Toast the season: Wine suggestions for every December holiday

Happy holidays!  

I find it odd that some people get offended by the phrase “happy holidays”; after all, it allows people to convey their best wishes when we are not sure which, if any, of the winter festivals a person celebrates. During the time between Thanksgiving and the new year, many of us celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice—and/or even Festivus. The good news is, whichever winter holidays you celebrate, there is a wine with which to enjoy them. 

I spoke with Ty Martin, the owner of Craft Wine & Beer in Reno. “Few customers come into the store specifically looking for a holiday themed wine,” he said. “However, they are looking for a special wine to share with friends and family while celebrating the holidays.” 

Here are some of my ideas for fun holiday wine selections. 


Hanukkah is observed for eight days and nights, making for lots of great wine opportunities. If you celebrate Hanukkah, or have friends who do, I recommend drinking a wine from Israel. Israel has been producing some really nice wines in recent years, including conventional and kosher ones. In order for a wine to be kosher, a Sabbath-observant Jew must supervise the entire winemaking process, from crushing to bottling, and any additives must also be certified kosher. Most wine varieties from Israel are classic French varieties that were introduced there by Baron Rothschild back in the late 1800s. 


Christmas offers a lot of options for wine, thanks to Christmas parties, and celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Many of us have our own special memories and traditions around Christmas—I know I do, and many of my memories are wrapped around Old World visions of Santa Claus. These traditional Santa memories transport me back to jolly old England, France or Germany. While I wouldn’t drink it every day, around Christmastime, I like to drink mulled wine, because of its Old World Christmas fair. There are a few readymade mulled wines, but I recommend you make your own. There are many different recipes to fit anyone’s tastes, and I dare you to drink some without the Christmas tune “Here We Come A-Wassailing” popping into your head. 


Founded in 1966 by American activist, author and professor Maulana Karenga, this holiday is based on African harvest festivals and was created to reaffirm and restore African heritage. This celebration lasts seven days and involves song, dance, storytelling and a candle-lighting ceremony that represents the seven principles of Kwanzaa. If you are celebrating Kwanzaa with wine, I recommend a wine from South Africa. There are many high-quality producers there, and many of these wineries, or “wine farms,” as they are known there, are owned and operated by members of South Africa’s Black community. Two wine varieties that are really outstanding from South Africa are chenin blanc and pinotage. 

Winter solstice 

If you are more spiritual than religious and celebrate the cycles of the Earth, I’m sure you will be celebrating the winter solstice. This year, it occurs on Dec. 21. This marks the time when days start to get longer, and the themes of rebirth and renewal are celebrated. I believe the best wines to celebrate this are natural wines.  

“I am seeing more people coming into the store asking about natural wines,” Martin told me. “However, there are no official regulations on what the term ‘natural wine’ means.” In other words, any wine producer can label their wines as “natural,” regardless of how they are made, but typically, a wine labeled “natural” will be made from organic or bio-dynamically grown grapes, fermented with no added yeasts, and processed with no added elements like sulfur. 


Created by author Daniel O’Keefe, Festivus is celebrated on Dec. 23 as an alternative to the commercialism of the Christmas season. Festivus became widely known after it was the subject of an episode of Seinfeld in 1997. It is both a form of playful consumer resistance and a parody of other holiday festivals. I feel Festivus is a holiday of the people—and should be celebrated with a wine of the people. Take a stroll down your supermarket wine aisle, and grab the biggest box of wine they have, or something that comes in a gallon-sized jug. Tell everyone it is a parody of a fine holiday wine. 

Feel free to follow my holiday wine suggestions, or better yet, follow Ty’s advice: “At the end of the day, one should choose a wine that feels a little special. … Mostly, it should be something that makes you smile, and something that you really want to share.”