Let’s talk about Christmas wine. I know, I know, Christmas is weeks away, but that’s exactly why we should talk about it. You can’t start boiling potatoes and you can’t start washing salad greens, but you can—and should—get ahead when it comes to wine.
We’ll have bottle recommendations for you starting later today, but first: Five Essential Christmas Wine Tips.
Tip #1: Buy Early, Store Safely
If you have a wine fridge, a cool spot under your stairs, a basement, or a safe closet that isn’t anywhere near a heater, you can stock up on wine now, and not have to worry about it for the rest of the month. In fact, if you can afford it, it might make sense to buy enough wine now for not just Christmas, but any parties you have planned for December, too. That way, you can take advantage of case discounts at your local wine store—or just save yourself a trip if the best wine shop in your area isn’t super convenient. You will drink better wine if you buy it at a specialized shop you trust, rather than last-minute at the grocery store.
Once you’ve gathered your bottles, be mindful of temperature. Don’t store wine anywhere that could get over 23 degrees. Don’t store it on top of the fridge. Don’t store it next to the oven in a pretty wine rack. Don’t store it near the fireplace. Under your bed could be good—but not if you stick a space heater there to warm your freezing toes.
Tip #2: Buy Enough
Buy enough wine. You don’t have to open it, so as long as you have a safe storage place (see above) you might as well stock up at the beginning of the frequent-entertaining season. Now’s the time to make your guest list and start figuring out how much wine to buy.
Multiply the number of hours you plan to entertain times the number of guest’s times two drinks per guest, and you’ve got the number of glasses of wine you might need. If you’re serving standard 750-mL bottles, it’s safe to assume you’ll get about four glasses per bottle, so divide your glass number by 4 to find out how many bottles you need.
Got that? Guests x hours x 2 = glasses.
Glasses / 4 = bottles.
So if I’m hosting six people and planning to have a half hour of pre-dinner snacks followed by a dinner that lasts about an hour and a half, I can figure 6 people x 2 hours x 2 drinks per hour = 24 glasses / 4 glasses per bottle = 6 bottles. For 6 people.
To be honest, you can probably just skip the math and plan on one bottle per wine-drinking person, unless your crowd happens to drink way less, start way early, or party way late. If Christmas is a full-day, lunch-to-midnight-snack affair for you, you may need more, but most people don’t tend to drink more than a full bottle per person at a dinner, no matter how long the evening goes.
Once you know the number of bottles you’re aiming for, you may be wondering how many different bottles you need. If you’re entertaining more than, say, 6 or 8 people, and your crowd is really into wine, you may want to get duplicates. Go for 2 or 3 of each bottle you choose, rather than choosing 8 different wines.
Tip #3: Got Other Wine Supplies?
Now—not the day before Christmas when you’re figuring out how to get your perfect dinner—is the time to make sure you’re all stocked up on the rest of the stuff you need to serve wine.
Got enough glassware for everyone, including an extra glass or two in case a stem gets broken?
One more thing: a lot of wines really benefit from a bit of extra air, and the easiest way to serve those is to dump them into a decanter. It doesn’t have to be a cut crystal heirloom; in fact, it could just be a water pitcher, but it’s nice if the decanter works to expose the wine to a little oxygen. If you have a big crowd coming for Christmas, it might make sense to have two.
I don’t recommend using those quick-decanting aerator gadgets. While they do add air to wine, they can actually push the aeration too far too fast, stripping the wine of some of its brightness and aroma. Take your time and do it the old fashioned way, and you’ll get to see more of how the wine evolves.
Tip #4: Aim for the $weet $pot
What should you spend on Christmas wine? Not too little, and not too much.
Too little, and most of your money goes to the cost of the glass bottle, the cost of the label, the cork, the shipping, the taxes, the marketing and sales efforts. Which doesn’t leave a ton of cash for the quality of the juice itself.