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Choosing holiday food and wine pairings your guests will love

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

With friends and family arriving for the Holidays, we all want to make the occasions special. And holiday food favorites always play a big part in the festivities. This year, let’s make the wine selections just as memorable too.

I always start with the position that you should drink what you like. Beyond that, making memorable pairing selections isn’t that difficult when you remember a few simple guidelines. The character of a wine is reflected in the basic components of fruit, acid, tannin and alcohol. Those tastes match up, or sometimes don't match, with the basic tastes in foods: sweet, salt, acid, bitter, umani, fat and piquant.

There are a couple paths you can follow when pairing wines with food.

Complementary Pairings - Look for aromas or flavors in both the food and the wine that join together to magnify the impression and the enjoyment. For example, creamy oyster stew we loved for NYE when living in Boston with a creamy Viognier or Chardonnay.

Contrasting Pairing - Put together contrasting elements that produce a balanced effect, or a completion in the taste. A favorite example is Sparkling wine with Latkes. The crisp acidity contrasts the fried potato, but makes a delicious statement together.

When pairing, pay attention to these three things. Acidity in the wines and foods should match up. Intensity in the flavors should also match up. Intensely flavored dishes want intensely flavored wines. And finally, sweetness in food is a wine enemy. It can make a wine seem dry and bitter, so match the sweetness or fruitiness in the wine to the sweetness of the dish.

Some of our favorite Holiday wine and food pairings:

Baked Brie with Cranberries - Try a light Pinot Noir with bright red fruit to complement the cranberry. Another fun combination is a Sparkling Blanc de Noirs.

Honey Glazed Ham - Match up to the sweet and salty with a fruit forward Zinfandel. A crisp Rosé works well too, and it’s a nice lighter choice.

Standing Rib Roast - Bring on that bold Cabernet Sauvignon, but if you’re looking for a twist consider a Reserva Rioja or a Barolo. Local artisan alternatives would be Tempranillo and Nebbiolo respectively.

Roast Goose/Duck/Pheasant/Turkey - For us the go to pairing for roasted fowl is Pinot Noir. Goose and Duck in particular want that acidity. Drawing outside the lines a bit, consider Barbera. With Pheasant and Turkey meat being less fat, you can take a gentler hand. Want to change things up a bit? How about a Rhone-style Marsanne and Roussanne blend white. Another interesting option is a fruit rich dry white like Pinot Gris or Riesling.

Seafood Feast - We’ve had fun with the Feast of the Seven Fishes when we were living on the East Coast. For local artisan wines, my favorite pairings include Vermentino, Sauvignon Blanc or even a Sparkling Blanc de Blanc. Want to match the feast with Italian wines? Try Fiano di Avellino or Verdicchio.

Yule Log - There are myriads of recipes for Yule Logs. Take care to match the sweetness levels. For light logs consider a Sparkling Rosé, with more chocolate a fruity late harvest Zinfandel and for the dense chocolate bombs bring on the Port.

Fruit and Pecan Pies - I like to complement the fruity pie flavors with sweet Ice Wines or late harvest Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Consider a Oloroso Sherry or Tawny Port with the Pecan Pie to play off the nutty flavors.

Christmas Cookies - Pair buttery cookies with a creamy, oaky Chardonnay that has undergone malolactic conversion. Gingerbread goes great with a fruity, spicy late harvest Zinfandel.

Fruitcake and Italian Panettone - Look for a little sweetness to complement these cakes. Prosecco or Moscato are good choices.

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