The perfect wine to pair with your favorite holiday main course doesn’t have to cost a lot. These wonderful wines cost $15 or less, and some are even as low as $10…
Turkey shows up often during the holiday season, not just as the main course at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s turkey sandwiches and turkey hash and turkey tacos—almost anything that turkey leftovers can be turned into. So here are two ideas for wine with turkey—one that is more formal and one for all those leftovers.
For a roast turkey dinner, try the Mont Gravet Carignan ($10), a red—yes, red—wine from the south of France made with the little-known Carignan grape. It’s earthy and fruity with a welcoming, almost figgy aroma. The acidity sits nicely between the fruit and the earthiness, and there are just enough tannins—the substance in wine that is prickly in the back of your mouth—to make the wine complete. It’s the kind of red wine that pairs perfectly with turkey—not too big or overwhelming, but with enough presence to stand up to the roast and with enough fruit to complement the turkey’s flavor.
Leftovers go well with something like the Nik Weis Urban Riesling ($15), a well-made German white that shows how a wine can be sweet but still taste like wine and not Kool-Aid. The Weis is made in a more modern style than many of the German wines we’re used to, the ones with the old-fashioned labels filled with almost unpronounceable German wine terms. That means fresher apricot fruit instead of the traditional dried fruit, and it also means brighter acidity. But it’s also layered with a traditional note of fresh honey, which is one of those things that make a quality German Riesling so enjoyable.
The time-honored pairing with a Christmas prime rib is a big, beefy red wine, but most carry big, beefy price tags—$30 and up. Fortunately, there’s the Vistalba Corte C red blend from Argentina ($15). It’s made primarily with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet gives the wine structure—zippy tannins and welcome acidity for balance, which are two things that most inexpensive Malbecs don’t have by themselves. But there still is lots of blackberry Malbec fruit. It’s a combination that makes for a wine that is hefty enough for a juicy, crusty, pink-roasted prime rib. In this, it will please wine geeks but also will impress people who just want a “smooth” wine to drink with dinner.
Finding inexpensive California Chardonnay is a lot like going on a snipe hunt. Everyone says there are lots out there, but when you go to the store, there never seem to be any. That’s where the Cameron Hughes Lot 526 Chardonnay ($14) comes in—a well-made, fruit-forward white wine without all that oak that makes so many other Chardonnays taste like a picket fence. Hughes made his name selling one-off wines before the recession and has made the move to becoming a traditional producer who sells his wine to retailers throughout the country. The Chardonnay, from the Santa Barbara region, is lower in alcohol—just 13.6%—than many of its more expensive competitors, which, at 14% and 14.5%, can have a nasty, hot alcohol aftertaste. Look for some tropical fruit in the Hughes mixed with typical Chardonnay green apple fruit, a food-friendly combination. The wine is almost subtle and so won’t overpower something like a Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve roast salmon and would especially complement salmon that has a light sauce.
Pairing wine with brisket isn’t as straightforward as it seems, because brisket isn’t as straightforward as prime rib. There’s more earthiness to brisket, and a traditional Hanukkah brisket adds even more earthiness because it’s braised with carrots and onions and served with the braising liquid. So you need a wine that fits the differences, and that’s the red Domaine du Théron Prestige ($15), a Malbec from the Cahors region in southwestern France. It combines Malbec’s varietal fruitiness with a particular French style—in this case, just enough funky woodsy character to play off the traditional Malbec fruit. This Malbec shows how an Old World producer can use New World technology to make a wine that offers much more than $15 of value.
Crown Roast of Lamb
Wine snobs slobber at the idea of Italian red wines made with the Barbera grape that comes from the Piedmont region in the country’s northwest, and the wines easily can cost more than $50. That’s where the Cantine Sant’Agata Baby Barbera d’Asti comes in—it’s just $12, offering classic Barbera quality for a quarter of the price. What’s not to like about a red wine that’s low in alcohol (just 12.5%), fresh and zesty, and has the telltale Italian cherry fruit? In this, it’s exactly what roast lamb needs, a wine with enough warp and woof to stand up to the lamb’s distinctive, almost herbal, flavor. This is one of the best wines I’ve had at this price in years, especially given how boring most $10 and $12 red wines are. It’s also very young and should get even better as it ages over the next several years. Buy some to enjoy now—and some extra to serve with next year’s holiday roast lamb.
Baked ham, with its saltiness, fat and even sweetness (brown sugar, maple syrup and/or pineapple, for example), is not easy to pair memorably with wine. Fortunately, there is Rosé. One delightful choice: The $10 Spanish El Coto, a Rosé made with Garnacha and Tempranillo grapes in the country’s famous northern Rioja region. Why this Rosé? Because it’s fruity enough to stand up to the ham’s sweetness and saltiness, yet fresh enough to cut through the fattiness. The El Coto offers strawberry fruit as most Rosés do but also a hint of orange peel from the Tempranillo and even a little dark character that is as surprising as it is welcome.