A good wine is a key element to have at any holiday celebration, not just because it's something to toast with, but because it makes the food even more enjoyable especially when you have a good match. Unlike Thanksgiving, Christmas is not all about the turkey -- every household seems to do something different for the main dish. It may be turkey, but oftentimes it's baked ham, roast beef or roast goose or duck. Unfortunately there is not one magic wine that goes well with all these dishes. And when you add all the side dishes, it makes coming up with a good wine pairing all the more difficult. But it doesn't have to be.
Whether you're trying to figure out what type of wine to serve this holiday or what to bring to a party as a hostess gift, here's a simple guide.
Reds can range from light and fruity to full-bodied and even smoky. The rule about only drinking red wines with dark meats holds pretty true, but there are a few exceptions. Red can go with dark-meat turkey, red sauces, and sometimes even white meats if the wine is light enough.
A light and fruity red, such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais (made from Gamay grapes), works well with white meats, even chicken. When you include a few sides, it works even better. Try serving one of these reds with turkey, goose or duck. The acidity, especially in a young wine, helps cut through the richness of the food. Chill light reds to about 60 degrees, which is about 1 hour in the fridge.
- HobNob Pinot Noir 2010 (Languedoc-Roussillon, France), $11.99 at Wine.com
A robust red paired with beef is like a match made in heaven. If you like your Christmas dinner with roast beef, you'll want a red that stands up to it. A good American Zinfandel is a great choice for beef and ham because it complements any flavors or spices that might have been used in the rub or glaze. Zinfandel is a great choice for the holiday. If you're more of the traditionalist, go for a 100% Cabernet or Cabernet blended with Merlot or Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz). It will be bolder, fuller and richer than the Zinfandel but it's best paired with only the beef. Bold reds are best served at room temperature, but that shouldn't be anything above 70 degrees.
- Grgich Hills Zinfandel 2008 (Napa Valley, California), $29.99 at Wine.com
- Penley Estate Condor Shiraz-Cabernet 2006 (Coonawarra, Australia), $19.99 at Wine.com
Hopefully you or someone you know is not one of those people who says "I only drink red." If you are, then you're missing out an entire world of wines, many of which awaken the palate with exhilaration. Like reds, white wines too range from light (almost watery in their subtle flavor) to rich and creamy (owing to the style of fermentation). Chardonnays are one of the most popular whites.
A fruity American Chardonnay or a richer French Chardonnay from Burgundy is a great choice for the holiday table. You'll find it pairs especially well with the poultry, turkey or goose. Once you have a taste you'll find it even pairs well with a recipe for glazed ham. Chill Chardonnay to between 50 and 55 degrees before serving -- at least 1 to 2 hours in the fridge.
- Joseph Drouhin Laforet Chardonnay 2010 (Burgundy, France), $13.29 at Wine.com
Slightly Sweet Whites
If you like a wine that's a bit off-dry (meaning slightly sweet) or a sweet wine, Riesling is your guy. Whether you choose a Riesling from Austria, Germany, France or the United States, they all offer a food-friendly flavor. if you're having trouble choosing a white, Riesling is a good choice to make. It's notably great with spicy foods, including Asian, and foods with lots of spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg and all the other warm spices so commonly used during the holidays. Chill Riesling to between 45 and 50 degrees -- in the refrigerator for about 3 to 4 hours.
- Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling 2010 (Columbia Valley, Washington), $9.99 at Wine.com
It's good for more than just toasting the new year! Sparkling wine is one of the most food-friendly wines. Including appetizers, the main course, and even dessert, sparkling wine goes with everything. A dry sparkling wine like Champagne (from France), for example, will go exceptionally well with savory foods, cutting through the richness of beef, turkey or goose. An off-dry sparkling wine like Prosecco (Italy) is great to pair with appetizers. A rosé sparkling wine, like a Cava (Spain) or a Crémant (France) is great with dessert. And you don't need to break the bank with these wines. Champagne will set you back, but you can find Prosecco or Cava under $10. Make sure to chill sparkling wines to 45 degrees, at least 4 hours in the fridge.
- Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Rosé Cava (Spain), $8.99 at Wine.com
- Moet & Chandon Imperial Non-Vintage (Champagne, France), $44.99 at Wine.com