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The Oxford Companion to Wine
Serve the Perfect Wine this Holiday Season

We kicked off Food and Wine month with an excerpt from the Oxford Companion to Food about Slow Food earlier today and now we are back with an article about holiday wines by Jancis Robinson, editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine. Check back every Thursday this month to see what else we will be serving up. (Sorry, the puns are just too easy.)

By Jancis Robinson


It’s funny how many of us think that special bottles of wine are for looking at rather than sharing. The reaction of practically everyone I know to being given wine that’s distinctly superior is to hide it away for some notional special occasion or special wine-loving person. But what occasion could be better than the upcoming holidays? And who is this mythical and picky wine expert who deserves to be pleased more than your nearest and dearest?

If I had one simple bit of advice about the best bottles you own it is: Pull those corks. Maybe just serve one special bottle.

Wine is for sharing. Wine is for making people feel better about each other and themselves. Which is why it is the perfect holiday drink – though watch those alcohol levels. Family occasions are probably not the ideal times to soak up a wine more than 14% alcohol.

This is (partly) why I so often recommend Pinot Noir for holiday meals. Pinot Noir is generally lighter and more delicate than most red varietals, and it has an easy fruitiness that goes well with all those sweet side dishes that tend to accompany a turkey. White wine drinkers might prefer the white wine answer to Pinot Noir: Pinot Gris, aka Pinot Grigio, just so long as it’s a full bodied version. California and Oregon are good sources of full bodied Pinot Gris/Grigio, as is Alsace in France. Italian Pinot Grigio is all over the place stylistically but the Friuli region produces most of the very finest.

Menus for Christmas dinner tend to be more varied. Salty ham needs something really sweet and juicy. Goose is so celebratory (and fatty) it needs a celebratory bottle with it. Go for a classic mature red. If it has to be white, make sure it’s a very full, voluptuous white. There are, believe it or not, whites that go well with prime rib, although it’s so chewy, it complements wines that are themselves a bit chewy – no need for anything terribly old. Try my face-saving favorites below.

Main Course Ham Goose Prime Rib Turkey
White/ Pink Dry rosé, Grüner Veltliner Condrieu, Marsanne, Rousanne Young California Chardonay Pinot Gris/ Pinot Grigio
Red Zinfandel, Chateauneuf-de Pape Mature Cabernet, red Bordeaux, or red Burgendy Young CA or WA Cabernet Pinot Noir

As for bubbles to see in the New Year, it depends whether you want to drink your champagne with or without food. The zestiest style for parties is Blanc de Blancs, made only from white grapes (usually vivacious Chardonnay). But if you’re serving fizz with food, go for something mellower.

Jancis Robinson, OBE and Master of Wine is one of the world’s leading authorities on wine, voted the Wine Writers’ Writer by her peers in The Observer. She is the editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition.

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