Holiday Cheers: The Stress-Reduced Christmas Wine Shopping Experience

Xmas Wines Pic for Blog

Don’t be intimidated by choosing holiday wine. Make the experience fun!

The holiday shopping frenzy is fully in progress, and if you’re the host of a Christmas gathering, you’re on double duty. Factor in that you may not feel confident walking into a wine shop and choosing just the right accompaniments, and the pressure kicks up a few more notches. My advice to you in this bold endeavor is….are you crazy? Don’t you realize it’s much easier being a guest? But you’ve made your commitment, and you’re stickin’ to it….and for that, I commend you.

Deborah and I have put ourselves in a similar position this year (now that we finally live in a home appropriate for hosting), but we are lucky enough to be less stressed than the typical hosts. You have to remember, Deborah comes equipped with culinary skills and a killer new kitchen, while I stand prepared to use my wine retail background to serve up the righteous juice (and my brief stint as a restaurant dishwasher in high school to provide me with clean-up skills). So, with all this extra time on my hands, I’m here to share my suggestions with you for making the wine store visit painless and ending up with the kind of holiday juice on your table that will raise your status with the in-laws.

Timing is Key

Tip numero uno: What the heck are you waiting for? You should have started your Christmas wine shopping a month of Sundays ago. Honestly though, you’re still in the clear. During my years spent in wine sales, I noticed that it takes a few weeks longer for the heat to get turned up and the lines to grow dreadfully long. Get your purchase done by December 19th, and you’ll beat the brutal rush; wait longer, and you’ll forfeit the kind of service you’re used to. Or, if you know a bit about wine, and have a few extra bucks to spend on fast shipping, skip the grind and order online from one of Women’s Advancement Compact’s strategic partners.

Consider Your Menu

Christmas is celebrated across such a vast spectrum of heritages that the food offerings can vary radically. Turkey, duck, ham, and roast beef are the Euro-American classics, and fortunately for everyone, they work with a wide variety of wines. Delightful and affordable pairings range from dry Riesling, Chenin Blanc or new-world Chardonnay for whites, to Garnacha, Malbec, or Cabernet Franc as reds. The challenge arises with some of the more specific traditional dishes, like those of Scandanavian and Asian origin. In those cases, even the most refined creativity can go awry. My biggest failure as a wine seller was in attempting each year to connect my Italian customers with a wine that would pair well with the Feast of the Seven Fishes (impossible). This is where I like to employ Deborah’s favorite default: when all else fails, serve bubbly.

Consider Your Guests   

Sometimes, a meticulously-arranged Christmas food and wine pairing just isn’t worth your effort, particularly when it would be lost on your guests. If you go out of your way and your budget to present an herb-crusted crown rack of lamb alongside a mature single-estate Cornas, but Uncle Lou only drinks his Scotch, Cousin Randall prefers beer, and Grandma is all about coffee, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. The golden rule is to serve your guests what they prefer, but always take the liberty to encourage them to expand their horizons. Offer a “starter wine”: fat, juicy, ripe ten-dollar reds have done more to convert people to wine than any sneakier trick in the book. Grab a few bottles of California Petite Sirah or Australian Shiraz, and you just might be sliding some used wine glasses into the dishwasher at the end of the night.

Consider Yourself

After all, it’s the holidays for goodness sake. Everyone is hopefully contented and euphoric, and you as the host should be no exception. If you don’t treat yourself to a darned good bottle of wine on Christmas, then when will you? If no one else has the good sense to sip nectar that day, that means only one thing: more for you! Might as well splurge on a couple of bottles that I like to refer to as “expensive and worth it”. If you like a fruit-forward style, spend a few bucks on a Washington State Syrah or a gutsy Amarone. Or, if you prefer the seduction of a terroir-laden old-world red, investigate a mature Barbaresco or Rioja Gran Reserva. Pour a glass, and then hide the bottle in your stocking. Happy shopping, and Happy Holidays!