For nearly two decades, I’ve been writing the “ultimate holiday wines” story. Every year, I ask myself: Is there a best wine for Thanksgiving? The perfect latke wine? A must-have bottle to ring in the New Year? And if there is, why is it suddenly different this year from last?
Let it be known that, inarguably, the best bottle to have while lounging around with family or making awkward conversation with strangers at holiday parties is a magnum. Coming in at 1.5 liters, twice the size of a standard bottle, magnums fit the vibe of generosity and decadence magnificently. So, we reached out to a number of wine-shop buyers and restaurant wine directors around the States to see which sub-$75 magnums they’re keeping at the ready this go-round.
As if taking a cue from the spirit of Beaujolais (a perennial go-to once temperatures duck below 70 degrees), there came several votes for joyous, lighter-bodied reds—but from farther-flung places. The star of the bunch: Roberto Henríquez’s Fundo La Unión Cinsault, from Chile’s coastal Bío Bío region, which came to us by way of Lily Peachin, of Dandelion Wine in Brooklyn. “It’s fresh and alive and will keep guests alert and happy for a long, heavy meal,” says Peachin. Not that anyone needs a TED Talk on wine over the holidays, but, Peachin points out, “it’s a conversation starter, an interesting wine that many may not know about.” Chile—and in particular, this area of the Itata Valley, where truly ancient vines (many 100, and some 200 years old) continue to thrive—remains an underestimated source of exciting wines.
Henríquez is a leader of the natural-wine movement in Chile. He spent a handful of years working abroad—in France’s Loire with René Mosse, and in South Africa—before heading home, choosing to work with growers who had preserved historic vines in Itata and neighboring Bío Bío, and adopting biodynamic processes in a place where they were not the norm. Cinsault has been grown in Itata for more than a century, and in the right hands produces wines with a centering earthiness and real zap of red fruit. A 750-milliliter bottle comes in at $27, but if you really want to make the hosts and guests of your holiday fête feel taken care of, you’ll bring a magnum, which costs around $60.
Sticking to the fruit-forward and lighter-bodied theme, Skye LaTorre, of Pluck wine bar in New Orleans, suggested the carignan-based La Mariole from Domaine Ledogar, in France’s Corbières region. She describes La Mariole as “a happy, low-maintenance wine” that can fit into a cocktail party just as well as a sit-down meal, with “plenty of personality to keep you fully intrigued and enough acid and versatility to play nice if and when you transition to dinner,” LaTorre says.
There were a few calls for wines from the Iberian Peninsula. For example, Jordan Smelt, of Lucian Books and Wine in Atlanta, recommended 4 Monos Viticultores GR-10 Tinto as his “very handy [Beaujolais] alternative from just outside Madrid.” The wine is a collaboration by four friends who work in the intriguing Gredos area, a chiseled, rocky place with old-vine garnacha that has attracted the attention of winemakers from around the country; a number of them have purchased land or grapes there in recent years. “This is what all crowd-pleasing party wines should be: fresh, vibrant and easygoing with all types of food,” says Smelt.
No one will fault you for sticking with the classic Beaujolais. To boot, it’s a region known for producers who love to party, which is probably why a good deal of wine is bottled in magnum there. Domaine Dupeuble is an affordable favorite (from a 500-year-old winery, no less) that came recommended this year by Evelyn Goreshnik, of Queen St. in Los Angeles. “It’s got juicy red fruit notes, pepper, is slightly earthy and doesn’t overpower any dish you are serving,” Goreshnik says. And at $42 a mag, she recommends “snagging a few.”
You don’t have to label any of these wines the “best” or “ultimate”; they are all simply delicious, friendly plus-ones to all the hubbub this time of year brings. If you do have to just pick one, you can’t go wrong with Henríquez’s Fundo La Unión—a magnum that comes with an undeniable legacy of making it through (I mean, the vines have survived longer than most of us will) and bringing a little levity along the way.
Roberto Henríquez’s Fundo La Unión Cinsault
Cinsault has been grown in Itata for more than a century, and in the right hands produces wines with a centering earthiness and real zap of red fruit. Roberto Henríquez’s Fundo La Unión Cinsault is “fresh and alive and will keep guests alert and happy for a long, heavy meal,” says Lily Peachin, of Dandelion Wine in Brooklyn, making it ideal for the holiday season.
- Price: $60
- Vintage: 2020