Sam Decker is the general manager and wine director at Atria in Edgartown, where he teaches weekly wine courses. Register at mvwineschool.com. Twice a month, he will be sharing his knowledge of wines with the Times.
You’re running late for a holiday party and you stop to buy wine, only to realize you have no idea what’s for dinner. You text the host. With the answer (“Leg of Lamb. Where r u?!”) comes a wave of anxiety: Now you’re expected to make a decision based on this information. And you have five minutes.
It’s stressful enough trying to pair wine with a never-ending array of holiday fare, but having to do so last minute makes matters worse. Here are a few pointers to help keep your holidays stress free.
First, say goodbye to Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s wonderful in the right context, but unless you’re having grilled T-bones or nothing but dessert this Christmas, the holidays are not the time for it.
Second, take a chance on lesser known regions. We should all give ourselves a pat on the back: Our holiday meals are rich, nuanced and made with love. Why shouldn’t our wines be as well? Look for reds from Sicily and France’s Northern Rhône, home to ambitious small producers, whose wines are as versatile and affordable as they are delicious.
Third, fortified wine is your friend. Port, sherry, and madeira have the acidity, sugar, and complexity from years of aging to stand up to any holiday dish, be it fruitcake (madeira), stuffed pork loin (port), or oysters Rockefeller (sherry). As their name suggests, these wines are literally fortified by their high alcohol content, meaning that you open a bottle at the beginning of the holidays and it will be good until the final drop after the new year.
Go-to grapes for holiday dishes
Turkey Frappato from Sicily. Energetic and bright with a punch of cherry, this is cranberry sauce in a bottle. Producer: Arianna Occhipinti.
Salmon Pinot noir rosé. Examples from California’s Anderson Valley combine body, acidity, and fruit — a perfect match for salmon’s oily, oaky qualities. Producer: Copain.
Lamb or Roast Beef Syrah from the Northern Rhône. Reds from Sub-regions like Côte-Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage offer spicy and savory notes, dimensions that many California wines forgo in favor of fruitiness. Producer: Domaine Combier.