Best Wines to Pair with Your Holiday Meal
Sip Your Way Through a Merry Holiday!
Undoubtedly, like every other month this year, the holidays of 2020 will be different than in years past. While we keep our families close virtually rather than in person this year, the same basic challenges will arise when we are planning our holiday menus. What dishes will be prepared? And once the food has been decided, what wine will be served with our holiday dinners? If you are lucky enough to join a dinner and not have to do the cooking (or cleaning), you can still contribute to the festivities by showing up with the perfect Thanksgiving wine or the perfect wine to complement Christmas Dinner. We have insight, hints, and tips to look for when choosing the perfect holiday wines, whether you’re vying to open that special occasion bottle or try something new!
Whether you are celebrating with two or 10, a bottle of bubbly can spark a great toast to the evening. Sparkling wines set a festive mood. They should be chilled before serving, as guests arrive or as you're wrapping up the cooking. A glass of dry sparkling wine, such as Cava from Spain, is a great party starter. Typically found at a moderate price point, you have a nice dry, lively sparkling wine that will prep your palate for a night of delicious culinary delights. If you are looking to impress the host of your dinner with a nice sparkling wine, Franciacorta is a great sparkling alternative to Champagne. Franciacorta is Italy’s highest-quality sparkling wine, made in the Champagne style with Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco grapes. Some may call it a classier alternative to its better-known sister, Prosecco. Franciacorta is a dry, medium-bodied, sparkling wine that boasts a drier, yeastier, and more complex bubbly. Franciacorta is made in the Champagne style, meaning the second fermentation happens within the bottle rather than in steel tanks. When aged using this sur lie method (French for “on the lees”), white wines remain unfiltered and in contact with the dead yeast cells, a similar technique to bottle-conditioned beers, resulting in smaller bubbles and a finer quality of sparkling wine. Your holiday dinner host will be blown away by your wine knowledge as well as the delicious Franciacorta.
Light- & Medium-Bodied Reds
During the meal, some great wines that complement a heavy Thanksgiving dinner are lighter- to medium-bodied reds. Look for red wines that have light tannins, nice notes of red and black fruit, and moderate acidity. Wines from the Beaujolais region in France are a great go-to wine to pair with turkey, no matter how it is being prepared. Another great lighter-bodied red wine option is Red Tide Wines Grenache, which can be served slightly chilled or at a nice cellar temperature. This wine features beautiful flavors of tart cranberry and ripe cherry that will cut through the smoke and fat of your turkey or ham, and complement most side dishes. If you are looking to bring a bottle of wine, Pinot Noir wines from California are always a great addition to the table and the cellar.
Hearty Red Wines
If you prefer a wine with a little more oomph, a hearty Red Zinfandel is a great option, especially as the fall weather sneaks in and begins to cool things down across the country. Zinfandel has lush velvety tannins, approachable and balanced out by nice, jammy dark fruit and notes of cinnamon and clove. Always a crowd-pleaser, especially among the big red lovers, Red Wine Blend from Balance of Powers is a hearty Zinfandel-based blend. This red will complement them all, from turkey to ham to game meats. Fun fact: these wines are made from the same grape, but the different regions produce vastly different results! Zinfandel’s traditional cherry-forward flavor balances with the notes of licorice and black pepper prominently displayed in this delectable Red Blend.
Light White Wines
We cannot leave out the white wines! White wine varietals, such as fruit-packed Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling all make a great addition to your holiday table. Another great, food-friendly wine is Sauvignon Blanc. This grape is grown all over the world and can taste vastly different depending on the climate, topography, and other regional phenoms, also known as the terroir. Lovingly nicknamed Sauvi B, La Pluma Sauvignon Blanc is light and crisp, with mouthwatering notes of lemonade, smoky grapefruit, and citrus.
Chardonnay is another great white wine that varies according to its region. Chablis is a great alternative to the rich oaked Chardonnays that California is known for. These medium- to full-bodied wines are full of crisp green apple notes, peach, and pear, along with Chardonnay's signature minerality. They are not aged in oak for very long, if at all, so the bright acidity really shines through, making them pair great with poultry and your vegetable side dishes. It is always fun to surprise your ABC (anything but Chardonnay) friends with this highly revered white wine. Surprise! It is a chardonnay! These wines are more than worth the hefty price tag. A Grand Cru makes a great gift. A Chardonnay that is partially oaked Chardonnay may be ay safer option than traditional oaked Chardonnay. If you have tried In Good Taste’s Chardonnay, you know that a partially oaked is the best of both worlds and makes a great complement to festive meals. Notes of baked fruit balance with subtle vanilla and touch of oak. These wines are not overpowering and work well with everything from turkey to classic apple pie.
When it comes to dessert, keep in mind that sweet will cancel out sweet. Serving chocolate cake with a dessert wine, like Tawny Port or Banyuls, will slightly downplay the sweetness in both wines while bringing out other elements such as spice, earthy cacao, and vanilla. Banyuls is a red dessert wine from the Roussillon region of France. Alternately, Italy’s famous Moscato d’Asti is great on its own due to its lively effervescence and refreshingly sweet apple and honey flavors. Enjoy it chilled or with a slice of apple pie a la mode. Dessert wines are a great way to end the night on a sweet note, and they tend to have a lower alcohol content which can come in handy after a day of great food and wine.
With bright acidity and moderate alcohol levels, Rieslings are some of the most food-friendly wines available. They carry notes of apple, citrus, pear, and peach, along with honey and floral notes – balanced with a touch of minerality, this great white wine complements turkey, ham, stuffing, and even dessert! To find a dryer Riesling wine that displays pronounced fruity notes and lower levels of sweetness, look for a bottle with a higher alcohol content. This will mean that the extra sugars have been transformed into alcohol during fermentation.
Whether you are joining close family and friends or hosting the festivities, the best part of the holidays is being able to share stories, food, and drink with those you love. Round out your crazy year by trying a wine you have never had before, adding a new side dish to your Friendsgiving table, sharing a laugh, and leaving with great memories.
About the Author:
IGT Virtual Tasting Host
Owner/Founder of Let's Talk Wine in NYC
Lover of all things champagne. My current favorite wine is Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé