Choosing Wines for the Holiday Feast

Selecting the wines for holiday celebrations should merit the same care and attention that go into preparing the meal itself. Chefs and enologists agree that taking the time to match a wine to the menu results in a gastronomic experience far greater than the sum of its parts.

It's generally more satisfying to progress from lighter to more substantial foods and wines. Plan your meal course by course, then discuss your selections with a knowledgeable wine merchant, who can suggest wines to complement the flavors of the foods.

A good rule of thumb is to plan on half a bottle per person for a sit-down dinner (4 to 5 oz. per glass) and more for a cocktail party. Of course, your knowledge of the guests will dictate the number of bottles you order, but most hosts would rather have wine left over than run out. And many wine merchants will let you return unopened bottles.

Cocktail parties allow great freedom in the choice of wines. If the appetizers follow a specific theme, such as Mediterranean or tapas, your wine merchant can suggest wine pairings to enhance the menu. If a variety of foods will be served, choose wines that emphasize full flavors without being too heavy. For white wines, avoid anything too oaky, as oak tannins tend to dry out the mouth.

For the same reason, select softer red wines with low tannins. If you serve Champagne or sparkling wine, try to strike a balance between dry and sweet. Your goal should be a wine that is balanced and easy to drink.