Putting the Happy into Holiday Wine Pairing

While it may be called “the most wonderful time of the year,” the busy holiday season is often overwhelming. In an effort to shorten your to-do list, here are a few suggestions and tips that will take the terror out of holiday wine pairing, guaranteed to “make your spirits bright.”

Wines make your holiday menus shine.  Photo courtesy Temeculawines.org

If you’re the host

Finding the right wines for those festive feasts can be a challenge. With so many varied dishes plus appetizers and a multitude of courses, your regular pairing rules seem to evaporate faster than a seasonal snowflake.

Keep it simple and start with bubbles

Bring on the bubbly – the best way to say “welcome ” this holiday season. Photo by Tirstan Gassert on Unsplash

What could be a more cheerful way to welcome your guests than with a vibrant, delicious glass of something sparkling?  Champagne, the real deal from France, comes in an array of prices and styles. Look for the word ‘Brut’ on the label, indicating that the wine is dry enough to pair with many items on your menu. With a slight touch of sweetness, it’s a drink that pleases every guest’s palate. For a change, check out Rosé Champagne.  Made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, these wines pair with so many dishes that you can sip them from appetizer through dessert.

If you’re buying bubbly for a crowd, the options are plentiful. Produced in the same manner as Champagne, French ‘Cremant’ is created in a variety of regions using local grape varieties making for tasty wines at a lower price. Seek out Spain’s sparkling Cava and Italy’s Franciacorta for value and quality.

White or Red, or how to please a crowd

White, red, still and sparkling. All styles of wine make amazing holiday pairings

It doesn’t matter if your meal is a multi-course sit-down affair or serve-yourself informal, it’s always tempting to try and pair a different wine with each course.  As this is the season of good cheer and friendship, why not make everyone happy and bring out bottles of white, red and tasty dry rosé?  Select a few bottles of each type, line them up on the table and let your guests make their preferred pairings.  Here are a few recommendations that should make everyone smile:

Fuller bodies white varieties like Viognier, lightly oaked Chardonnay, Rhone blends of Marsanne and Roussanne pair well with seasonal fare. A dry, food-friendly Rosé from the Provence region of France will show its style when paired with ham, turkey and roasted vegetables.  Red is always a popular choice, so offer a range of styles. Red fruit is the main star of a juicy Grenache (think Spain, southern France or Paso Robles) or an earthy Pinot Noir from France or Oregon.  Zinfandel, Syrah and Tempranillo shine when enjoyed with roasted lamb or beef.

Wine and dessert – but, of course

Port, Late Harvest and sweeter dessert wines make for a delicious ending. Photo courtesy of wiki-portwine

The golden rule for pairing wine and dessert? The wine should be sweeter than the treat!

Port is always a classic choice but which one? Ruby, Tawny, Vintage? Pick up a bottle marked “LBV.” Late Bottled Vintage is created from a single vintage and has already been aged inside the bottle, ready for you and your guests to enjoy. Pair it with pungent cheeses like Stilton, or sip slowly while nibbling on nuts and dark chocolate. Other sweet endings to consider are Late Harvest wines. These are made using grapes that are allowed to hang on the vine for a while after the regular ones have been picked. This extra time allows the flavors to intensify and sugars to increase, yielding a sweet yet fresh nectar.  White versions are wonderful with any fruit-focused desserts while their red variety cousins are sinful sidekicks to chocolate or Christmas pudding.

For the Guest

Don’t feel pressured to find the perfect hostess gift, especially if you’re going to visit an oenophile (a fancy word for wine-lover). If you can narrow down their favorite wine travel destination or preferred type of cuisine, take that knowledge straight to your local wine store and ask for a suggestion. When in doubt, a good bottle of Champagne will always be appreciated.

You needn’t confine your gift-giving to wine alone. Special glassware, decanters, coasters, and other accessories are always well received. If they are true wine-geeks, why not pick up the latest wine book or game? After all, knowledge is the greatest gift.

For Everyone

Friends, wine and holiday cheer make the best pairings.   Photo courtesy of onepixel.com

Remember it’s the holiday season. Yes, wine is always important, but friends and fun conversation are the keys. After all, it’s the people that make the wine experience. Joy to the World.

For more information on wine pairings, check these links:

Pairing Food and Wine in South Africa’s Stellenbosch Region
Wine and Food the Great Balancing Act
Five Perfect Wines and Spirits for Winter


Hilarie Larson CSW FWS

Hilarie is a Certified Specialist of Wine and French Wine Scholar whose greatest joy is spreading the gospel of wine, food and travel. In addition to her own blogs at Northwinds Wine she contributes articles to Big Blend Magazine & Radio, Wine Folly, FWT Magazine, Wine Geographic among others.