Each year, as we near the holidays, articles fill with recommendations for wine pairings with typical big feast meals beginning to take over the publishing world. I read about big red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, even Zinfandel to pair your Thanksgiving turkeys, prime rib roasts, Christmas hams, and of course, Champagne to toast the upcoming New Year! I typically do the same, with some recommendations of classic favorites to go with the classic meals.

This year, in the spirit of new experiences and adventures, I encourage you to explore outside your typical palate and celebrate the holidays with alternatives to the “popular” wines! Throughout my wine ventures, I’ve discovered lesser known wine regions which are not always the first pick when it comes to the novice consumer. I’ve put together a short list of alternative wines to the crowd favorites for you to try this holiday season.

From Chablis Chardonnay to Albariño

Chablis is a wine region located in the northern part of Burgundy Bourgogne in French, France, whose wines are made from Chardonnay only. Well known for high-end Chardonnay, the wines are crisp and high in acid, with a chalky minerality that makes it one of a kind. However, if would like to try something comparable, yet unique in its own right, explore the Albariño white grape of Spain, where it is primarily grown in Rías Baixas of Galicia. This wine is sometimes compared to Chardonnay, as it also has the crisp acid and mineral components. However, this wine also contributes an aromatic profile of honeysuckle and white flowers, and unique salinity that makes this wine great with seafood, and oysters in particular.

From Burgundy to Central Otago
Pinot Noir

When people think of Pinot Noir, they jump to specific regions: California, France, Oregon, etc. The wines are great and unique in their respective regions, California being the more fruit-forward of the Pinots with some Old World style exceptions, while France and Oregon produce Pinot Noirs with complex aromas and flavors and the earthy, fine tannins to match. But, if you want a change in style, explore Central Otago. Located in the southernmost region on the South Island of New Zealand, it is also the southernmost commercial wine region in the world. Pinot Noir thrives here as a hidden gem. The fruit-forwardness of the wine, balanced by the intense structure lends to the unique profile of Central Otago’s Pinot Noirs. This wine does have a one of a kind aroma and tasting profile, with a good balance between earthiness and ripe fruit.

From German Riesling to Australia

If you prefer something a little crisp and sweeter, instead of going for your typical German or American Rieslings, try yet another hidden gem of the world, Rieslings from Australia. In particular, Clare Valley and Eden Valley are both well known for Rieslings produced in a range of styles. The wines are nice and crisp with high acidity, while exhibiting citrus fruit aromas and flavor characteristics.

From California Cabernet Sauvignon to South Africa

When one thinks of Cabernet, the standard go-to wine regions are likely to be California, France, maybe Washington. But, have you tried Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa? Stellenbosch continues to be a best seller in terms of Cabernet Sauvignon out of South Africa year over year. Wines from there are fuller bodied, with dark fruit aromas and flavors with dark chocolate, earthy overtones. Constantia, on the other hand, is typically known for its dessert wines, called Vin de Constance. However, Cabernet Sauvignon is also produced here, exhibiting black fruits, but also a unique mint aroma and flavor characteristic that is hard to duplicate anywhere else.

From Champagne to New Mexico
sparkling wine

Finally, who can celebrate the holidays and ringing in of the New Year without a little bubbly? Rather than going for your typical Champagne from France, or sparkling wine from California, how about trying sparkling wine from New Mexico? Surprisingly, some of the best Champagne-style wine comes from New Mexico, whose most well-known and largest winery is Gruet Winery. Gilbert Gruet, founder of Gruet Winery, was originally a winemaker from France who decided to explore ideal winemaking regions in other parts of the world. It turns out that southern New Mexico has prime growing conditions for grapes, mimicking the climate of Champagne, France. Gruet makes multiple styles of sparkling wine, from dry Brut style, to slightly sweet Demi Sec, to Rosé.

Enjoy your holidays this year, and I hope you reach outside your comfort zones to try some new experiences in the wine world to pair with your holiday fests.

Until next month, Cheers and have a Happy Holidays with family and friends~!