Five Simple Guidelines For Pairing Wines With Holiday Meals

christmas dinner turkey champagne

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We’re heading full steam into the holiday season, the time of year most people find themselves in front of seemingly endless shelves of wine wondering what to buy.You know what you like, that’s not the problem, it’s trying to figure out what to bring to a dinner party or what to serve the in laws or friends who look up to you as the wine guy or gal.

Relax, it’s not all that difficult. Just remember some simple guidelines and you’ll be fine. The “art” of pairing wine and food has been totally overblown by the wine and food industry. It’s really not that hard, the guidelines you should remember are simply common sense. Remember these and get ready to rock your next party with wine pairing made simple.

Season it with Citrus?

Whether it’s with seafood salad, tacos, or fish and chips, if you’re going to put citrus on your food to make it taste better, go with a high acid, high citrus wine. There are so many to choose from, it’s hard to narrow down the list. For something familiar and easy to find, there’s always Sauvignon Blanc with its snappy lemon/lime flavours and grassy undertones. Albarino from Spain blends citrus and peach flavours with more body than Sauvignon Blanc. Two less familiar wines, Assyrtiko from Greece and Muscadet from France, are all about citrus and refreshing mineral flavours. Take your pick!

Light meat? It’s the preparation.

Chicken and pork tend to be mild, lean meats so you should look for a mild, lighter-bodied wine to pair with them. Sometimes chicken and pork can be quite assertively flavored, like in Chicken Mole or Chicken Curry. Spicy, peppery and deeply flavored, they would obliterate most mild, lighter-bodied wines. So what can we do?

Pair your wine with the preparation. Remember the basic rules:

  • Pair texture, rich to rich and delicate to delicate.
  • Pair the intensity of flavours.
  • Look for flavours that can build a bridge between the wine and dish, like the green pepper flavours of Cabernet Franc with Mole or the spicy crunch of a black peppery Syrah.


Speaking of Spicy…

Spicy dishes can be difficult to pair with wine as they tend to make tannic or oaky wines bitter. The key to taming the spice in a dish is moderate alcohol, good acid to wash away the oils that deliver the heat, and a touch of sweetness to help balance that heat. Riesling is a go-to wine for spicy dishes, and it does meet all these criteria, but off dry Chenin Blanc like Vouvray can work even better with its richer mouthfeel and more assertive flavours. Taking it one step further, you might explore some Alsace Pinot Gris, which often has a bit of residual sugar sweetening the wine along with rich and lightly spicy orchard fruit flavours. Yum!

On the flip side, if you have a spicy dish that calls for a red wine, many Zinfandel, Shiraz and Malbec wines have a bit of sweetness to them. Find a lighter-bodied style since you don’t want to have a tannin bomb wreck your pairing. Check the alcohol content of the wines and try to stay under 13.5 per cent, or 14 per cent in the case of Zin, which tends to produce alcoholic wines.


You’ll be hearing a lot about pairing wine with Turkey starting, well, probably weeks ago. Here goes 2 cents worth of advice. Don’t worry about the turkey, focus on the stuffing. Will it be spicy? Well, we just went through the simple pairing suggestions for spicy dishes.

Will it be herbal? Herbal stuffing loves herbal wines. Reach for an Oregon Pinot Noir or Loire Valley Cabernet Franc if you prefer a red wine. A rich Sauvignon Blanc from Pouilly Fume or a powerful Grüner Veltliner from Austria would be my choice. Keep the basic rules in mind and you’ll be fine.

Rich Meats?

Rich meats need acidity and tannin to help combat the fat and intensity of flavour they bring to the table. In fact, rich meats are ideally suited for young red wines if they are particularly fatty, like skin-on duck breast or lamb chops, for example. In either case, a red wine with some tannin and good acidity is in order. A young Pinot Noir for the duck and Bordeaux for the lamb chops are both natural partners.

If you are having rich meats that are leaner, be on the lookout for a wine with some age on it. The mature wine will have softer tannins. The easiest route to take here is to opt for wines that have seen extensive barrel ageing, such as Rioja’s Gran Reservas or Chianti’s Riservas. Both tend to be smoothed by barrel ageing and offer a medium-bodied style with bright acidity, another tool to help balance the richness of a dish.

One thing to remember is that there are very few wine and food pairings that are truly bad, most work just fine. Stop worrying and make an educated guess based on these simple pairing guidelines. I’m sure you’ll do just fine!

Want To Learn More?

Looking for fun holiday gift ideas for the wine geeks in your life? Check out our holiday gift guide here!

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