Holiday Wine Pairings

The holidays are fast approaching, bringing with them many opportunities for wining and dining.  Choosing the right wine for the occasion is a crucial step as a great wine can effortlessly bring together the numerous flavors (and personalities) at the table.  How to choose the ideal “Christmas wine” can be daunting and festive cheer should never be affected by the stress of what wine to buy so we’ve drawn up this easy guide to assist you in determining what wines to pair with your holiday meal!  Cheers!

Step One:  The first step in holiday wine pairing is considering what protein you will be serving.  Traditional dinners often involve a prime rib roast or honey baked ham, though serving a turkey or game bird is also quite common.  For protein pairings it is best to pair like with like and match the intensity of the wine with that of the meat.  Lighter poultry dishes, such as Turkey, are ideally paired with light bodied reds with low tannin levels, such as Pinot Noir.  Heavier roasts or fattier meats are better served with wines with richer flavors and a higher level of acidity and tannins.

Additional Pairing Suggestions:


Prime Rib:  Generally the easiest proteins for wine pairings as the rich textures of the roast lend themselves well to most reds.  As Prime Rib is generally a fattier meat, yet mild in flavor, chose a wine that you’d like to highlight such as an aged Bordeaux Blend or a Tuscan Brunello di Montalcino, as the meat won’t try to outshine your wine.

Step Two:  Consider flavor profiles.  While Turkey is obviously a lighter meat, serving a hearty stuffing and a rich cranberry sauce alongside it will easily drown out the subtle complexity of lighter reds.  A sparkling wine, such as an Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava, is a great option if there are too many flavor profiles on the table as the yeastiness and carbonation serve to refresh your palate between bites.  Petite Sirah is also an excellent fall back wine for heavier meat dishes, such as slow cooked roast, as it can stand up well to strong flavors without competing for attention.

Additional Pairing Suggestions:


Duck/Goose: Always a tricky pairing, game birds are generally fatty, rich and extremely flavorful.  To balance out this plethora of textures and flavors, smoky Rhone Blends or lightly spiced wines with soft fruit, such as an aged Spanish Rioja, usually do the trick.  Wines high in acid, such as a highly structured Italian Barolo or Barbaresco, are also ideal pairings as the acid level helps to cut through the fattiness of the bird.

Step Three: Decide if you are going for a complimentary or contrasting pairing.  The sweet and salty characteristics of a Honey Baked Ham can be accentuated by a complimentary pairing of an aromatic sweet white wine with high levels of residual sugar and minerality, such as such as a German Gewürztraminer or Riesling.  Yet a contrasting pairing of an acidic Alsatian Pinot Gris or Austrian Grüner Veltliner can also benefit the ham by cutting through the fatty texture and offsetting the sweet honey flavors.

Additional Pairing Suggestions:

rack lamb

Lamb: To accentuate lamb’s earthy flavors, try a complimentary pairing of a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, rich with herbaceous, savory flavors and a hint of pepper and clove spices.  For a contrasting pairing, try a Central Coast Syrah, whose dark fruit will round out any gamey flavors while still emphasizing the juiciness of the lamb.

Step Four: Drink what you like!  No matter how much a Zinfandel would compliment a hearty, red sauce, if you can’t stand jammy spicy reds, the pairing will never be right for you.  Consider your own palate and the palate of your guests before choosing any wine; after all, you’re the ones who have to drink it!

WSA/NASA Silver Pin Certified Sommelier, Central Coast wine enthusiast and overall travel junkie

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