You don't need to play bartender to be the perfect holiday host. Just set out several wine choices, some all-purpose wine glasses and a few corkscrews so guests can serve themselves. In Andrea Immer's book Great Wine Made Simple, the celebrity master sommelier says she finds the best party choices are fruit-forward styles, which don't need to be served with a meal to show well. She suggests California Sauvignon Blanc and Australian Chardonnay for whites and California Zinfandel and Australian Shiraz for reds.
A Merry Mix
At a holiday feast, Immer says, don't worry too much about the wine selections. "Reds go better with many holiday foods, but you need something for the white-wine drinkers." She suggests Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Her red picks are global: Spanish Rioja Crianza or Reserva, California Zinfandel, Italian Barbera or Chianti and Australian Shiraz.
Australian winemaker Michael Scholz, who hails from Wattle Creek Winery in Sonoma County, California likes variety and a buildup of flavor intensity when hosting a large group at a holiday table. "White or sparkling wine is a good start with appetizers. However, I prefer a red with turkey. Begin with Pinot Noir, then pour a spicy Shiraz for a great follow-up," he says.
At such a long and sharing occasion as a holiday meal, Scholz says he might also offer a hearty Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend toward the end of the meal.
Bring out the bubbly
Of course, nothing says "special occasion" like the pop of sparkling wine. Chef Chris Manning at Domaine Chandon Vineyard's étoile restaurant in California says, "Dry sparkling red and rosé wines start the holidays right at Thanksgiving/Christmas and carry through to New Year's. California sparkling wine is an excellent value, with brut being a crowd-pleasing style."
Paul Roberts, wine director/master sommelier for Thomas Keller's restaurant group, including Per Se and The French Laundry, tells us, "French-style Champagne outpaces other sparkling wines four-to-one in our restaurants." However, Roberts feels that sparkling wine — that is, any bubbly wine not from the Champagne region of France — can be extraordinary, more food-friendly and have lower alcohol content than most still wines. He suggests one from Napa Valley's Carneros region-a big bang for the buck. "Look to Cava sparkling wine from Spain for even less-expensive selections," advises Roberts.