Red may be the color of the season -- what with Santa's suit and Rudolph's shiny nose -- but what if you're dreaming of a white wine Christmas?
No problem, says Doug Bell, national wine buyer for Whole Foods Market. "The holidays are the times when you just break all those wine mores and try different things," he points out.
With that settled, where to start when making your holiday sip list?
Chardonnay's always a good fallback. It goes well with poultry, a staple of the season's eatings, it's versatile, it's familiar and, gosh darn it, people like it. There's a reason this is America's No. 1 table wine.
Still, you can shake things up a little by widening your geographical palate and trying a chardonnay that comes from someplace other than California. Whole Food's Top 10 list of holiday wines includes a Domaine de Bernier chardonnay from the Loire Valley in France that can be found for under $10.
Mike DeSimone, coauthor with Jeff Jenssens of the recently published "Wines of the Southern Hemisphere: The Complete Guide," thinks Old World when picking winter whites.
"Since Christmas falls during the colder months -- at least here in the northern hemisphere -- it's a great time to stock up on cold-weather whites from Burgundy or Alsace," he says. "They can be less expensive than you might expect. We keep a few in gift bags in the trunk of the car in case we've forgotten anyone as we make our holiday rounds."
He recommends Louis Jadot Macon-Villages 2011, for $15, from Burgundy, which pairs well with chicken, turkey or fish. Or, from Alsace for $20, try Lucien Albrecht Reserve Pinot Gris Romanus 2010, which goes well with lightly spiced veal or pork.
Jenssen, meanwhile, likes two chardonnays from New Zealand, Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, for $18, and Kumeu River Village Chardonnay 2009, for $20. (All prices approximate.) "Both are produced in a classic French style and the citrus and fruit notes are nicely balanced by flavors of vanilla and toast. I would pour either of these with chicken or fish in cream sauce or even a fancy macaroni and cheese."
When talking turkey pairings, a slightly different way to go is Gewurztraminer, a cool-climate grape that produces wines that typically range from slightly sweet to quite sweet. The Alsace region of France is known for Gewurztraminer (ge-VIRTZ-traminer often referred to as just ge-VIRTZ), but you also can find it from U.S. regions, including Mendocino County in Northern California and the Columbia Valley of Oregon and Washington.
Or, you can add a little gold to your holiday table with the honey-colored sweet white wines of Sauternes and Barsac in the Bordeaux wine-growing region of France.
The wine is made from white grapes that have been affected by the "noble rot," more scientifically known as Botrytis cinerea, a fungus that concentrates the sugars and the aromas in the grapes. This is the home of the famous Château d'Yquem, which sells for hundreds a bottle, but there are plenty of other producers in the region putting out good wines at a range of prices. These also make for good gifts since they're pretty in the bottle and a little bit out of the ordinary.
This is a wine for sipping fireside or enjoying with some cheese nibbles. It's also surprisingly versatile, pairing well with savory holiday dishes such as turkey and sweet potatoes. Aline Baly, whose family owns the Chateau Coutet winery in the village of Barsac, sees the wines as "a reminder of the holiday season with their distinct notes of citrus zest, orange and lemon, and ripe nectars, pears, and the sweet touch of gingerbread on your palate." Prices vary but Château Coutet can generally be found for around $30 a half-bottle.
Whatever you're serving this season, be sure to have a little fun, Bell advises. And don't be shy of trying something different. "It's the one time of year when you know you're going to have people over, and you're going to have a LOT of people over. And if your crowd is wine drinkers, that's a good time to open up three or four different wines. That's the fun way to do it."
DeSimone and Jenssen's website: http://worldwineguys.com