Holiday meals are some of the trickiest meals to pair wine with. There’s turkey, ham (sometimes), stuffing (ours has sausage, and it’s hands down the best), mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, veggies, assorted pies, among other things. You’re getting some major taste sensations here – fatty, creamy, salty, sweet, bitter, and maybe sour depending on what’s on the table.
Since there are so many things to eat and different wine preferences, we’ve compiled a list of some unique wines that will pair with most, if not all, of the meal as well as satisfy even the pickiest wine drinkers.
The holidays are all about celebration, so what better way to get the meal started than with some bubbly? Rather than reaching for the standard Champagne or Cava, we suggesting hunting down a bottle of the lesser known Franciacorta – Italy’s answer to Champagne. Sure, there are better known Italian sparkling wines out there (Asti and Prosecco), but since they’re produced differently, you don’t get the toasty, yeasty complexity akin to wines made with the traditional method (aka the méthode Champenoise). Franciacorta can consist of any combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc) and is usually dry. Its high acidity and snappy bubbles are perfect for cutting through the rich, creamy, and fatty components of the meal. However, because this style of sparkling wine has no sweetness, pairing it alongside dessert will make it taste overly tart and even slightly bitter – so stick to the savory foods when sipping on Franciacorta.
If you’re not a fan of sparkling wine, or you’re ready to move on to a still white, we recommend cracking open a bottle of Chenin Blanc. This versatile white grows around the world, including South African and the Loire Valley of France. You can find Chenin Blanc made in a pretty wide range of styles from dry to sweet, but for the main meal, go for dry. Dry Chenin is lean and crisp with notes of orchard fruit (apple, pear, quince), citrus, herbs, and hay. Its high acid is, like the Franciacorta, perfect for the richness and creaminess of the meal. We like Chenin because it has a mouth-filling texture you wouldn’t expect, more acidity than Chardonnay, and its flavors aren’t as tart and herbaceous as Sauvignon Blanc.
For red wine drinkers, we’re going with Gamay. The best wines from Beaujolais hail from the region’s ten crus, each of which produces serious reds. Gamay, in general, is relatively light-bodied, with a palate that balances fruit, flowers, and earth notes. Similar to the Franciacorta and Chenin Blanc, this red is high in acid, which is key with rich foods. It has fairly low tannins and therefore won’t fight with any bitter flavors in the meal. Also, because many holiday meals have poultry as the main source of protein, you don’t want to be drinking a big, beefy red wine. Luckily, Gamay’s lighter body won’t overwhelm the meal.
Once you’ve gotten through the main meal, regardless of how much you’ve already eaten, it’s time for dessert. Our sweet options usually include pumpkin pie (sometimes replaced with sweet potato pie), apple pie, and pecan pie. Since classic Holiday desserts aren’t usually rich in chocolate, we’re reaching for one of our favorite sweet whites: Tokaji Aszú. Tokaji, one of Hungary’s most impressive wines, is made from grapes are affected by a rot called “Botrytis cinerea” that concentrates the sugars in the grapes and imparts flavors of honey, candied ginger, and apricot jam. This golden nectar is pretty darn sweet but has very high levels of acidity, which gives the wine incredible balance. It’s seriously so good. The key to pairing sweet food with wine is that you want the wine to be the sweeter of the two to keep it from tasting flimsy and sour. As far as dessert wines go, Tokaji is richly textured but not overwhelmingly full-bodied, and its flavor profile will work beautifully with the nutty flavors of pecan pie, the baked, spiced apple notes of apple pie, and the creamy, delicate character of pumpkin and sweet potato pie.
There you have it – four unique wines perfect for anything and everything served as part of a classic Holiday meal. And If you have any unconsumed wine, don’t be scared to pair it with your leftover food.