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5 Tips to Ace Your Holiday Wine Shopping

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May your wine selections be winners

And your holidays be merry

Written by Carlos Smith

Carlos Solorzano-Smith is the founder of Aspen Cellar Consulting, Aspen Hospitality Group, and a prominent sommelier based in Aspen, Colorado. Recognized as an industry expert, his expertise is only matched by his passion. Carlos began his career in hospitality working for various luxury hotels and high-end restaurants across the nation, studying wine under the tutelage of top master sommeliers. In 2018, he launched Aspen Cellar Consulting, which has helped clients worldwide enhance both their wine collections and wine knowledge. In 2021, he launched Aspen Hospitality Group, a restaurant partnership dedicated to offering incomparable dining experiences.

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The right wine can enhance any occasion, especially during the holiday season. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, every holiday get-together – from work parties to family gatherings to dinners with loved ones – can be a perfect opportunity to revisit old favorites or discover new wines. And for many of us, sipping a nice glass of wine is a great way to work through holiday stress.

But buying wine itself shouldn’t be a difficult experience. All too often, choosing the right wine for a gift or a party can seem complicated when it should be fun. So, how do you pick wines that all will enjoy without breaking the bank?

Follow these 5 simple tips to make your holiday wine shopping a breeze:

1. Plan Ahead

Before you head to the store, do some wine-glass budgeting. A standard wine bottle is about 25 fluid ounces. That means you’ll likely get about 4 to 5 glasses out of each. If you’re expected to supply the wine for a gathering, make sure you’re prepared. You don’t want to come up short when glasses start to run dry. And of course, you can always hold onto an extra bottle for the next occasion (of which there are sure to be many during the holiday season).

2. Play to the Middle

There are many types of wine and seemingly countless components that go into assessing wine, but for the holidays you’ll want to focus on approachability and flexibility. Look for wines that won’t be too polarizing, even if your guests don’t typically drink wine. And go for wines that are versatile enough to pair with a multitude of dishes. Finding a happy medium may sound tricky at first, but the middle ground is broader than you think. For example, if your guests either don’t like wine or may only enjoy very sweet wine, pick a higher quality wine that carries a little bit of sugar. This will act as an equalizer for those who don’t typically seek sweetness.

3. Limit Your Selections

It’s always a good idea to narrow your picks between a few bottles rather than buying a large variety. That’s because guests tend to discover a bottle they enjoy and gravitate to it quickly. Choosing two or three options and then purchasing multiple bottles gives you a tactical advantage over buying five or six different selections. This way, once word gets out that the Syrah is spectacular, you’ll have another bottle in reserve and plenty to go around.

4. Consider the Classics

Just like holiday music, there are traditional selections best known for setting the mood at any number of seasonal festivities. Your local wine shop or liquor store should be able to guide you in that direction.

holiday wine shopping

Here are a few of our go-to recommendations:

Dry White Wine and Dry Rosé 

These are very strong options because of their flexibility at the dinner table. And offering a few different levels of quality can also help make your wine go further. For instance, get the party started with a larger 1.5-liter bottle of light, crispy Pinot Grigio or a slightly sweet style of Riesling and save the higher quality wines to open once the merry-making is well underway.

Sparkling Wine

Always an excellent way to begin or end an evening. Simply put: it was made for these occasions. A good bottle of champagne is always preferable, but it’s entirely possible to find delicious (and affordable) French Crémant and Californian Sparkling.

The French Red Wine Beaujolais-Nouveau

Fantastic, without fail. Made from the Gamay grape, this wine offers a bright gummy red fruit, a light body, and inherent freshness. It pairs with nearly everything on the table and is an iconic seasonal drink as it’s always released just in time for the holidays.

Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Chenin Blanc

White Wine-producing grapes have many styles available to complement almost any holiday occasion. They are delightful options you can enjoy without having to splurge.

Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah

Red Wine-producing grapes make for characteristically reliable holiday picks. These selections, next to the Italian Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, do vary from light to heavy, but they are all incredibly adaptable when it comes to food pairings.

5. Trust Your Instincts

If you know what you like and what your guests like, lean on the tried-and-true rather than the unfamiliar. If you have a strong anchoring for California Cabernet Sauvignon, get what you love. If you are hosting wine drinkers who enjoy Pinot Noir, then the choice is obvious. While there are many great options, it’s important not to fight your feelings, especially when it comes to memorable occasions. After all, you have the rest of the year to experiment with new flavors. 

Remember, you are the hero of the holidays for supplying the wine. Even if you feel the wine didn’t deliver exactly the way you wanted, it will still be enjoyed just fine. Doing your due diligence in wine shopping shows you care about your friends and family. And by following the above steps, you can’t go wrong. Hospitality, friendship, warmth, and love—that’s what the season is all about. And that pairs perfectly with almost any wine.

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