Make Your Holidays Delicious With These Food-and-Wine Pairings

By Gary Twining

To be successful with pairing food with wine, remember this prime directive: match the wine’s flavor intensity to that of the entrée.

White wines pair with white meats and sauces, and red wines pair with red meats and sauces, most of the time. The similarity of weight, texture and flavor makes these pairings the most pleasing to the palate.

Wines can be grouped by their general style to make wine and food pairing simpler:

  1. Lightly sweet, fruity whites (Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Orvieto Amabile, sweet sparklers)
  2. Richly sweet, fruity whites (ice wines, late harvest wines, Muscats, recioto)
  3. Richly sweet, oxidized wines (Montilla, Sherry, Madeira, Tawny Porto, Rutherglen late harvests, Vin Santo)
  4. Lightly dry, crisp whites (Pinot Gris/Grigio, dry sparklers, Italian whites, Gewürztraminer)
  5. Dry, full-bodied whites (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Marsanne/Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Albariño, etc.)
  6. Dry reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, etc.)
  7. Sweet reds (Ruby, Vintage and Late Bottled Vintage Porto, as well as Brachetto, Recioto, Lambrusco, Mavrodaphne).

The food preparation, sauces and condiments will influence the choice of best wine to pair with a dish. For example, roast turkey is relatively mild, but a robustly flavored stuffing will have an impact on the best wine pairing.

First, ensure you have enough wine on hand. A standard-sized 750-milliliter bottle of wine contains 25.4 fluid ounces, meaning it will yield around four six-ounce glasses or five five-ounce glasses per bottle.

Estimate an average of two glasses of wine per person. Have more on hand, since you can always use extra bottles for another event (or drink them yourself later).

Here are some classic holiday meal courses with some wine suggestions:

APPETIZERS: These light preambles to the meal are usually salty. Light, crisp whites and sparkling wines set off these starters, prepare the palate for the entrées and enhance the appetite. Sparklers help set a festive mood for any holiday gathering.

BEEF: Pair based on meat texture and flavor. Prime Rib and Filet Mignon are milder than New York Strips, Rib Eyes and Top Sirloins. Try full-bodied Pinot Noirs, soft red blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Malbec, Syrah, Merlot and cellar-aged reds. Reds with body, intensity and youth pair best with fuller-flavored, more marbled meats and preparations.

HAM: Try fruity white, red and rosé wines with acidity. Pinot Noir and Gamay are classic. Pair sweet, crisp whites such as Riesling with a sweet glaze. The ham’s salt and smoke intensity and choice of glaze will help determine the specific wine choice.

POULTRY: Chicken, turkey and pork are mild. The white/red/rosé wine choice is more dependent on the sauces, preparations and condiments used. Goose, duck and pheasant are richer and more intensely flavored, so try a fuller white or a round red wine like Pinot Noir, Grenache or Gamay.

SEAFOOD: Try crisp, light whites and sparklers with oysters, clams, shrimp and crab, and rich, full whites with lobster. With fish, the wine should match the intensity of flavor and sauce of the dish. Meaty, cold-water fish choices such as swordfish, marlin and salmon pair well with Pinot Noir.

LAMB and VENISON: Try flavorful, structured red wines. Bordeaux grapes and blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec), Syrah/Shiraz, Garnacha/Grenache and Mourvèdre are classic pairings.

Finally, don’t forget to offer water, coffee and tea for your guests as the party starts to wind down so they can moderate their alcohol intake toward the end of the meal or party.

Happy holidays!

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