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Christmas Wine Strategy: WMD!

By Debra Meiburg MW

If there is ever a time to shell out on good wine, it is during the holidays. In-laws aside, you are surrounded by the people you love most in the world, so treat them well. When it comes to wine strategy, think WMD. That’s not weapons of mass destruction, but wines for welcome, meal and dessert.

There is no wine better suited to welcome your guests than Champagne. Due to its prickly carbonation, Champagne has a fast strike rate: its alcohol quickly enters the blood stream, guaranteeing giddy, happy rellies. If Champagne is too pricy for your in-laws, then add a few festive droplets of cranberry juice, Chambord or cassis to a bottle of bubbly from a less expensive region. Or, to ensure your guests are still standing by midnight, you might prefer to welcome them with Riesling from the Mosel region of Germany as its alcohol levels are less than nine percent—significantly lower than Champagne and other white wines.

Selecting wines for the array of dishes comprising a holiday meal is no easy feat. Idiosyncratic family traditions come into play, so there’s no falling back on a standard wine match and though the old adage to serve white wine with fish and red wine with meat is a good rule of thumb, the cacophony on the table screams for more creative pairings. Turkey’s obliging nature allows it to host a riot of unexpected flavors, ranging from fruity, herbal, nutty, spicy, earthy, smoky and even fishy accents. Whether serving roast goose, turkey, ham or lamb, the secret is to determine your meal’s dominant flavor and then match the wine accordingly.

Meals accented by spicy sausages, clove seasonings and mincemeat demand a spicy Zinfandel or Australian Shiraz. Earthier menus sporting mushrooms, wheatberry and roasted onion can show an aged Pinot Noir or Rioja to advantage. If your holiday stuffing is packed with currants, apples, raisins and cranberries, then opt for a fruity wine match, such as Gewurztraminer or Chianti. The racy, herbal character of a Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with herbed bread stuffing and crisp green vegetables. Pecan, smoky chestnut and wild rice ache for a richer platform such as Meursault or a daring Amontillado Sherry. The beau monde blessed with a balcony on which to barbecue their holiday turkey might prefer to sip crisp white Burgundy or a Pinot Noir with the moist smoky meat. Many Italian families wouldn’t dream of serving anything but “seven fishes” for Christmas Eve. Traditional baccalá (salted cod), anchovy pasta and eel call for crisp, zingy white wines, such as Chablis, Muscadet or Pinot Grigio.

Meals featuring savory roasted vegetables instead of a plump bird on the carving platter call for wines such as Pinot Blanc, Marsanne or Viognier. Candied yams sit happily with a medium-sweet late harvest wine.

The final coup de grace, dessert, can be the most explosive of all. If serving fruit based desserts, such as apple or pumpkin pie, then opt for luscious late harvest wines, ice wines or Sauternes. Many traditional holiday desserts, such as pecan pie, mince pies or Christmas pudding are dense, heavy and oozing rich flavors so demand a masterful accompaniment such as a tawny port, Oloroso Sherry, Vin Santo from Italy, Madeira or a deeply colored Australian sticky.

Here’s a few more hints for pairing great wine with your Christmas feast:

Meaty dishes (ie – rich gravy, simple stuffing, giblets)
Pair with: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, Merlot, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Zinfandel

Fruity dishes (ie – Cranberries, red currants, raisins, orange sauce, apricots, apples)
Pair with: Chianti, Gewurztraminer Beaujolais

Herbal dishes (ie – herbed stuffing, green vegetables)
Pair with: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Dolcetto

Nutty dishes (ie – pecans, chestnuts, wild rice)
Pair with: Sherry, Meursault, Chardonnay

Spicy dishes (ie – sausages, cloves, mincemeat)
Pair with: Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz, Rhone Valley

Earthy dishes (ie- mushrooms, wheat-berry, garlic, onions)
Pair with: Aged Pinot Noir, Rioja

Smoky dishes (ie – smoked or barbecued turkey)
Pair with: Chardonnay, White Burgundy, Pinot Noir

Fishy dishes (ie – oyster stuffing, baccalá (preserved cod), smoked fish, eel, anchovy)
Pair with: Chablis, Muscadet, Unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio

Vegetables (ie – squash, pumpkin, yams)
Pair with: Pinot Blanc, Viognier (if candied, try late harvest wines)

Desserts (ie – pumpkin or apple pie)
Pair with: Late harvest wines or Ice Wines (Riesling, Vidal, Gewürztraminer), Sauternes

Rich desserts (ie – pecan pie, mince pies, Christmas pudding)
Pair with: Tawny port, Oloroso Sherry, Vin Santo, Madeira, Australian sticky

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