Holiday Wine & Food Pairings

One of the top experiences people love at fancy restaurants is the seemingly magical way the sommelier can perfectly match a bottle of wine with a particular dish. Well, turns out, it’s not as difficult to do as you imagine.

Here are some tips on picking the best bottle to serve with your menu so you can wow your guests. Plus, I’ve also included some unique ideas for fun “sip & snack” combos to give as special gifts, or to serve at your own holiday gatherings.

All-Purpose Pours and Classic Pairings

These crowd pleasers are “all-purpose” wines that work well to greet guests or enjoy with appetizers when people arrive. Perhaps the most versatile of all reds, Pinot Noir has lots of succulent berry flavor without being heavy or overbearing, so it’s very food flexible. If your guests prefer white wine, Sauvignon Blanc is the way to go. They’re typically clean, citrusy and crisp without those intrusive oaky flavors you find in chardonnay.

To help you decide what wines to serve once it’s time to gather around the table, here are some typical entrée options along with suggestions on what varietals pair well with them.

Ham and Pork – If you’re using a lot of spices in your dish, consider a red with lots of bold spicy notes like a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley or a French Syrah. If it’s a leaner cut such as a pork loin, consider a medium weight red such as a Spanish Tempranillo or a Cotes du Rhone from France. 

Roast Turkey or Christmas Goose – White meats pair well with rich new world Chardonnays such as those from Napa Valley, while gamier meats like goose pair great with earthy, medium bodied reds such as Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France. 

Italian Cuisine – A simple rule of thumb is to pair wines and foods from the same region. So, when cooking Italian, choose a wine from Italy. Tomato based dishes love high acid reds such as Barbera from Piedmont or Tuscan Sangiovese. If you’re going for the full Feast of 7 fishes, try Pinot Grigio with any simply prepared fish dishes (grilled oysters, stuffed clams, boiled lobster). Pair bolder flavored fish dishes such as stews, sardines/anchovies, or seafood in tomato sauce with Chianti. (Yep. Red wine with fish. Try it!) 

Roast Beef, Prime Rib, or Crown Roast – Rich meats need bold reds with lots of tannin like a Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon or a Chilean Carmenere. The tannin in the wine serves as a palate cleanser, ensuring each bite is as good as the last! 

Brisket and Potato Pancakes – The rich smoky flavor in a long cooked brisket works wonders with a smoky, BBQ spice scented Australian Shiraz or Argentine Malbec. 

Weekend Brunch – For brunch, stick with lighter, versatile sparkling wines such as Spanish Cava or Prosecco from Italy. Add a little juice or nectar to make mimosas or bellinis.  

If you’re in the market for a unique party idea, try hosting your own wine and small plate pairing party. These suggestions for light bites with wines to match are sure to impress your guests:

  • Champagne with Smoked Salmon & Cucumber Canapés
  • Dolcetto with Melon, Prosciutto & Balsamic Skewers
  • Vermentino or Gruner Vetliner with White Bean & Rosemary Crostini
  • Sauvingon Blanc with Endive Stuffed with Herbed Goat Cheese
  • Off Dry Riesling with Spicy Grilled Shrimp
  • Shiraz with Cumin-Beef Tenderloin Skewers
  • Cabernet with Blue Cheese & Bacon Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
  • Pinot Noir with Seared Lamb Tenderloin with Fruit Chutney
  • Port with Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries
  • Moscati d’Asti with Mini Apple Tartlets

Bring a Better Bottle

Nobody wants to show up empty handed and a bottle of wine is always a great, inexpensive solution. Here are some winners to get you thinking:

Going to a dinner party? Beaujolais from France is seasonal and festive. Try one of the “Cru” Beaujolais such as a Morgan or Chiroubles – the flavor offers a surprising complexity. 

Invited over for festive cocktails? Everybody loves bubbles at a cocktail party. Champagne is great, but try bringing something new to inspire your friends such as a sparkling red Lambrusco or a Spanish Cava. 

Need a good idea for a gift? Get creative! Here are some unique “wine & a nibble” ideas to please any co-worker, neighbor, grab bag recipient, or hostess. 

  • Go regional. Pair some Italian Dried Sausage/Hard cheeses with a fruity Lambrusco or acidic Barbera to cut through the fat.  Another fun idea would be some Fino Sherry and gourmet olives from Spain
  • Play with pairing. Try Sauternes with Rugelach or a tin of gourmet dried fruits – the sweet flavor of Sauternes wine is reminiscent of honeyed-apricots and pairs deliciously with any dried fruit dessert.
  • Creative cocktails. Provide the ingredients so your friends can create their own festive cocktails. Try Sparkling Wine, St. Germaine (elderflower liquor) and pomegranate juice.
  • Dreamy desserts. Port and dark chocolates – classic and delicious.

Whether it’s a special celebration, the holiday season or just a casual gathering, the gift of perfectly paired wine and food is a great way to make any occasion just a little more special for your family and friends.  

Have your own favorite go-to-gift ideas? Share them with us below!