When selecting wine to serve with the medley of flavors at a holiday dinner, the key is to balance tastes and intensity of flavors. It is also essential to match the wine not just to the meat or main dish, but also to the way it is prepared, as seasonings or the cooking method can affect a pairing selection.
For example, if turkey is prepared with a fruit-based or sweet sauce, an off-dry white such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer can pair well. If it is drizzled with buttery juices, the similar character of Chardonnay may be a good partner. Also, consider the varied flavors of the side dishes – a rich, fruity red such as Shiraz or Zinfandel can complement strongly-flavored dishes. If opting for fish, salmon may pair well with a subtle white, such as Pinot Gris, if it is poached; if it’s grilled, a light-bodied red wine is a better match.
Here are some suggestions to try with traditional holiday fare throughout the season. Bon appétit!
Whether you prefer white or red, rich and fruity wines work well with the traditional bird. Because the meat itself is quite wine-friendly and can pair well with many whites and reds, consider the range of sweet to savory flavors that your side dishes add to the mix.
Red: Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, fruity Zinfandel
White: Chablis, white Burgundy, Chardonnay (especially California or other New World wine with little or no oak), Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc
Sparkling: Especially brut, rosé or a dry, sparkling Shiraz
A beef main dish calls for a wine with a bit of body. The protein and fat in beef can also soften tannic wines such as Brunello or Cabernet.
Red: Barbaresco, Barolo, Bordeaux, Brunello, Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Malbec, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Rioja, Shiraz and Zinfandel
Pairing seafood with white wine is the traditional inclination. A red’s tannins tend to taste a bit metallic with white fish, so it may be best to avoid pairing Cabernet, full-bodied Merlot and Syrah with seafood, including shellfish. However, tuna, salmon and some full-flavored fish make good partners with light reds such as Pinot Noir.
Red: Pinot Noir
White: Albariño, Chablis, Champagne, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Viognier
The suggested red wines pair well with lamb’s stronger flavor, but different seasoning opens more doors. If the meat is seasoned with curry, a white such as Gewürztraminer or Riesling could pair nicely, whereas Zinfandel should complement a garlic-roasted preparation.
Red: Amarone, Barbera, Barbaresco, Barolo, red Bordeaux and red Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, rosé Champagne, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Chianti, Côtes du Rhône, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Zinfandel
White: Gewürztraminer or Riesling (if curry-spiced)
Ham’s slight sweetness pairs well with fruity, light- to medium-bodied whites or fruity reds. Pork loin pairs nicely with young and fruity Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Riesling, especially American or Spätlese.
Red: Beaujolais, Burgundy, Merlot, Pinot Noir (especially if served with mustard sauce), young Zinfandel and off-dry rosé
White: Chablis, Champagne, unoaked Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Riesling
Local Wine Experts Talk Perfect Pairings
This unique boutique wine shop is located in the Flint Farmers’ Market in Downtown Flint. “Turkey is on everyone’s mind during the holidays,” says Owner, Maria Carlin, “and white wine is typically paired with the traditional bird.” She likes to serve a white such as Chardonnay, Bordeaux Blanc or a Dry Riesling, or lighter-bodied red wine such as Tenotnois. Her personal favorite is Bordeaux Blanc. Carlin does many wine pairings at the request of her customers. “That’s the hallmark of our shop,” she says.
When serving ham for your holiday dinner, Carlin suggests a wine that has a touch of sweetness, such as Mascota or Chenin Blanc. “If you are serving seafood, you can’t go wrong with a dry white, such as Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio or a Chardonnay. With lamb, Carlin suggests a full-bodied red wine. Many people serve appetizers for a special meal. “You can’t go wrong with any kind of sparkling wine or champagne.”
Many wines pair well with desserts, Carlin shares. “Chocolate pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon,” she recommends, or any that has a vanilla note. “Cheesecake pairs well with Riesling and a fortified wine such as sherry or port is great with pumpkin pie.” Pecan pie pairs particularly well with a fortified wine such as Malmsey Madeira.
Above all, Carlin says to choose a wine that you like. “Stick with what you enjoy!” she exclaims. If you are not sure, you can stop by an independent wine shop for help. “We will help you find a wine you will love. Just have fun with it. Nothing is set in stone.”
When Matt Sherrow, Owner of Fenton Winery & Brewery, thinks about wine for the holidays, he thinks about the classics: Chardonnay (white) and Cabernet Sauvignon (red). As far as pairing, he says, “The rule of thumb is that white wine pairs well with white food (turkey, chicken, seafood) and red wine is best served with red meats, pastas and sauces.”
During the holidays, the most popular wine they sell is Cranberry Shiraz, a semi-sweet wine with a little tartness. “It pairs very well with a traditional turkey dinner,” Sherrow reports. “We call it Red Velvet.”
FWB’s best-selling wine, by far, is Blackberry Merlot, not only during the holidays but all year round. The velvety-soft, medium-bodied wine is mixed with rich, sweet blackberries. It’s best served chilled, Sherrow advises, but serving it at room temperature cuts the sweetness. “It pairs well with green salads because it’s light,” he says. “It can be also served with desserts, as it pairs well with chocolate.”
A popular red wine for the holidays is FWB’s Pinot Noir. “It’s a nice, medium-bodied dry wine with a silky flavor. It’s just a nice, easy-drinking wine,” Sherrow reports. It pairs well with a lot of different meats and sides, including sweet potatoes. Sherrow also says that it is delicious with turkey. “A good pairing allows for the tasting of both flavors. This light-bodied wine allows that.”
Jon Foley, Beverage Director at The Laundry in Fenton, enjoys Old World wines – from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Hungary and Germany. As the beverage director, he chooses a wine to pair with every entrée. Generally speaking, white wines pair best with cheese, fish, poultry and spicy foods such as Mexican and Thai, he reports. Red wines generally pair with beef, veal, game, stews and gravies. Pork dishes pair well with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
For holiday meals, Foley offered a few suggestions. If the main dish is a traditional ham or turkey, Foley suggests a good rosé. “There isn’t a better pairing than a nice, dry rosé from Province (France),” he says, adding that dry rosé is one of the fastest growing wines in the U.S. He also enjoys a white Bordeaux as it has a little acidity and is dry and very, very clean. “It cuts the weight of the meal and leaves me refreshed,” he adds.
If leg of lamb is on your Christmas dinner menu, he suggests Pinot Noir or a red Burbage. Prime rib on the table? Barolo, a red wine produced in the Piedmont region of Italy pairs perfectly. “It’s a very dry style made from Nebbiolo grapes,” Foley states.
When pairing wine with shellfish, Foley enjoys a very obscure wine, Tsiakkas Winery Dry White, produced from Xynisteri grapes grown on the island of Cyprus. “It’s ideal for shellfish,” he says. He describes the taste as “slightly salty, acidic, bright and crisp.” It is sold by the glass at The Laundry. “When you drink it, you know that it grows in only one little pocket in the world. It’s my favorite wine.” Muscadet, a dry French wine, is also an ideal pairing with oysters and shellfish, Foley adds.
If you’re enjoying pasta and sauces, Foley says he prefers a wine that cuts through the weight of the dish, a white wine with a fruity note that is balanced. If the sauce is heavy, he pairs it with Grüner Veltliner, a dry white wine from Austria. Wine with pasta? “It’s fun to drink Italian wine with pasta,” he says, adding that Sangiovese, a red Italian wine grape, is Italy’s most famous grape. The greatest red wine pairing? Chocolate. “Red wine and chocolate love each other!”
Located in Frankenmuth, St. Julian has a wonderful selection of wines – from dry reds and sweet rosés, to sweet and dry whites – that pair well with holiday meals. “It depends on your palate,” says Mollie Hill, Assistant Manager. For a festive, traditional turkey meal, she suggests serving a Chardonnay or a Dry Riesling for a dry palate. For a sweeter palate, Hill recommends the Late Harvest Riesling, a medium, sweet-bodied wine. Lamb pairs well with St. Julian’s Pinot Noir, a very light red wine. “For a sweeter palate, I would go with our Simply Red, which has just a touch of sweetness,” she adds. Simply Red is dark-colored and fully textured, with lively aromas and succulent flavors. It mingles layers of dark cherries, wild berries, raspberries and a bit of plum.
According to Hill, the Braganini Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (white wine) pairs well with seafood for those with a dry palate. “For a sweeter palate, you may like our delicious Braganini Reserve Late Harvest Vidal Blanc.”
Very popular during the holidays is St. Julian’s Solera Cream Sherry, which is a dessert wine and Michigan’s most-awarded wine. “It goes great with pecan pie.”
Ultimately, one’s personal preferences come into play; we hope your holiday meals are merry and bright!