There is something wonderfully traditional about Christmas dinner: the big turkey, stuffing, and all of the delicious trimmings that come along with it. It’s the occasion we most look forward to all season: Our family and friends grouped together around a table sharing food, laughter and of course, wine.
Whether you default to those classic, tried-and-true recipes, think: maple-glazed hams, mashed potatoes, prime rib or roasted brussels sprouts, or instead opt for more modern fare like venison, seafood or risotto, it’s the perfect occasion to consider pairing wines with each course you serve. It not only elevates your service, but enhances your guests experience as well.
I realize how intimidating it can be to pair this wine with that meal, but as a certified sommelier I’m here to encourage you to try it. It’s not nearly as complicated as you may want to believe! By following a few simple guidelines (i.e.: red wines typically pair best with bold-flavoured proteins; whites are best with light-intensity proteins) you’re well on your way to being an at-home wine expert yourself.
To get you started (and inspired!) here’s the wine selections I would pick with these different dishes on a Christmas dinner menu:
Whether chock-full of vegetables or more herbaceous in nature, a green salad is always best served with brighter styles of wine (higher acidity) as they hold their own next to the tart, sour flavours of lemon juice of vinegar. Consider a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or even a Gruner Veltliner. Further, match the density of your dressing to the density of the wine: creamier dressings should pair with wines that have creamy, oak notes. A tart vinaigrette goes with a tart wine.
Naturally this depends on the soup you’re serving, its texture and temperature, but my advice is to stick with wines that stay in the background rather than the star. If serving a rich, creamy soup, wine can provide a note of freshness, almost like a squeeze of citrus. Generally, Chablis work well, as does Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or creamy Chardonnays.
Turkey is a lean meat, so if you’re looking for the right pairing for wine, the easiest rule of thumb is this: avoid excessive tannin. Although tannins are ideal for high-fat meats (and cheeses), high-tannin wines can taste harsher and more accentuated on the palate. Match the intensity of the wine to the food, so: delicate-to-delicate, bold-to-bold. A super-tannic Californian Cabernet Sauvignon would not be the go-to here, instead opt for a Chianti, like the Gabbiano Chianti Classico. This is one of my favourite bottles right now. It is a beautiful medium, ruby-toned wine that offers aromas of dried cherry, red berry fruit and gentle spices, when its matched with turkey and gravy, it can take on the taste of a cranberry sauce. It offers a very harmonious taste: fruity, fresh and savoury.
Go bold or go home is the motto here. Prime rib is a true show-stopper: it’s one of the most expensive cuts of beef there is, and its luxurious, expressive flavor needs to be matched with a wine that is equally as dramatic. Given its high-fat content, you need some acid and tannin to cut through the richness of the fatty marbling in the beef. Consider a Petite Sirah – small grapes that produce an intense taste profile with high tannins and acidity due to its high skin-to-juice ratio. Also lovely? A rich Bordeaux, a heady mix of five different grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, like the J. Lhor Seven Oaks, a Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec or even a Petite Verdot. You’ll note the decadent flavor profile immediately: blackcurrant, plums, spice, vanilla and jam flavours. Truly mouth-watering!
What Christmas dinner is complete without finishing the meal with soft, buttery shortbread cookies? To elevate your dessert course, serve your shortbreads with a small glass of chilled Vin Santo: a style of Italian dessert wine. Traditional in Tuscany, these wines are often made from white grape varieties and offer up a deep amber colour full of nutty, intense flavours with complex biscuit, honey and dried fruit aromas. It’s a perfect pairing!
I hope you find these tips helpful when the time comes to menu-plan your holiday dinner party! Just remember, part of the joy in drinking wine is sharing it with the ones you love, so do as a wise person once said: “He who clinks his cup with mine, adds a glory to the wine.” Cheers!
P.S. If you are looking for the best holiday treats…for yourself how about a Tuscan adventure? The experience includes flights and transfers to Florence, six-nights’ accommodation at the Castello di Gabbiano, a behind-the-scenes winery tour, as well as a delicious three-course meal. Enter now!