David Lawrason reveals his holiday wine buying strategy, along with nine of his favourite festive bottles
What are the best holiday dinner wines? This is a question I get every year, usually at the 11th hour when the asker is dashing off to the LCBO, only to find the selection depleted and the lineups winding back into the beer fridges. To those pathologically last-minute shoppers, I say break the cycle: shop early and shop once. With a little planning and a few extra dollars, you can put together a collection of wines that will make the evening truly remarkable. I’ve chosen nine of my favourites, including an award-winning Ontario bubbly for welcoming guests, bird-perfect pairings and a mellow sipper for after the feast has been demolished. They’re all excellent options for toasting the season of giving and gluttony.
This light, dry sparkler makes a great opening act for any holiday occasion. It’s slim and racy, with a touch of sweetness and mild apple and shortbread flavours that pair nicely with oysters and canapés. Plus, $25 is a very fair price for a bubbly that’s won a string of Ontario and Canadian wine awards. LCBO 215913
This white is classy, silky, sleek and effortless, with unique apricot, honey and wildflower aromas. It’s a great sipper to set an elegant mood before the meal, while still being rich enough to pair with shrimp and seafood appetizers. Don’t over-chill—it robs the wine of its nuances. Vintages. LCBO 948158
Hailing from a classic region in the centre of France, this brisk, mid-weight sauvignon blanc bristles with freshness and sophistication. Lifted grapefruit, lime, green herb and nettle aromas are ideal for oysters Rockefeller, goat cheese canapés or a salad course. Chill well. Vintages. LCBO 542548
Ontario’s barrel-fermented chardonnays—the ones priced at $20 or more—are now among the world’s best. This one is powerful enough to stand up to heavy turkey, gravy and stuffing, but elegant enough to pair with fish. It packs rich vanilla-cream custard, toasty oak, cashew and baked apple flavours. Chill moderately. Vintages. LCBO 573147
Pinot noir is my wine of choice for turkey. This one is smooth and gentle yet well-defined with classic sour cherry jam–cranberry fruit, as well as toasty oak and pine accents. It’s a crowd-pleaser, so it’ll suit large groups with varying tastes. Chill lightly. LCBO 146548
Hosting means you’ll inevitably end up with a few guests who drink nothing but big reds. This black Aussie shiraz is for them. It’s also great if you’re doing a roast instead of turkey. Cassis-blackberry fruit is embellished with gunflint, pepper and chocolate. Decant 60 minutes. Vintages. LCBO 611210
I love to relax at the end of the meal with a cheese course and a rich amarone. Made from dried grapes grown in the Valpolicella region, this is one of the classiest amarones on the shelf. It’s plush yet nuanced, with complex fresh fig, leather and roasted chestnut flavours. Decant 60 minutes. LCBO 317057
A creamy sauternes makes a light and elegant dessert wine. The great barrel-fermented sémillon-based sweet wine of Bordeaux offers more complexity, if less power, than most Ontario icewines, and for a lower price. It’s laden with guava, peach, orange and honey flavours. Vintages. LCBO 97907
Graham’s 20-Year-Old Tawny Port $37 for 500 mL | Portugal | 93 points
A long-aged port is ideal for the chocolate and nut tray that closes out the evening by the fire. This is a silky, sweet and refined sipper with intense, pure aromas of apricot, prune, honey, cedar and orange. Warm and powerful. LCBO 620641
Scores: David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality. A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 85 to 89 very good; 80 to 84 good.
(Illustration: Jack Dylan)