Wine is a natural fit for many holiday tables. Wine expert Jancis Robinson shares her advice for entertaining with a wine just right for the occasion and some ideas on selecting wine gifts this holiday season. 

Matching Wine to the Occasion

What I love about wine is its variety. Not just in terms of color, strength, sweetness, and fizziness. Not just because of all the varied grapes it’s made from and places it’s grown, resulting in all those fabulous different flavors. What I like most is the fact that there are wines for every day, wines for smarter occasions, and wines that are designed to celebrate the really special moments in life. I know people who drink nothing but first-growth bordeaux and Grand Cru burgundy, but I’d hate to be one of them; I’d really miss my honest peasant farmer wines.

It’s much cleverer to match the wine to the occasion than to always serve wine as grand as you can afford. For a barbecue, for example, it would be a waste to serve anything too special. A robust spicy red such as a Mendoza Malbec, a southern Rhône, a Spanish Garnacha, or Zinfandel would be just the job. For a simple supper, I’d choose an honest but simple wine – a Beaujolais, Muscadet, or young Chianti perhaps – from an artisanal producer. But if I’m entertaining really serious wine lovers, I make sure that I serve something that will be a real treat for them.


These are wines that are not extreme in any way, and have shown themselves over time to be capable of pleasing a wide array of palates.

Friendly Whites

  • Mâcon Blanc

  • Pinot Blanc (called Weissburgunder in German)

  • Chablis

  • Albariño from northwest Spain (called Alvarinho in northern Portugal)

  • Alto Adige and Friuli whites

  • Vermentino

  • Falanghina from near Naples

  • Verdicchio from Italy’s Adriatic coast

  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay

  • Riesling from Washington State

Friendly Pink

  • Dry Provençal rosé

The 24-Hour Wine Expert The 24-Hour Wine Expert

Friendly Reds

  • New Zealand Pinot Noir

  • Pinot Noir from Australia’s Mornington Peninsula

  • Côtes du Rhône

  • California Zinfandel

  • Oregon Pinot Noir

  • Spanish Garnacha

  • Douro reds

  • Chianti Classico

  • Carignano del Sulcis from Sardinia

  • Fleurie, St-Amour, Moulin-à-Vent – top-quality Beaujolais

Bottles as gifts

  • Don’t head automatically for the most expensive wine in a store unless you know the recipient has a wine cellar. They are usually young fine wines that need many years’ aging.

  • Even wine professionals love to be given good-quality champagne . Either one of the luxury bottlings, such as Krug or Dom Pérignon, or a bottle from one of world's top growers.

  • Any really obscure but interesting wine, such as one made from a rare grape variety or by a promising new producer (preferably one recommended by a professional), can be a great gift for the wine lover.

  • Top quality balsamic vinegar or estate-bottled olive oil is another common gift between wine professionals.

Reprinted with permission from The 24-Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson (Abrams Image, 2016).

Gain more vinous insight from Jancis Robinson in her conversation with The Splendid Table contributor Russ Parsons at this link.