LV Staff Picks: Our go-to holiday wines

Remember, we never claimed to be experts. — illustration by Jordan Sellegren

Be economical! Picks under $16/750 ml

Baron de Breban Brut Blanc de Blancs

My vote is for more Champagne (or sparkling wine)! After a long day of holiday eating and socializing, a glass of bubbly really is the perfect refresher. Crisp and dry with perfect tiny bubbles that buzz around on your tongue, it’s an instant lift for your mood and your energy. It’s a great addition to any party, holiday or not — and after the holiday season, it’s my favorite way to bring a little festivity to an evening bath or Sunday family dinner.

–– Frankie Schneckloth

19 Crimes Hard Chard

When I was young, I drank my $5 pink wine straight from the bottle, still in the paper bag, while brazenly wandering through public parks with my friends, yelling drunkenly at them that they “just didn’t understand my life, OK?!?!”

Now that I am old, I have put away childish things. White zin is the devil’s wine, my children. And sweet wines come with a wicked headache. One thing I haven’t lost, though, is my fascination for extralegal behavior — and a particular passion of mine, more than public intox, is historical crime.

Enter 19 Crimes. This Australian vintner celebrates the country’s past by highlighting the criminals who founded it (each settler was charged with at least one of a list of 19 crimes). As a bonus, the company offers an app that, when your phone is pointed at a bottle, turns the convict on the label into a storyteller spinning their sordid tale — perfect for those who (like me) wish to avoid small talk at dinner parties.

Hard Chard is the label’s only white. It features the mug of Jane Castings, and notes on the back that approximately 20 percent of those shipped from England to Australia were women. (We won’t get into the stereotypes inherent in associating the only woman featured with the only white wine offered.) The wine is dry enough to offer a crisp mouthfeel and a clean finish, but the flavor has a hint of sweetness to it, making it ideal for mixed company, where you don’t know everyone’s preferred flavor profile.

–– Genevieve Trainor

Ackerman Winery blueberry wine

This may be the most dangerous wine I’ve ever tasted. A sip can quickly turn into a gulp can turn into me stumbling around with an empty bottle and a blue-stained mouth a la Ben Wyatt in Parks and Recreation when the character is first introduced to blueberry wine.

That is to say, this muffin in a glass is delicious and highly drinkable. Despite it’s red-blue color, Ackerman’s blueberry wine is more comparable to a sweet white like Moscato, but with the nice tart finish you can expect given its essential fruit. If nothing else, this delightful little wine is worth it for the excuse to visit Ackerman Winery in Amana, Iowa, which is beautiful in the fall and winter.

— Emma McClatchey

Cedar Ridge Edelweiss

Not just for the holidays, but year-round, this summery white is my go-to. It might be its lovely but subtle sweetness and whispers of peaches and apricots, or the way it reminds me of warmer and brighter days even in the grip of winter, or maybe even my obsession with The Sound of Music, as it feels only right to give my own rendition of “Edelweiss” every time I pour myself a glass. Great for ending long days and starting long nights. Give this one a try!

–– Jav Ducker

Casillero del Diablo Carménère

When bringing bottles of wine to holiday get-togethers, I have three rules: the bottle has to look nice on the table, the wine has to be reasonably priced and tasty, and it’s always nice to have some little story to tell. This one ticks all those boxes. Casillero del Diablo’s Carménère is fairly easy to find and isn’t terribly pricey. It starts off with almost peppery notes but evens out into softer, fruitier flavors, and isn’t so dry that it makes your teeth feel like they are coming loose. It works well with carb and meat-filled holiday meals, or on its own.

Plus, the grapes themselves have an interesting story. In the ’90s, a grape expert was looking at “Merlot” vines in Chilean vineyards and realized they weren’t Merlot at all, but an obscure varietal called Carménère. The Carménère grape is originally from France, but nearly disappeared due to a one-two punch of pest infestations and generally being seen as a persnickety grape to grow. In the mid-1800s, before this loss of popularity, vineyards in Chile imported grapes from Bordeaux, including Carménère, which became mislabeled over time. Now, some Chilean vineyards are trying to bring this grape back from obscurity, and I’m all for it.

— Lauren Shotwell

Freixenet Cava

For someone who spent two years working the back offices of the dominating fine wine retailer in New Zealand, I have an embarrassingly undeveloped knowledge of the stuff. I learned some but retained next to nothing, and being more of a swallower myself, have few critical tasting skills. Though I drank dozens (hundreds?) of bottles based on the recommendations of my office mates, these days, when I reach through the cobwebs of my neglected cellar of information, all I can find are wines that just don’t make it to Iowa.

One thing I did retain is this: you do not have a civilized barbecue or holiday meal without a bottle of celebratory bubbles to break the ice. I recommend Freixenet Cava, produced in Catalonia, which is under $10 and easy to find in just about any wine section. It was suggested to me by my general manager Liz Wheadon, who went out of her way to see to it that everyone’s glass was filled with bubbly.

–– Jordan Sellergren

Be really economical! Picks under $3/750 ml

Charles Shaw Shiraz

I tried a classic Charles Shaw Shiraz blend that has been pleasing pocketbooks at Trader Joe’s for years, coming in at just $2.99 per bottle. Once opened, a pleasant aroma complemented my first glass; the taste was exquisite and featured hints of grape flavors that didn’t overwhelm my palate and left me quickly pouring a second glass. If you’re considering a Charles Shaw Shiraz on your table this Thanksgiving I’d recommend purchasing at least three bottles—we went through the first bottle just as dinner was served. Don’t forget to give thanks and express gratitude this holiday season before you dive into your favorite mashed potatoes.

–– Jason Smith

Charles Shaw Shiraz

Looking for a wine that will make people say “I’ve had worse,” with a happy tone of mild surprise? Try the Charles Shaw Shiraz from Trader Joe’s. The famous nickname “Two Buck Chuck” is no longer accurate price-wise, but it’s still close enough.
Unlike many discount wines, this Shiraz doesn’t taste like a headache waiting to happen. In fact, it doesn’t taste like much of anything. It’s an inoffensively bland red wine. Its dark red color, however, will tint your teeth and tongue before you finish a single glass. (Bring a toothbrush and you’ll be fine.)

So, why recommend this Shiraz? Because it’s the perfect choice for an awkward Thanksgiving dinner. (You know what I mean.) The wine is cheap, and it gives you something to talk about. You can skip right over politics and other uncomfortable topics, and discuss shopping at Trader Joe’s instead. For some reason, people will chat contentedly about employees in Hawaiian shirts and Speculoos Cookie Butter for far longer than you’d think possible. Use that to your advantage this year.

–– Paul Brennan


Prior to my 21st birthday a couple months ago, my wine experience was very limited. By that I mean the only wine I had ever drank came from stolen sips of the samples given to my of-age friends on the rare occasions we ate at Olive Garden. Each time, they were always stronger than I imagined wine should be.

It wasn’t until after my birthday that I was introduced to SensaWine, and it was the first time I actually found myself appreciating wine. For people like me that can’t seem to find a wine they enjoy, SensaWine is perfect—not to mention affordable. The lightness of the wine makes it the ideal drink for nights in spent reading a book or engaging in good conversation with friends.

— Jayme Bigger

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 232.