No Popcorn Required: Wines To Match With Your Favorite Holiday Flick

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on December 6, 2012) 

As part of the myriad holiday events taking place in Santa Barbara wine country this month, Zaca Mesa Winery is going Hollywood.  This Saturday night, from 6-9pm, the classic Christmas movie “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell, will be screened under the stars and amidst the vines.  Tickets are $10 ($8 if you’re a club member); find out more at

The winery will have wine for sale there, too, of course, including the many stellar Rhone creations by winemaker Eric Mohseni.  Perfect.  Sipping something like his easy-going, approachable, vibrant Z Cuvee blend of syrah, mourvedre and grenache can mirror Ferrell’s imp-inspired antics quite nicely.  I find Mohseni’s aromatic roussanne to be a particularly fun sipper, too.

So this got me thinking.  As we start to sort through our DVD – maybe VHS? – collection for our favorite holiday flicks to watch this month, let’s not pop open just any bottle of wine.  Reliving a heartwarming classic may require something special in our glass.  Your taste – both in movies and wines – may differ.  But for it’s worth, here’s what my family and I will be watching, and sipping, this Christmas season.

A Christmas Story
We can all of relate to Ralphie Parker, the 9-year-old whose obsession with a Red Ryder BB Gun is the plot driver in this 1983 classic.  It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride for the poor kid, who’s admonished repeatedly for wanting the potentially dangerous toy so badly, and who hears “You’ll shoot your eye out!” more times than any kid should.  In the end, Ralphie’s wish does come true and, though he almost does in fact shoot his eye out, he’ll admit it was the best toy he ever got.  So when enjoying this film, consider splurging on a red wine that you’ve long craved; one that you’ve secretly wished someone had gifted you, or that you hadn’t put off buying so long.  Like a cult cabernet from Napa or a fancy Chateauneuf du Pape.  For me, this might be a bottle of Silver Oak or Opus One.  And if I’m going to be varietal-specific, I might drink zinfandel with this flick; much like Ralphie’s toy tale, I find that big, rich zins – Opolo out of Paso has a couple of good ones -- often don’t deliver with the first few sips; but persistence, and letting the open bottle breathe for awhile, even days, can finally bring those round, jammy, chocolaty flavors I wanted so badly.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
My wife’s family introduced me to this 1989 comedy starring Chevy Chase; it’s their venerable must-watch film each Christmas.  And let’s be honest: wine may not be the ultimate sipper while watching Clark Griswold’s sequence of misfortunes; they are often painful because they tend to be so relatable, from the underappreciated attempts at holiday decorating to the family member you really hoped would be a no-show this year.  Eggnog – the adult, spiked variety, which is readily consumed throughout the film – might be the best fit.  Or whiskey; when Clark asks his dad how he used to get through the messy holiday season, the older Griswold retorts, “I had a lot of help from Jack Daniels.”  But this film is mostly about laughs, and the wine you drink while you watch has got to be easy to drink and fun to share.  And it’s got to be inexpensive.  Like a rosé, whose hues are apropos for the season anyway.  Or any affordable red from hot spots like California, Chile, Italy or Spain.  And when you get to the scene where Bing Crosby sings “Mele Kalikimaka” as Clark gazes longingly at the pool, break for a mai tai.

Polar Express
This Tom Hanks vehicle from 2004 is magical in more ways than one.  From a movie-making standpoint, the technology – which animates characters by capturing the movements of real-life actors – is fascinating to see.  And from a story-telling perspective – including the bittersweet reminder that our ability (or is it our willingness?) to believe evaporates with age – the film tugs at the heart strings.  I am the proud father of two young boys who wholeheartedly know that Santa is real, and I have already taken time this season to sit between them on the couch and enjoy this film.  And as we watched, I relished Andrew Murray’s “Tous les Jours,” a deliciously accessible blend of syrah grapes from both Santa Ynez and Paso Robles.  Interestingly, the wine’s multi-faceted nature mirrors Hank’s performance; he plays six roles, including Santa Claus.  But more importantly, its ripe berry flavors and uncomplicated mouth feel allowed me to enjoy a great wine while still being able to fully focus on a special moment with my sons.  Anything mulled would work with this movie, too.

Miracle on 34th Street
Easily, the second greatest Christmas movie of all time.  And, again, a reminder that this is the season when leaving pragmatism aside is preferred.  By the end of the movie, I believe just as fervently as Natalie Wood’s young character that Kris Kringle (played to Oscar-winning perfection by English actor Edmund Gwenn) is, with a doubt, the real Santa Claus.  There have been several coloration attempts made on this film, but watching it in its original black and white glory is the best way to go.  Aside from being heartwarming, there’s elegance to this movie that I love.  Made in 1947, it’s a glimpse at a simpler era, when personal affectations rather than texts and pings defined human interaction.  That down-to-earth sophistication reminds me of a fine pinot noir, a wine that can display finesse in the mouth while delivering earthy, fruity, raw flavors.  Visually, with its generally lean, crimson colors, it can be beautiful – and the only tinge you need against a black and white screen.  Pinots I’ve savored lately include Gainey, Whitcraft and Hitching Post.

It’s a Wonderful Life
Easily, the number one Christmas move of all time, and one of the best movies ever made.  As George Bailey, actor James Stewart takes us on an emotional ride that perhaps only the holiday can evoke – and all emotions we can all understand, from gripping pain to joyful exultation.  George, with the help of his guardian angel, goes from utter desperation to being “the richest man in town,” and reminds us that it’s the people around us, not the gifts under a tree, that matter most.  A simple message best told during this special season.  And there’s no right wine here.  As you watch, you simply sip what is special to you.  For me, it might be Zaca Mesa’s Black Bear Block Syrah, which I popped open that evening on the sand when my wife said, “Yes.”  Whatever it is, think of a wine that conjures emotion, or a memory that brings a smile.  And remember that in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” wine -- as part of a housewarming gift that George bestows upon a neighbor family – is believed to ensure “that joy and prosperity may reign forever.”  Very fitting.  Just make sure you break for a glass of bubbly – and raise it high – any time you hear a bell ring.

Happy viewing and Merry Christmas.

Gabe Saglie wishes his favorite actor of all time, Peter Sellers, had made a Christmas movie.  He’s also senior editor for and can be reached via email at

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