Heading into the holiday season, I’m often asked ― especially when I run into colleagues and friends at the wine store ― about what wines are best to pair with holiday fare such as that served at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. My advice ― and this is true all year ‘round, not just during the holidays ― is to not fret and fuss too much. You want to serve wine, beer, cocktails and such that are complementary to the cuisine being served.
But I don’t usually recommend striving for perfection; perfect food and drink matches aren’t as important as finding versatile beverages that can partner well with a wide variety of flavors and textures, from turkey, gravy, stuffing and spuds, to green beans, cranberries, roasted carrots and pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers should be relatively stress free occasions, not the time to obsess about perfect food and drink pairings. Here are some general strategies.
I like to greet holiday guests with something festive like a glass of bubbly or a light, low-alcohol cocktail. For budgetary reasons, I’m probably not going to be popping corks on vintage French Champagne, when an inexpensive Spanish Cava or Italian Prosecco would kick off a holiday gathering nicely.
Or, perhaps a domestic sparkling wine such as Gruet Brut, which has a French heritage but is made in The Land of Enchantment, New Mexico. A light and festive cocktail to serve would be the St-Germain Spritz. It’s a simple, refreshing and elegant low-alcohol cocktail made with 1½ ounces St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, 2 ounces of dry sparkling wine, and two ounces of unflavored sparkling water.
I usually like to offer guests a choice of either red wine or white, or both, to sip with holiday dinners. In making those meals, we tend to throw caution and our diets to the wind and use gobs of butter. Think about it: buttery mashed potatoes, buttery squash soup, corn chowder, Butterball turkeys ― there’s lots of butter consumed during holiday dinners. So, I might opt for a big, buttery California Chardonnay to complement those buttery foods ― something from Cakebread, Far Niente, or Stag’s Leap, for example. Or, if you’re serving a soup course, how about something a bit unique like Amontillado Sherry from Spain?
When it comes to red wine and versatility, I often turn to France for American holiday dinner wine pairings. Specifically, Beaujolais or Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais wines are young, fruity, and relatively low in alcohol, which makes them quite quaffable and don’t weigh you down during dinner. Beaujolais Nouveau is especially festive and easy-drinking, and it is released every year a little before Thanksgiving, on the third Thursday in November. Younger Pinot Noirs and full-bodied Merlots from wineries such as Trefethen and Judd’s Hill are also good red wine options to pair with turkey, stuffing, gravy, and the like.
What about the pumpkin pie, you ask? Well, if you haven’t switched to coffee yet, I suggest selecting a wine that will serve to enhance the spicy flavors of desserts like pumpkin pie. I’d choose a Riesling or Gewürtztraminer, or perhaps a late harvest Gewürtztraminer or Ice Wine (aka Eiswein) to serve with sweeter desserts.
Again, holiday gatherings are intended to be fun, not formal, so trust your instincts and don’t fuss too much over creating perfect food and drink pairings. You could even treat the holiday meal as an informal wine tasting and open a variety of wines and have fun seeing what wines pair well with which foods. Try to relax and enjoy the day.
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