Choosing Wine for Holiday Meals

The holiday season is one of the best opportunities to spend quality time with your family and enjoy indulgent meals together. Plus, you might have some time off from your busy work schedule to get in the kitchen and whip up a recipe you’ve always wanted to try. Do you know what makes holiday feasts even better? Wine! Keep reading to learn more about the most popular wines in the world and how to select wines that pair well with classic holiday food.


The Noble Grapes and Common Food Pairings

There are hundreds of grape varieties grown worldwide, but being familiar with the “noble grapes” gives you a basic foundation for wine. What makes a grape noble? It needs to be internationally recognizable, widely planted in major regions, and reliably produced at a high quality. Many connoisseurs debate which varieties are noble. Your busy schedule may not allow you to become a wine aficionado and join the conversation, but rest assured, these six grapes almost always make the shortlist. Here’s a quick rundown of each grape.

Chardonnay

The most widely grown white wine grape in the world, Chardonnay is a full-bodied wine that offers various flavors depending on the growing region and aging process. Chardonnay not aged in oak barrels usually has a crisp, light, and fruity taste. When it’s aged with oak, Chardonnay offers a rich, buttery flavor. 

Common Food Pairings — Salmon, oysters, shellfish, chicken, pork tenderloin, goat cheese, gouda 

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc is a dry, acidic white wine originally from the Loire Valley in France. When you smell this wine, it provides notes of apricot, peach, and fresh-cut grass. Sauvignon blanc can be unaged or aged in oak, like chardonnay. Unaged sauvignon blanc tends to be light and fruity, while oak-aged varieties are typically full-bodied and rich.

Common Food Pairings — Shellfish, oysters, shrimp cocktail, chicken, pork chop, goat cheese, green herbs (parsley, basil, thyme)

Riesling 

Riesling is a German wine that’s highly acidic and aromatic. You can expect notes of peach, apple, pear, lemon, honey, lime, apricot, jasmine, and petrol. The taste of riesling is often intense and can range from dry to sweet. Riesling’s intensity goes well with intense-tasting dishes with lots of spice — e.g. Indian and Asian cuisine. Next time you have a late-night work session, have Chinese delivered and enjoy a glass of riesling with it.

Common Food Pairings — Duck, pork, spicy chicken, roasted vegetables, soft cheeses (brie, ricotta, feta) 

Merlot

Merlot is one of the world’s most popular red wine grapes. It’s a dry, medium-bodied wine known for its dark, juicy fruit flavors such as black cherry and plum. Merlot also has soft tannins, making it easy to drink. Aside from fruitiness, merlot offers notes of vanilla, cedar, clove, oak, and mocha. 

Common Food Pairings — Filet mignon, chicken, lamb, garlic, pork loin, blue cheese, cheddar cheese, mushrooms

Cabernet

Cabernet is often confused with merlot. While they both provide herbal notes and dark fruit flavors, there are differences between the two red wine grapes. Merlot is more fruit-forward with soft tannins, while cabernet has firmer tannins, more complexity, and a more earthy taste. Expect notes of clove, black pepper, violets, red bell pepper, and raspberry.

Common Food Pairings — Pasta, lasagna, steak, sausage, cheddar, lamb, blue cheese, venison 

Pinot Noir

Pinot noir is a tricky grape to grow, but it produces one of the most sought after red wines in the world. It offers a smooth taste with low tannins, medium acidity, and a light body. Pinot noir is typically aged in oak barrels, which gives the wine an earthy flavor. You can expect notes of cranberry, cherry, raspberry, vanilla, clove, licorice, tobacco, and mushroom. 

Common Food Pairings — Salmon, roasted chicken, pasta, beef stew, duck, brie, goat cheese, potatoes


If You’re Having… 

Do you have time to plan a three-course holiday meal for your family? If so, here are the wines we’d recommend you pair with your food. 

Appetizers

Deviled Eggs — It’s a go-to appetizer, especially around the holidays. When made right, your kids will gobble them up until there’s none left. However, eggs are a tricky match for wine since the yolk can coat your mouth and dull the flavors of some wines. If you have deviled eggs, go with a light, chilled white wine like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay. These wines don’t have a lot of tannins that’ll clash with the egg flavors.

Spinach Artichoke Dip — Spinach artichoke dip is another great holiday appetizer. Consider chardonnay since it goes well with soft cheese and vegetables. You can also try sparkling white wine. Red wine isn’t recommended because spinach can make the wine taste metallic. 

Cheese Platter — Cheese is the classic food choice for wine. But when there are multiple kinds of cheese on one plate, it can be challenging to pick one wine that goes well with an entire cheeseboard. If sticking with one type of wine, then make sure it’s a white wine that’s slightly sweet but acidic enough to cut through the cheeses’ richness. A German riesling usually does the trick. 

Entrees

Prime Rib — Red wines such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot are excellent pairings with red meat. Prime rib is a fatty meat, so you need a wine with the right amount of acidity to cut through the fat. You also want a wine with a medium body. A full-bodied wine may overpower the meat, while a light-bodied wine may not complement the meat enough. 

Ham — Ham provides both sweetness and saltiness, so you want a wine that’s fruit-forward, slightly sweet, and acidic. For white wine, riesling is an excellent pairing because it provides plenty of acidity and fruit notes. If you want a red wine, choose pinot noir. It’s lighter than most other reds and boasts bold, earthy flavors that pair well with ham.

Spinach & Gruyere Souffle — Vegetarian? Spinach and gruyere souffle is an excellent main dish for holiday dinners. Even if your family members are meat lovers, they’ll still enjoy this entree. An oaked chardonnay is a good pairing because the buttery notes blend well with the souffle’s creaminess. If you want to drink red wine, consider Gamay. It’s rich and light, so it won’t dominate your palate. 

Desserts

Gingerbread — Gingerbread is a classic holiday dessert with both sugar and spice. Plus, baking and decorating a gingerbread house or cookies is a fun activity to do with your kids! Sweet wine like sherry pairs well with gingerbread, but so does a white wine like a riesling. The crisp, light notes help balance out gingerbread’s decadent flavors such as honey and molasses.

Buche de Noel — Also known as a yule log cake, the Buche de Noel will satisfy you and your kids’ sweet tooth with its rich, chocolatey flavor. Try a sweet wine like Moscato to amplify your dessert, or consider a glass of brandy to add some spice to your slice of cake. 


Conclusion

Having wine with meals is one of life’s little pleasures, especially when it’s around the people you love like your spouse and kids. When you choose the right wine for your dinner, it can elevate your holiday experience to a new level.

Check out the POLYWOOD blog for more articles on food and recipes.

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