Planning a big Christmas feast is fun, and depending on your guest list, maybe slightly stressful. When it comes to the wine pairings, think of it like pairing anything else. Whether you are going for a traditional Christmas feast or taking a more creative approach to the dinner, the wines should complement the flavors and textures in the food. These wines are great matches for many dishes that will likely be on the holiday table.
Putting Together Your Christmas Wine List
Christmas dinner is different for everyone, but if you're celebrating the holiday, you're likely planning a feast of good food and wine to share with family and friends. If you're going all out, you'll be planning pre-dinner bites of this and that paired with an aperitif followed by a family style table full of prime rib, meatballs, glazed ham, or a fillet of salmon along with all the sides. Think about your wine pairings in groups and follow a few of these tips to make the whole ensemble come together seamlessly.
Start by Planning Out Your Menu
Before you can really dive into the wines, you need to know what's going to be on the table. Starting with the appetizers and ending with dessert, write out a menu so you can get a big picture of what styles of wines you'll be looking for. While you'll want to look for food-friendly wines regardless, you'll be selecting different wine if you are planning to serve prime rib versus salmon or creme brûlée versus a plate full of Christmas cookies.
Make Sure There Is Something for Everyone
When you've got a plethora of foods on the table and a crowd with diverse palates, you want a range of wines that will make for satisfying pairings all around. A selection of food friendly wines that range from bubbles to orange to red wines is a good bet.
Go for Acid-Driven Wines
That whole food friendly wine bit? A big piece of that is an acid-driven wine. A wine lacking good acidity will fall flat, whereas a wine with racy acidity will bring balance to a pairing, keeping things light and lively whether you are eating a cream-based soup or a salad.
Prep Your Wines
In all the hustle of wrapping final presents, par-boiling the potatoes, and shoveling the driveway, chilling your wines may get pushed to the back of your brain. Keep your wine notes with your menu and food prep notes, so they can act as a reminder to get those bubbles, whites, and orange wines in the fridge before the refrigerator runs out of space entirely.
Christmas Wine Pairings
Big, bold flavors at the table call for some equally prominent wines. Between the weather and the food, it's a time when you can bring out those richly textured whites and heavy hitter reds, and they'll fit right in. Looking to make both complementary and contrasting pairings will bring interest to the dinner and make for a memorable meal. These wines will do just that.
There's nothing quite like bubbles to start off a festive night, and Champagne really takes the cake. If you are popping bottles pre-dinner, go for a Blanc de Blanc. The brightness will be a great start to the evening and can easily cross over from a plate of appetizers right into dinner. If you want something to round the night out and pair with dessert, go for a richly textured Blanc de Noir. Both have brilliant acidity, and the bubbles act as a palate cleanser, making it the perfect festive drink that goes with just about everything. Champagne is a great Christmas brunch option, too. Whether you're pouring flutes of golden bubbles or mixing mimosas, it's a celebratory start to the festive morning. So grab a couple bottles to keep in your fridge and pop over the course of a few meals.
The crème de la crème of French chardonnay, a white Burgundy, can range from bright and mineral-driven to richly textured with notes of hazelnut and vanilla. If you are cooking a fillet of salmon, a turkey, or a ham, a Côte de Beaune makes a great match. With aromas of Meyer lemon, quince, golden apple, and undertones of truffle, it's a richer white that maintains good acidity.
While Rioja reds get more attention than their counterparts, the whites from Rioja are spectacular. Lean, dry, and bursting with acidity, Rioja blanco has notes of citrus, lemon curd, and honeydew melon with lots of refreshing salinity and minerality. It's a great choice if you are roasting a bird or cooking fish for your main course. It will also cut through the richness of many of the sides, like scalloped potatoes and soufflé.
Whether you want to go New World or Old World, look for a dry riesling to keep a clean pairing that will complement a variety of foods. The bright acidity, stone fruit, and bit of spice will go with everything from pre-dinner cheese and crackers, to a fish-centric main event, into dessert hour.
The richer profile of a viognier makes it a great grape to ferment with its skins, making an orange wine. Tropical and citrus notes of peach skin, tangerine, honeysuckle, and rose with an oily texture and a bit of tannins make it the perfect choice for any sort of poultry, fish, and all those winter vegetable sides. With less acidity and a bigger body, an orange viognier is what to pour for the guest who isn't into the high-acid whites or for any of the wine nerds at the table.
With profiles of cranberry, raspberry, dried fall leaves, and mushroom, pinot noir has got all the aromas and flavors that you want around the holidays. While it has a wide range, expressing terroir particularly well, at its core it's a delicate red with good acidity that will go with roasted turkey, a grilled fish, or a baked ham. It's versatile, food friendly, and many people love it.
A classic French red, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a blend that expresses notes of ripe fig, raspberry, blackberry, plum, licorice, and graphite with rustic garrigue. It's a great balance of fruit with savory herbs and dusty earth that will bring another dimension to your dinner. If you are roasting any red meats or making a coq au vin for your main, reach for a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
A big-fruit red for a big festive dinner, zinfandel has brambly notes of blackberry, cherry, plum, and raspberry jam with spiced undertones of cinnamon and black pepper. This one is for your die-hard red wine drinkers at the table. It pairs great with roasted beetroot and carrots, bacon-wrapped dates, lamb, or prime rib.
To finish the evening, go for a sweet, golden-hued Sauternes. The full-bodied, noble rot white is quite unique, with notes of honeyed apricot, mango, ginger, marmalade, and honeysuckle. This is a great wine to have a small 4-ounce pour and sip alongside a cheese board with a smattering of fresh fruit. It also makes a luscious pairing for any sort of fruit tart, adding a rich finish to the feast without being too overwhelming.
Cheers to the Holidays
A big festive dinner calls for some great wine pairings. If there was ever time to splurge and buy that bottle at your local wine shop you've been curious about, now is it. Think about your menu, plan ahead, and build a great wine list for the dinner that will elevate the whole evening.