’Tis the season—for festive celebrations, grand family feasts—and questions about holiday wine pairing. What’s a great wine for the holidays? Which wine for my prime rib? How about my desserts?
I recommend drinking seasonally. And this time of year, that means drinking bigger—whether red or white—these are wines that carry more richness, body, and flavor intensity to warm our souls on chilly days. Think wines with big ripe fruit, higher alcohol or sugar content, and bold, herbaceous, nutty or spicy flavors. Add the holidays, and it’s the ideal time to select more elevated versions. Yes, it’s time to pull those special bottles that have been tucked away, waiting for the ‘right’ occasion.
When it comes to holiday wine pairing, read on and follow my tips for selecting a wine sure to drink beautifully with a selection of these traditional holiday dishes.
I also list some gorgeous wines I recommend from some of my favorite producers local to the Healdsburg area. Learn more about these wineries by visiting their websites or checking availability at your local retailers or your favorite national online re-sellers.
The Reception, Appetizers
Chilled seafood platters
Dreaming of oysters on the half-shell with a citrusy vinaigrette or salty caviar?
Go Sparkling, acidity. The bubbles and acidity enliven the palate and set off the salty brininess of the caviar. Lighter-bodied versions won’t overpower the delicate freshness of the oysters. Bright, citrusy, high acid white wines from a non-aromatic grape, are another excellent choice.
LIOCO, Estero Chardonnay, Russian River Valley $38 (still)
Cartograph, Brut Zero, Russian River Valley $68 (sparkling)
Latkes, other fried foods
Go Sparkling, acidity. Fried, salty foods are palate joy when paired with sparkling or high-acid whites. The bubbles and acid cleanse the palate of fat and play deliciously against the salt. Medium-bodied versions meet the weight of the potatoes. Adding applesauce? Select a wine with a touch of sweetness.
Seghesio, Keyhole Ranch Vermentino, Russian River Valley $30 (still)
Smith-Story, Brut Sparkling, NV, Mendocino County $46.99 (sparkling)
Go fruit-rich, high acid, white. Many medium-weight, high acid, fruity white wines accommodate a range of cheese. Vibrant whites with a little extra body match the cheese’s texture and cut through its richness, while its fruit plays up the earthy, fruity, herbal notes of each cheese. Pinot Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Marsanne-Roussane or Chardonnay are good options.
Dutton-Goldfield Shop Block Pinot Blanc, Green Valley $33
Marimar Estate, La Masía Chardonnay $44
Glazed ham with mustard
Go bright, fruity. The salty-sweetness of the ham is just gorgeous with high-acid, fruity wines. The wine’s acid matches that of the mustard, while the fruit and acidity set off the meat’s sweet-salt profile. Choose a wine with lighter profile to highlight the meat’s delicate flavor. Bright, red-fruited Pinot Noirs, and aromatic, fruity Riesling.
Bannister, Dry Riesling, Cole Ranch $31
Montagne Russe, BirchBark Pinot Noir $44
Go Cranberry. My favorite simple pairing strategy—think about wine like a condiment or relish. For a naturally delicious pairing, select a wine with the same flavors as a relish, sauce, or side you enjoy with the dish. For the traditional turkey dinner, find a wine with cranberry, plum, or even spiced-apple flavors, perhaps one that also has the same baking spice or herbal aromas as those wafting from the stuffing. Delicious. Avoid tannic wines that double down on the dry turkey. Instead, go fruit forward. Fruity-earthy Pinot Noir, Gamay or Beaujolais, Barbera are just a few options. Or pair with a rich, warm-spiced Chardonnay.
Longboard, Vincenzo Old Vine Carignane, Mendocino $42
Marine Layer, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills $65
We anticipate them all year. It’s easy to say, “go big and go red.” But consider the fattiness of the meat and its texture first for a beautiful mouthfeel and luxurious experience. Lean meats don’t love tannins.
Go with tannins. A firmly tannic wine pairs wonderfully with a well-marbled, juicy slab of beef. The ribbons of fat soften the tannins, pulling the fruit flavors forward. A wine with herbal hints bridges nicely to the roast’s herb-rubbed crust. A medium-weight red with good acidity balances the richness of the meat and allows its rare-pink flavors to shine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo, structured Malbecs, Nebbiolo. With horseradish, opt for a fruitier version to balance the heat.
Stuhlmuller Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley $45
Ramey, Syrah, Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Petaluma Gap $65
Benovia, Cooley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Norther Sonoma $100
Beef Tenderloin & Short ribs
Go silky and full-bodied with the biggest red blends. Those fall of the bone short ribs and tender beef tenderloin may not have enough fat for youthful, high-tannin reds. But they are a marvel with wines boasting an abundance of darker fruits and voluptuous, silky mouthfeel. This is when to pull that Super Tuscan or Châteauneuf-du-Pape that’s been cellaring (and softening). GSM red blends and top-tier young Malbecs are smashing. I do like blue-fruited wines here.
Acorn, Acorn Hill, Alegria Vineyard, Russian River Valley $48 (Sangiovese + Syrah)
Fritz Winery, Malbec, Dry Creek Valley $55
Unti Vineyards, Cuvée Foudre, Dry Creek Valley $70 (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre)
Desserts & Sweets
Go Sweet. Select a wine sweeter than the food! Sweet desserts lower your perception of sugar in wine, making a dry wine taste bitter. But when a sweet wine’s sugar is reduced, we’re left with decadent, ripe fruit, and vibrant, balanced acidity.
With apple, pear, lemon, and custard desserts, look for late harvest or sweet white wines. Classic muscat-based wines are a nice choice for moderately sweet desserts and fresh fruit.
Toad Hollow, Risque’ Sweet & Sparkling $18.99
Bodkin, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc $28 (375 ml)
For desserts of chocolate or berries, sip late harvest, sweet, or port-style red wines.
Moshin Vineyards, Loco Moshin Zinfandel $28
Pedroncelli Four Grapes Vintage Port $35
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A version of this article appeared in the 12.22.2022 edition of the Healdsburg Tribune , our local Healdsburg hometown newspaper.. If you’d like to read that edited version, here is the link.
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What beautiful wines do you have planned for your holidays? Have questions about your favorite dishes I didn’t mention? Share your wines and questions here in comments. We’d love to hear!
Wishing you a beatiful and peaceful holiday season