Fortunately, the holiday season kinda takes care of itself. Just kidding, it can actually be a shopping/cooking/rum-punch-swilling nightmare. Which is why we went ahead and earned our place on the “Nice” list (at least, got off the “Persona Non Grata”) list by creating a handy guide to pairing your holiday meal with the right wine.
It’s a good idea to keep Christmas or holiday dinner appetizers light. For one, you’re going to be drinking something lighter (since you don’t wanna start your guests off with 15% ABV red powerhouse) and since you also kinda wanna save room for the main event. Oh, and you also don’t wanna be cooking everything from scratch when you’re also supposed to be enjoying a Christmas party. So a few simple app recommendations, and some easy pairing options:
Smoked Salmon Canapes – Chenin Blanc or Bubbly
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You can skip the cream cheese (or sub in some whipped tofu cream cheese—though we recommend adding a bit of acid there) to keep this dairy-free. Salmon, obviously, is a must. Something moderately dry and lower alcohol like Chenin Blanc or Gewurztraminer would work, though Champagne or Cremant (ahem) is almost always a winner with something like this.
Cheese Platter – Check out our app
A super easy way to keep guests’ tummies full—and keep Uncle Geoffrey from getting too loaded on his pre-dinner cocktails—plus, we’ve got an illustrated guide to wine pairings for most any delightful cheese you choose.
Pigs in a Blanket – Rose Champagne
Don’t hate, these are a buttery, meaty Christmas classic. A good time for some rose champagne, to cut through the richness but also play up the smoky-sweet porkitude.
Main dishes at holiday time tend to mean meat, though it’s actually a huge variety of meats. We’ve also included a vegetarian option, because hippies deserve to eat well, too.
Prime Rib – Bordeaux
Many a holiday table will be decked out with the ultimate show-stopper prime rib. (For some reason, around this time of year, we all become like, primal level carnivores). This recipe from Food & Wine brings in some unexpected flavors with a coffee and vanilla-spike drub. Something rich, dark, and bold would pair just fine, like a nice California Cab or (it’s the holidays) Bordeaux.
Spiral Ham – Zinfandel or Lambrusco
Nothing says holiday like some rye-spiked honey-glazed ham. But everyone’s favorite massive pork dish can present a couple of problems for pairing: it can be over-salty (if you get that cured Virginia ham and forget to soak it) or, more often, a little sweet. Unless you’ve got a massive sugar tooth, you’ll wanna pair something that cuts through the fatty sweetness of the meat and glaze, but still has good fruit, like a Zinfandel or even Lambrusco.
Roast Goose – Red Burgundy
Not many of us cook goose at Christmastime, maybe because we’re not as brave or reckless as the peoples of Britain and Germany. Or maybe we’re just reasonably terrified of taking on poultry that has an incredible amount of fat. The trick, per this recipe, is removing any fat pads (yeah, that’s a thing) and scoring the breast to encourage more fat to seep out during cooking. Though save that fat. In Germany, they actually just eat it on bread. It’s good stuff. As for the goose itself, since you’re splurging, why not splurge again on a nice red Burgundy?
Vegetarian Main: Spinach and Gruyere Souffle – Gamay
Leave it to Martha to make sure the vegetarians aren’t just left with mashed potatoes this holiday season. Sure, there’s a bit of soufflé terror involved, but just follow Martha’s (no doubt meticulous) instructions and your reward is a dish that even soulless carnivores will want (but veg folk get first dibs). Because it’s both rich and light, a nice Gamay pairing will keep omnivores and herbavores alike happy.
Ah, the sides. Everyone’s secret (or not so secret) favorite. This is a small sampling, since there are as many side dish options as personalities, cravings, and perfunctory holiday traditions (“I’m not coming home for Christmas unless you make my favorite Loaded Holiday ‘Tater Skins!”). Best bet with sides, keep flavor profiles fairly simple, since you don’t want too much competition on the holiday table. At least nothing to overshadow the competition between your left- and right-wing uncles to see who can shout the loudest about Donald Trump.
Maple and Bacon-roasted Brussels Sprouts – Pinot Noir or Chardonnay
Despite their bad rep, Brussels sprouts tend to find their way onto the holiday dinner table almost every year. Fortunately most recipes have the sense to add bacon, and this one goes a step or two above with a maple glaze and toasted hazelnuts for extra texture. Some things to consider: quality bacon, not to mention the smokiness you’ll have to pair with—alongside that je ne sais quoi brussels sprouts flavor. Best pairing idea: Pinot Noir. If you eliminate the bacon here, go for a Chardonnay instead.
Creamy Mashed Potatoes – Merlot
The one time a year we allow ourselves a recipe that involves two sticks of butter and 8 ounces of cream cheese. And boy does it feel so right. A richer side, so pairing with something not too buttery (e.g. a lightly oaked or unoaked Chardonnay) is your best bet, say maybe a bottle of merlot. Anything too acidic might clash with the delicate, dreamily creamy flavor profile going on here.
Vegan Side Dish: Twice Baked Butternut Squash with Cashew Cheese and Cranberries – Riesling
If Caitlin of TheVeganWorld.com wants to make her non-vegan friends jealous, this recipe should do the trick. A lot of flavors and textures are at play here, not always an easy recipe (so to speak) for pairing, but the flavors, naturally, make sense as a whole. Walnuts and cranberries lend great texture and a finishing flourish of holiday flavor, while breadcrumbs and cashew cheese (don’t be frightened, it’s just requires a food processor or spice grinder) flesh out the filling. Butternut squash being both slightly sweet and a bit fruity, a good pairing option might be something like a dry Riesling.
If you actually made it this far, and are still hungry, then give yourself a pat on the back, and maybe a Zantac.
Traditional Croquembouche – Sauternes or Ice Wine
Croquembouche is actually a traditional French wedding cake, but it’s become a part of the (hugely ambitious) holiday repertoire. In truth, you only need to know how to make a simple pate a choux—not nearly as hard or terrifying as it sounds, just have an electric mixer—and be able to stack a bunch of delicious balls into a nice tower. Even if they fall, you’ll have a delicious pile. Same recipe they make eclairs with, so you can imagine the tastiness. For pairing purposes, go with a Sauternes or Ice Wine .
Buche de Noel – Port
This one is undeniably a pain the tuchus, but if you roll it up just right, you’ll get something that looks like an actual Christmas yule log, decorated with berries and sprigs of holly (if they’re actual sprigs of really holly, just remind your guests not to eat them). If you go for a chocolate recipe, like this one, a nice tawny port would work well.
Gingerbread House – Bourbon or Scotch
OK, by now the kids are asleep, Christmas is (almost) officially over. Can we dig into the gingerbread house? Depending on how crazy you went with the decorations for our gingerbread house (or gingerbread stadium, or gingerbread latop), it may be more or less sweet—and we’re not sure what, if anything, pairs with Necco Wafer roof tiles. The ginger and royal icing are the key players here, so you’ll have spice and sweetness, best to pair with Bourbon or Scotch.