Whether you're attending a holiday-themed housewarming, a big New Year's Eve bash, or simply going over to your bestie's house to watch "Love Actually" for the umpteenth time, there's no better way to celebrate the holiday season than with a great bottle of wine.
However, choosing the right bottle for the occasion can be difficult. With so many labels, varietals, blends, and price points to choose from, you may be overwhelmed with options. And just because you picked up a bottle that has a pretty label doesn't mean it'll actually be good. "Today, there is so much information available via various publications and the internet it can be hard to know who to trust to direct you to a wine you'll enjoy," says Vanessa Conlin, head of wine at Wine Access.
Meet the Expert
Vanessa Conlin is head of wine at online wine store, Wine Access. Joel Caruso is a sommelier with online wine store Vivino.
Don't worry; we're here to help. Below, we're sharing expert-approved ways to buy a bottle of wine that will make you the life of the party.
While "good things come in small packages" is certainly true in some cases, it's not always that way with wine. If you want to get the party started, go big with a supersized bottle. "One of the easiest ways to wow a party is to show up with a large-format bottle of wine—a magnum or double-magnum instantly makes any gathering a party," Conlin notes. "Everyone remembers fondly the person that showed up with a giant bottle of wine."
Trust us; the host will thank you for not having to uncork a new bottle every hour.
Keep It Versatile
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but buying wine is not a one-blend-fits-all situation. (After all, there's a reason wine pairings exist.) But if you're on the hunt for something versatile that will pair well with multiple dishes, Pinot noir is the way to go.
"Pinot noir is a holiday favorite because it's well-balanced and fruit-forward, pairing well with staples like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce," Joel Caruso, Vivino's sommelier, says. Depending on your social calendar, you might want to stock up on bottles of Pinot noir now, so you'll always be ready with a present.
It doesn’t matter if you prefer red, white, or rosé: We believe that everyone can appreciate a great bottle of bubbly. “When choosing wine for a holiday party, don’t forget the bubbles,” Conlin adds. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend the big bucks on a bottle of fancy Champagne or sparkling wine to impress your host.
“Champagne is always a hit, but for the budget-conscious consumer, there is a variety of alternatives that are more affordable—from Cava and French Cremant to Prosecco—that will liven up the party at a fraction of the price,” Conlin says.
Know the Story
Everything has a story—and a great bottle of wine is no exception. According to Conlin, knowing the story behind a bottle can turn most options into a wondrous gift. “Bringing a bottle that is meaningful is a great way to wow a party,” Conlin points out.
Whether you ask your local wine shop for some more information or search a varietal online, research makes it possible to fake your way to wine expert status. “Wine is about more than drinking; its true power comes from being able to transport you to a different time and place,” she explains. “Sharing the story of the producer, region, or just recalling a special moment in your life when you had the wine is an easy way to wow a party and make an impression.”
Knowledge often cultivates appreciation, and a great place to start might be to brush up on how wine is made–from harvest, to the crushing of the grapes, fermentation, aging (which can take anywhere from a few months to a few years), and bottling.
Try Lesser-Known Regions
We all have those friends who know the difference between Merlot and Pinot noir, including being able to detect every last note and nuance of a glass. Unless you interrogated your local wine shop’s sales assistant, finding a bottle that will wow them is easier said than done. According to Caruso, it pays to go off the beaten path, whether you're a wine enthusiast or wine beginner.
“Explore lesser-known regions and styles you may not be familiar with,” Caruso says. “You can get great value wines from places like Paso Robles in California, Puglia in Italy, Portugal, and South Africa as a few examples." Want to impress with French wine? Caruso encourages you to consider wines from Beaujolais made from Gamay, or Provence for rosé. Trust us, even the snobbiest of wine snobs will give you some kudos for your creative purchase.
Share Your Favorites
You don’t have to be a sommelier to know a great bottle of wine when you taste it. If you’re stumped on picking out a wine that will wow, why not share one of your favorite blends? “The biggest mistake I see people make is not trusting their own palate when selecting a wine,” Conlin offers. “Often, people buy wine based on scores alone, without stopping to consider if it’s a style of wine they would enjoy.”
Ultimately, the holiday season is all about giving, and your host will be touched to receive a bottle that means so much to you.