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Setting the Table and Filling the Glasses for the Holidays

Whether you're roasting a goose or celebrating with seven fishes, we've got great wines to serve with your holiday feast

Posted: December 8, 2006

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day offer ample opportunity to entertain or be entertained in the homes of friends and loved ones. But unlike the traditional Thanksgiving feast, the winter holidays are not necessarily associated with one iconic meal. Families can create (and recreate) their own traditions, leaving the door wide open for any number of wine pairings. This holiday season, Wine Spectator has put together several recommendations for your big holiday meal, complete with wine suggestions and the opportunity for a more in-depth look at each selection.


Beef brisket is a traditional Hanukkah meal, alongside potato latkes with sour cream. If you feel like splurging, prime rib roast or Kobe steak are good ways to celebrate. Beef tenderloin roasted to medium-rare will luxuriously feed a crowd, and provide fantastic sandwich meat for the next day, should you be lucky enough to have leftovers.

In finding a great wine match for beef, you must consider the cut of the meat, the cooking method and the meat's fat content. Read more about beef and wine, or learn more about Kobe beef.

Onion-Braised Short Ribs With Walnut Mashed Potatoes
Dry-Aged Sirloin Steaks
Poached Beef Tenderloin

Wine Score Price
BODEGA NORTON Malbec Luján de Cuyo Reserva 2004 91 $18
Very creamy, with lush layers of fig, currant and blackberry followed by cocoa, mocha and licorice notes on the showy finish. Fine focus and structure. Drink now through 2008. 16,000 cases made. —J.M.
PERRIN & FILS Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2004 89 $15
This big, modern-style wine is loaded with dark, plush fruit—black currant, blackberry and fig—along with layers of mocha, mineral and tar. Big, fleshy finish, but fine acidity keeps it honest. Drink now through 2007. 8,330 cases made. —J.M.
M. CHAPOUTIER Côtes du Rhône Belleruche 2005 88 $12
Juicy and pure, with the vintage's textbook flavor profile of raspberry and licorice, backed by a graphite hint on the finish. Drink now through 2007. 115,000 cases made. —J.M.
BODEGAS NIETO SENETINER Malbec Mendoza Reserva 2004 88 $9
Dark, sweet and figgy, with lots of nearly overripe plum and spice cake notes, but enough grip to keep it honest. Plenty of fruit and spice on the finish. Drink now through 2007. 25,000 cases made. —J.M.

Feast of Seven Fishes

  A shellfish feast.
Said to represent the seven sacraments of the Catholic church, this is traditional Christmas Eve meal that originated in Sicily and is now reproduced throughout Italy and beyond. There is no one menu that Italian cooks adhere to, but the meal generally involves mollusks in the shell, a seafood soup or stew, and roasted or grilled fish. Serve the Feast of Seven Fishes with white wines from Campania or Sicily.

Mediterranean white wines are an obvious great match for Mediterranean fish. Read more about Mediterranean fish and the wines that love them.

Baccalà Spread
Baked Oysters With Tomato
Fresh Mozzarella With Shrimp Salad
Grilled Mahi-Mahi With Papaya Relish
Lobster-Truffle Arancine With Lemon Zest
Marinated Calamari Salad
Pesce alla Palermitana

Wine Score Price
FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO Falanghina Sannio 2004 88 $13
Pineapple, honey aromas follow through to a medium- to full-bodied palate, with lemon and white peaches. Fresh acidity. Drink now. 120,000 cases made. —J.S.
VESEVO Greco di Tufo 2004 88 $18
Mineral and apple character with a creamy undertone. Medium-bodied, with good acidity and a clean finish. Delicious. Drink now. 5,000 cases made.
FEUDO ARANCIO Chardonnay Sicilia 2005 87 $9
Appealing apple character with hints of cream and toasted oak. Medium- to full-bodied, with lovely acidity and a medium finish. Delicious. Drink now. 70,000 cases made. —J.S.
MANDRAROSSA Chardonnay Sicilia 2005 87 $9
Simple aromas and flavors of apple and butter follow through to a medium body, with good butterscotch and ripe apple on the finish. Delicious. Drink now. 160,000 cases made. —J.S.


We associate the glorious roast Christmas bird with all things Victorian, but did you know that the Feast of the Maccabees, better known as Hanukkah, has also been traditionally associated with a meal of goose? In addition, the ancient Egyptian god Amen, thought to be the source of all creation, took the form of a goose, and the post-harvest sacrifice of one of the birds was a tradition carried out by numerous ancient cultures in Central Asia, North Africa and Europe.

You might expect red wine to trump white in making a great match with goose, but Sam Gugino finds that Vouvray and Riesling actually make excellent pairings with the bird. Read more about Christmas goose.

Recipe: Roast Goose

Wine Score Price
CHÂTEAU MONCONTOUR Vouvray 2002 89 $14
Mature, with lovely quince, white peach, fig and spice flavors on a filigreed frame. Long, lacy finish shows a lime hint. Drink now through 2007. 5,500 cases made. —J.M.
ST.-URBANS-HOF Riesling QbA Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2005 89 $13
Rich, firm and complex, serving a mix of grapefruit, vanilla cream, slate and spice aromas and flavors. Balanced, leaving a mouthwatering impression. Drink now through 2010. 15,000 cases made. —B.S.
JACOB'S CREEK Riesling South Australia Reserve 2004 88 $12
Lithe and harmonious. Nicely focused to show off its green apple, floral and light mineral flavors, lingering on the dry finish. Drink now through 2011. 28,000 cases made. —H.S.
JEAN-CLAUDE BOUGRIER Vouvray 2005 86 $9
Light-hearted, with fresh green apple and lime notes backed by a frankly sweet note on the finish. Drink now. 15,000 cases made. —J.M.


Ham is a traditional part of the Christmas celebration, dating back to the Scandinavian pre-Christianity tradition of sacrificing a pig to Freyr, the god of fertility. Today, it's a popular choice for the holiday buffet, especially in the American South. A good rule of thumb for choosing a ham-friendly wine is to match the color and serve a rosé, either sparkling or still; Sauvignon Blanc also pairs well with ham.

Read more about ham in our food encyclopedia. Read about Sam Gugino's adventures with American country ham, and Bruce Schoenfeld's investigation of the best cured hams from Spain.

Recipe: American Country Ham

Wine Score Price
KIM CRAWFORD Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2006 92 $17
Concentrated and complex, with vivid passion fruit, grapefruit and tangy peach flavors. Vibrant minerality and tangy lime juice acidity keep thumping through the finish. Drink now. 65,000 cases imported. —D.S.
SAINT CLAIR Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2006 91 $16
Fragrant and intense, with lemon-lime, gooseberry and pink grapefruit flavors. Tangy acidity and pointed minerality extend through the concentrated finish. Drink now. 78,000 cases made. —D.S.
DE LOACH Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 30th Anniversary Cuvee 2004 87 $18
Ripe and supple, with jammy black raspberry, cherry, cinnamon and mushroom notes. Flavors are elegantly complex and accented with spice and toasty oak. Drink now through 2008. 5,150 cases made. —J.L.
KORBEL Brut Rosé California NV 86 $11
Peppery black cherry and wild berry aromas are lean and firm on the palate, giving it a crisp, refreshing mouthfeel. Drink now. 35,000 cases made. —J.L.

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