How to choose great wine for the festive season

Raised glasses of wine

Blanche Clark

Posted December 04, 2023

Whether you’re after a sparkling, chardonnay or shiraz this festive season, there are a few tricks to tracking down great wines without spending a fortune.

’Tis the season for indulgence, and it’s fitting that the wine is as good as the food. Whether you’re after a sparkling, chardonnay or shiraz, there are a few tricks to tracking down great wines without spending a fortune.

Sparkling wines for the festive season
White wines for the festive season
Red wines for the festive season
Italian varietals for the festive season
Enjoy wine without blowing the budget
Choose varietals from the best regions

Shopping for Champagne

You can buy a great Australian sparkling wine for half the price of imported Champagne. Photo: Getty


Sparkling wines for the festive season

Celebrate the festive season with a difference in your wine choices. RACV Club Sommelier Camm Whiteoak says it’s the perfect time to venture into uncharted wine territory, whether it's a bottle you've never tried or something a bit more upscale.

"This is the perfect occasion for bubbles and instead of Champagne, I suggest exploring high-quality Australian sparkling wines," Whiteoak says. "You can snag an excellent sparkling for around $30, a far cry from the starting price of a decent Champagne at $70."

As a starting point, Whiteoak points to méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines from the Yarra Valley's Chandon Winery or a smaller gems like Steels Gate Wines. Expect to find something special in the $30 to $50 range. For those seeking a unique twist, Whiteoak also recommends the Hently Farm Black Beauty Sparkling Shiraz. "This sparkling shiraz complements rich foods, and is best served chilled, especially in the Australian summer heat,” he says.

“Alternatively, kick off your Christmas celebrations with a Manzanilla, a fortified wine similar to fino sherry, for a fun and unconventional start."

Whiteoak's festive traditions also include a refreshing spritz, especially on hot days. "Picture Campari with a dash of albariño (Spanish white wine) and soda water over ice in a wine glass, topped with an orange rind garnish. It's a great choice for hot weather."

A plate of oysters with a glass of white wine.

Riesling pairs wonderfully with seafood, such as these oysters with spanner crab and Nam Jim dressing, which is on the summer menu at Banyalla at RACV Healesville Country Club & Resort. Photo: Lucas Allen


White wines for the festive season

As Australians pay more attention to food and wine pairings, Christmas dining is no exception. Whether your table features seafood extravaganzas or classic roast turkey and ham, Whiteoak offers expert suggestions to complement diverse flavours.

From rock lobster and whole fish to prawn cocktail platters, Whiteoak recommends a Clare Valley or Eden Valley riesling. "It pairs wonderfully with seafood, bringing a nice, crisp, and dry profile with sharpness—a perfect match for a barbecue with chargrilled prawns infused with chili and garlic." Whiteoak also praises the regional riesling from Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown for its high acidity, citrusy notes, and a subtle touch of sweetness, making it a top choice for those seeking Australia's most interesting and best riesling.

For an exceptional Chardonnay experience, consider the Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay from Adelaide Hills or the Montalto Pennon Hill Chardonnay from the Mornington Peninsula.

A row of six wine bottles in a wine bar

Some of RACV Club Sommelier Camm Whiteoak's recommended wines for the festive season. Photo: Blanche Clark


Red wines for the festive season

When it comes to pairing wine with turkey or a stuffed turkey roll, Whiteoak recommends a light to medium-bodied red like pinot noir. Small producers like Hoddles Creek Estate and Payten & Jones are crafting some of Australia's best-value pinot noirs, providing the perfect accompaniment to poultry and cranberry sauce.

Shiraz enthusiasts seeking a full-flavoured red wine that can handle a feast of turkey, ham, and plum pudding, should explore the Heathcote wine region. “The shiraz produced around Heathcote tends to have depth of flavour as well as elegance and perfume,” Whiteoak says. He recommends Heathcote Estate, which has selection of vintages, and Vinea Marson’s 2018 Shiraz Viognier, and - if you’re willing to splash out - the Jasper Hill “Georgia Paddock” Shiraz.

Italian varietals for the festive season

Whiteoak says Australians' growing interest in Italian varietals opens the door to an Italian Christmas feast. From antipasti and a vitello tonnato to tiramisu and panforte, you’ll find a wine to match, with Victorian winemakers having great success with Italian varietals.

“The Protero Nebbiolo from Adelaide Hills is a great option if you’re having rich food, and the Payton & Jones Sangiovese has a nice spice element to it,” he says.

Camm says the Payton & Jones Sangiovese is available at Melbourne laneway restaurant Sojourn, and Italian varietals have been added to the wine lists at multiple RACV Club dining venues.

Sommelier looks at a glass of red wine against a backdrop of wine bottles on a shelf.

RACV Club Sommelier Camm Whiteoak appraises a glass of red wine in the Wine Bar. Photo: Matt Harvey


Enjoy wine without blowing the budget

If you’re hosting a festive event on a budget, ask your guests to bring a wine they’d love to share, while you provide the food.

Provide ample water, especially in hot weather, and offer non-alcoholic options, like sparkling water or mocktails for a well-rounded celebration.

Choose varietals from the best region

Australia has more than 100 different grape varieties planted in 65 designated wine regions across the country. Every region has different soil and weather, and that affects the quality of the wines produced. It’s important to know the strengths of the regions when you’re looking for a special wine. Even within a region there are particular producers that stand out.

Here is a quick guide to seven regions, as an example:

  • Yarra Valley: chardonnay, pinot noir.
  • Mornington Peninsula: chardonnay, pinot grigio/gris, pinot noir
  • Heathcote: shiraz
  • Riverina: sweet wine
  • Barossa Valley: shiraz, fortified wines
  • Clare Valley: riesling, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz
  • Tasmania: sparkling, chardonnay, pinot noir.


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