What to Pop … for an Intimate Gathering

Kick back and make the best of 2020 with these sommelier picks for a small celebration or quiet night at home

What to Pop … for an Intimate Gathering
From vintage Champagne and Cabernet Franc to spiked hot chocolate, these drink picks will keep the glow going all night long. (Solstock/Getty Images)
From the Dec 15, 2020, issue

How should we mark the holidays in this most confusing year? We posed that question to our sommelier friends in the restaurant industry for our "Bottles to Uncork, Bottles to Unwrap" feature in Wine Spectator's Dec. 15, 2020, issue.

So you're just having a small holiday at home—all the more reason to drink better than ever! Beverage pros from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award–winning spots around the country shared their favorite wine and spirits for spreading some cheer, from Pinot Noirs from Burgundy and California to amaro and aged Armagnac.

Able to safely have a socially distanced gathering? These somms also have advice for affordable, by-the-case pours that will still impress, as well as monster bottles and signature cocktails. Here’s what they’ll be serving up this season.


For gift ideas, see Wine Spectator's 2020 Gift Guide, including more sommelier picks and our Editors' Favorite Wine Accessories.


Parind Vora

Wine Director, chef and owner
Lockhart Bistro, Lockhart, Texas
Award of Excellence

You can’t ever go wrong with the old-school baby Jesus. Love me some Bouchard Père & Fils [Beaune Les Grèves] l’Enfant Jésus. Or, for a little soul in my wine, I pick the oldest Château Musar rouge I can get my hands on.

Gabriel Di Bella

Wine Director
Davies and Brook, London
Best of Award of Excellence

When the days get colder, I really love to make something really simple, a delicious hot chocolate, and drop a bit of Green Chartreuse V.E.P. in it. The blend of chocolate and fresh herbal flavors makes it really enjoyable, and ideal as much during a nice afternoon indoors as after a great dinner.

Anthony Wesley

Wine director
McNinch House Restaurant, Charlotte, N.C.
Award of Excellence

Lumen Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County is a personal favorite; it stays with you. Flavors of raspberries, notes of hibiscus, a deep nose, bright, fresh and absolutely delicious.

Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen

Wine director
RN74 Seattle
Best of Award of Excellence

As an intimate gathering winds down, a little something special to show gratitude for the evening is a well-aged dark spirit. I particularly love Armagnac for its juxtaposition of rusticity and elegance. Delord’s X.O. Bas Armagnac feels extravagant—each sip wraps around you like a warm blanket—and is an incredible value. Better yet, if you are a planner, Delord bottles single-vintage Armagnacs, and you can find a birth vintage for one of your guests to really show your appreciation for the moment.

Daniel Tucker Jr.

Wine director
Elements, Princeton, NJ
Best of Award of Excellence

For this, I’d probably lean towards Cabernet Franc, in particular from the Finger Lakes. I’ve had some awesome examples that have shown beautiful floral and fruit notes with just a hint of pepper. Most people that I have encountered hardly touch the grape, let alone from New York. It’s always a fun conversation when a bottle of Red Newt Cellars pops out at the end of the night.

Peter Carillo

Wine director
Angler, Los Angeles
Best of Award of Excellence

If I know that I’m going to kick back and really take time to enjoy a bottle of wine, I tend to think of wines that require patience to fully appreciate. I like a wine that presents itself as a bit rustic and bold right off the cork but that eventually rewards your patience with a nuanced and balanced expression. Although we typically think of old Barolo or Northern Rhône giving us that journey, I feel like vintage Champagne can really deliver in this regard—though it’s hard to drink Champagne slowly. Once the bubbles settle down and the wine warms—that’s right, warm flat Champagne, yum—you may be rewarded with an intense, complex and delicious surprise.

Gretchen Allen

Wine director
The Cheyenne Club, Saratoga, Wyo.
Best of Award of Excellence

Post-party, there is nothing like a good amaro. Budget-friendly and tummy-friendly, a slightly chilled amaro keeps the afterglow glowing. I like Cappelletti Pasubio Vino Amaro, which is made from a base of aged wine in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy. Blue fruit and pine sap [notes] make you feel like you have traveled without leaving the home. Mix with vermouth, serve over ice and just breathe.

My parents are old-school and think a Nutty Irishman coffee is the cat’s meow. Christmas doesn’t really start until I show up, throw out last year’s Irish cream and sneak in the fresh bottle.

More Sommelier Holiday Picks

See More

What to Give … An Enthusiastic Newbie

Dec 15, 2020

Wines to Give … Your Most Special Someone

Dec 15, 2020

Bottles to Uncork, Bottles to Unwrap

Dec 15, 2020

Sommelier Holiday Picks Christmas and Hanukkah New Year Red Wines White Wines

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