers include Riverbench 2018 Blanc de Blancs, a soft and lush sparkling, with a buttery brioche finish, or Laetitia 2020 Brut de Noirs, a delicious sparkling made from pinot noir with hints of white cherry, tart tangerine, and toasted almonds, a yummy start to the season.
When the time comes for the grand feast, there’s nothing quite like an earthy and fruity bottle of pinot noir to accompany the celebration. This classic Thanksgiving wine with tangy red fruit notes complements the fall flavors splendidly. Feeling adventurous? Why not add some red bubbles to your lineup. Yes, I said red bubbly, and one of my favorites for the holidays is a Sparkling Pinot Noir and Syrah blend, Cuvée M Red from Mumm Napa. This wine with hints of red plum, cassis, and cardamom pairs beautifully with holiday party foods, adding a unique touch to your celebrations.
White wine lovers fear not. Dry Riesling is your secret weapon offering refreshment and palate cleansing. I suggest Tatomer Riesling 2018, for its minerality and citrus flavors. For those who favor fuller-bodied white wines, how about a Chardonnay or Roussanne, which stand up admirably to prime rib and creamy mashed potatoes. My holiday suggestions are The Hilt Estate Chardonnay 2020, with hints of fresh-baked croissant, almond flour, and kumquat on the palate. For those of you who want to try something outside the box, you can’t go wrong with a Stolpman Vineyards Roussanne 2019, with a rich texture and flavors of honeysuckle, lemongrass, and jasmine.
Throughout the day, rosé emerges as the perfect, all-day companion. Its crispness, akin to the first bite of a fresh autumn apple, refreshes your palate with every sip, and its food-friendly nature makes it ideal from turkey basting to post-dinner cleanup, ensuring you remain fresh and merry. My favorite pinks for all-day sipping include Curran Grenache Gris Rosé 2022, a dry refreshing pink with hints of white raspberries, strawberries, and honeysuckle. As an alternative, try one of my other favorites, La Lieff Gigi Rosé 2021, with hints of ruby red grapefruit and berries, the perfect Thanksgiving accompaniment.
For a vegetarian Thanksgiving course, my favorite dish is stuffed acorn squash; it takes center stage with its delightful mixture of grains, vegetables, nuts, and spices. Here, you have the option to pair it with grenache. With its red fruit notes and soft tannins, it can complement the earthy flavors of the squash and the richness of the stuffing. I’d suggest Beckmen Vineyards 2021 Grenache Estate, or how about a cool climate Syrah, known for its elegant and peppery characteristics. This can be an excellent choice to enhance the dish’s complexity and create a harmonious pairing. I’d give Piedrasassi 2019 Sta. Rita Hills Syrah a whirl, with smoky flavors, blueberries, crushed blackberries, and incense on the palate – need I say more?
Now, let’s fast forward to Christmas and Hanukkah, where cherished traditions, family gatherings, gift exchanges, and heartwarming stories reign supreme. Classic dishes like roast beef and brisket are likely to grace your table. For meaty delights, consider Cabernet Sauvignon – a full-bodied red wine with dark fruit flavors and robust tannins, a classic choice for hearty dishes. For this occasion, I would suggest a Star Lane Vineyard 2019 Cabernet, with silky dark red fruit flavors of blackberries, and savory herbs. Alternatively, merlot, with its smooth, fruity character, harmonizes beautifully with red meat. A tasty merlot with a racy name is Paradise Springs Winery, 2018 F’ing Merlot, a yummy wine with bright red fruits and toasty oak.
As New Year’s Eve approaches, it’s time to raise our glasses and toast to new beginnings. The Champagne region has marketed its wines as the ultimate celebratory choice, and for a good reason. It’s the grand finale of the holiday season, marking the transition to a new year brimming with possibilities.
When selecting Champagne, remember that there’s a broad range to choose from. Some of my all-time favorites are Billecart-Salmon Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, and their Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne, both non-vintage, for a delicious splurge. While top-quality Champagne can be pricey, you can find more affordable options that still offer a taste of luxury. If you’re seeking alternatives, consider Cava, Crémant, Metodo Classico, or our very own California Sparkling Wine as I mentioned for Thanksgiving – delightful options that won’t dent your wallet.
So, as you embark on this wonderful holiday season, let the joy of good company and delicious wines fill your heart with warmth. With this wine guide in hand, you’re ready to toast to the holidays in style, savoring every cheerful moment and creating lasting memories with your loved ones. May your celebrations be filled with laughter, love, and, of course, exceptional