The extent of my wine knowledge is that I LOVE IT. So, I’m super excited for this week’s edition of Coffee with Friends to introduce Alex and Ali of the Cheap Wine Girls. They’re sharing the best vino varietals to throw back this holiday season, and I can’t wait to taste test them all. SALUD!
We LOVE the holidays. (Mostly because we love eating and drinking all day long.) It’s that time of the year where nobody judges us if we show up to a party in stretchy pants (practical), ugly sweaters (ironic), or drink loads of wine every night (we’re just being social).
As the Cheap Wine Girls, we are always on the lookout for bargain-priced wines that are worth celebrating. The holidays shake up our normal routine a little, because while we love drinking wine alone…wait, no, that came out wrong…holiday season means that wine is almost always paired with food, and lots of it. Rich, savory, sweet. There’s a lot happening on the plate, and that means that you need a little finesse when choosing what’s happening in the glass.
So here’s a short guide to holiday wines.
It’s cold outside, even here in LA, so it’s natural to turn to red wine this time of the year. Some of our favorite reds are warming and earthy, and can be almost chewy with tannins. But heavy tannins can really overwhelm your palette when paired with rich, heavy holiday food. Put down your Cabernet! And turn, instead, to the ever trendy Pinot Noir.
For as overhyped as they generally are, Pinots are actually perfect for the holidays. They have the right balance of acidity and earthiness. They’re not too heavy, not too fruity, and they balance out a meal almost perfectly. The problem with Pinot Noir is that it’s actually pretty rare to get a good bottle under $10, which is usually our goal. Cheap bottles are drinkable, but they tend to be a little heavy on the fruit and light on the complexity…and that’s fine, but it’s not very interesting.
So this year, we’re reaching for some lesser known varietals. Because they’re not trendy, you can usually find better wines for a cheaper price. Win!
Here are a few to pick up this holiday season:
Cinsaut. Mostly found in the South of France and often used in blends. It can be savory and a little peppery, and because it’s a lesser known varietal, it’s fun to talk about at a party. This is going to be the hardest to find in your average grocery store, but you can find these at most specialty wine shops and they are usually a fantastic value. (We love Silverlake Wine, if you’re in LA.)
Pinotage. We have a particular soft spot for this varietal, which was made popular in South Africa. It’s actually a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir, so it fits squarely into this awesome-with-your-aunt’s-green-bean-casserole category.
Grenache. Also French, primarily from the Rhone valley. We love this varietal for the holidays. It’s silky and spicy with cherry and currant flavors, and goes well with pretty much everything on the table. It’s a little heavier on the tannins than the other two, but it doesn’t knock you over the head with them.
Of course, if all else fails, just pick up a Pinot.
When we think about holiday wines, we don’t often think about white wine, but whites actually go really well with a butter-laden holiday meal. The crisp, dry acidity of a good white cuts through the richness of the food in a really lovely way. Just promise us one thing: put down that oaky Chardonnay!!
Instead, reach for something more acidic. We’re huge fans of Sauvignon Blanc for this, especially if you can find a bottle that is super dry and crisp. This often means something from France or New Zealand. There are also amazing wines here in California, but the good bottles tend to be expensive, and the cheaper bottles tend to be heavy on the tropical fruit, which is not what you want.
Of course, if you want to be adventurous, we encourage you to reach out and try something different. Like these:
Gruner Veltliner. We adore a good Gruner. First of all, it’s fun to say. Second, it’s one of the best values you can find in wine. There are loads of good bottles under $10, and the wines are super food-friendly, complementing everything on the table without overpowering anything. Also cool to support the lesser-known wine regions of Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Muscadet. Not to be confused with Moscato, which is definitely not something to bring to the table unless you want to die of candy-coated sweetness. No, Muscadet is a French varietal found in the Loire Valley. It is light-bodied and very dry, and can have a sort of spritzy effervescence that tastes celebratory. Its acidity is great at cutting through the richness of creamy, buttery delicious things.
(Dry) Riesling. Don’t shoot the messenger. We are well aware that most Rieslings you’ve tried have been sickeningly sweet. We would never, ever advocate pulling a random Riesling off a shelf without proper guidance. But, if you have a trusted wine shop, go in and ask for the driest (like, graveyard bone dry) Riesling they have, and try to tell us that it isn’t f-ing fantastic with food. There is a reason that this varietal is a Sommelier favorite, and because of its terrible reputation, it’s also usually an incredible value.
Finally, friends, we feel obliged to tell you: Pop that Bottle!! No, seriously, though. Sparkling wine is an awesome addition to a holiday table, and shouldn’t be limited to appetizers and desserts. That said, you get what you pay for, so “splurge” on a bottle that’s at least $10. It’s worth it, especially the next morning.
Also, if you haven’t yet watched A Year in Champagne, that sh*t is on Netflix and you should do that immediately. It will put you in an appropriately celebratory mood for this busy season, and at the end of it, you’ll realize that there’s nothing that you want more than Champagne. Right. Now.
So good luck hunting for bargains this holiday season. We wish you love, happiness, and good wine! Also a minimum (or maximum) amount of family drama (depending on your threshold for pain)!