Good spirits for holiday gatherings


Holidays are often one of two things: joyous, culinary merriment or stressful, soul-crushing family battles. Whichever the case, good drinks are always in order. From cocktails and bottles of wine to sudsy beer or all of the above, PACIFIC has it covered with some favorite picks for each category.


With the overwhelming number of varietals available these days, it’s tough to know what to pick for the holiday table. Classic choices include sparkling wine, chardonnay, rose and pinot noir. Here’s why and what to buy:

Sparkling wine/Champagne: Bubbles make everything better. And it so happens it pairs well with almost anything. ‘Nuff said.

Chardonnay: Whether opting for a leaner French-style or a rich, oaky, butter bomb, this varietal matches what’s on the table. Leaner, more mineral-driven chardonnays are crisp and clean, and will slice through the fat, while still matching the cuisine with notes of apple, pear, and vanilla. The more robust style will pair with those homemade biscuits, cornbread and mashed potatoes.

Overlooked varietals: Chenin blanc and viognier. Chenin varies from zesty, lean and minerally to sweet, depending on the producer. Viognier has round notes of tropical fruit, and can be lovely with fruity dishes and light desserts.

Rose: Fruity and refreshing, a dry rose is the perfect aperitif for appetizers and pre-meal munching, while keeping the meal fresh with good acidity. Crowd-pleasing notes include strawberry, cranberry and red currants.

Pinot noir: A classic red, pinot noir pairs exquisitely with turkey, dressing, and pretty much everything on the table. Exceptions are the green beans, artichokes, and asparagus, which have chemical compounds that can make reds taste vegetal (i.e. not good). So why not have a glass of both white and red for perfect pairings?

On the cheap/for the masses: Head to Trader Joe’s or check out the holiday sales at wine shops and grocery wine sections. A few crowd-pleasing ideas including Mbali Chenin Blanc/Viognier, $5 at Trader Joe’s or A by Acacia Rose, $7-9 at Vons.

Mid-range: Gloria Ferrer (multiple varieties), $18-20 or Schramsberg, $26-$30.

Splurge worthy: It’s the holidays. Family is stressful, so go big.

  • Sparkling: Domaine Carneros Brut or Brut Rose, $30-$35, most Grocery Outlets.
  • Chardonnay: Go for a white Burgundy from France or California’s own Pahlmeyer “Jayson” chardonnay, $45-50, specialty wine shops and Grocery Outlets.
  • For exceptional pinot noir, there’s nothing better than first-hand recommendations. Head to San Diego Wine Co. in Miramar, The Wine Connection in Del Mar, or Holiday Wine Cellar in Escondido, tell them your price point, and let them work their magic.


Beer can be tough, because no one wants bubbles in the tummy in the spaces where food belongs.

Appetizers: Start out the day light and easy with a craft pilsner, like Modern Times Ice or Mikkeler San Diego’s California Dream. As meal time approaches, go a little bolder.

Mealtime brews: Alesmith Nut Brown Ale, Karl Strauss Red Trolley (Note: Getting bombed on an 11% ABV barrel-aged beer slows down proper eating, so keep the brews smooth and easy for mealtime, like an amber, brown, or porter.)

Karl Strauss' Red Trolley Ale, one of five San Diego beers that have changed the world. (Howard Lipin/U-T)
(Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

After dinner: Go big with a celebratory finish, like Port Brewing Company’s Santa’s Little Helper or Older Viscosity, Rip Current’s barrel-aged Rescue Buoy (15 months in Heaven Hills and Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels), or Acoustic Ales Unplugged imperial chocolate and oatmeal stout.


Boozing during holiday events can quickly go sideways, with cross-table debates, haughty insults, and the inevitable stomping out of the room. So keep the cocktails in check with a simple starter and an after-meal treat. Start with a refreshing welcome cocktail, like a Moscow Mule, French 75 with gin, or a simple Ginger Snap (recipe below), a perfect way to settle the stomach for a gigantic meal.

Ginger Snap

1 oz. Ketel One Citroen

1 oz. Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur

½ oz. Cointreau

½ oz. fresh lemon juice

Club soda

Fill glass with ice. Add first three ingredients and shake. Top with club soda. Garnish with lemon wheel and slice of fresh ginger.

After dinner, mix up a round of these cocktails for a comforting, caffeine-perked delight for guests.

Up and Autumn from Sycamore Den

1 oz. rye whiskey

1 oz. apple brandy

½ oz. Dark Horse Coffee demerara sugar (equal parts cold brew to demerara sugar)

2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters

Add large ice cubes to a double old fashioned glass. Add all ingredients and stir. Garnish with an orange twist and a couple fresh coffee beans.