Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving – whatever the festive occasion may be – one of the most enjoyable traditions of these holidays is the meal. Whether you plan to serve up the traditional turkey with all of the trimmings (white and dark meat, sweet and rich yams, tart cranberries, buttery mashed potatoes, a favourite stuffing, and a decadent sweet for dessert) or ham or beef or goose, it’s a challenge to choose a single wine that will pair nicely with all of the flavours of your meal. You may have a diverse gathering whose tastes are cultural, varied or unknown. You may want to serve a little of several different types of wine so your guests can taste a wine with each dish. Let’s try to keep it simple and just focus on the dominant flavour of the main course.
When we think of turkey, we think of white wine – the classic choice for poultry. The standby white wine for many is Chardonnay, especially for roast turkey. Consider also whites that are refreshing, tangy, and fruity, such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. But don’t rule out the reds. You can serve reds that are low in tannins and are light- to medium-bodied with turkey, such as Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Zinfandel. Always have rosé on the table. It goes well with everything from turkey to the things we know everyone really loves — the huge variety of side dishes. With a spread that is loaded with platters of food more rich and buttery than the last, it is good to have something to brighten up your palate.
Duck or Goose
Fowl such as duck and goose has a stronger flavour than turkey so it’s well-matched with a medium-bodied wine. White choices might be Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, or, for a suitable red, try Merlot or Zinfandel.
Game (Venison, Pheasant, Quail, Rabbit or Boar)
The strong flavour of game is also well-suited with a medium-bodied wine, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Shiraz and Malbec.
Ham’s main flavour is salt and maybe smoke. You’ll want a light- to medium-body wine that’s low in tannins again. For a white, try Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer or Riesling or for a red, consider Pinot Noir or maybe Zinfandel. Always have rosé on the table with ham, pairs well with the smoky flavour and will brighten up your palate.
Beef and Lamb
Thinking of serving prime rib this year? Go for medium to full-bodied reds as the best match for the bolder flavours of beef. Generally, red meats can be paired well with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Shiraz, Amarone, and Zinfandel. It may be difficult to find a white that holds up to the flavour of red meat – but if you prefer a white, try Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
Fish and Shellfish
There are many choices to complement your seafood, depending on the fullness of its flavour. White wines are generally the right choice. A good match would be Sauvignon Blanc. Try Chardonnay, Viognier, sparkling wine or Champagne if your seafood is served in a rich, creamy sauce. If you must have red, try a medium-bodied, low-alcohol Pinot Noir. Rosé is another excellent choice with seafood.
One easy-drinking, food-friendly wine that can handle everything from salty appetizers to sweet potatoes to a maple glaze on the turkey is Riesling. It’s moderate to light in alcohol with high acidity to balance all the richness of a large meal, plus a touch of sweetness to go with the sweet potatoes and cranberries.
Of course, you can simply drink what you enjoy. But the important thing to remember about your festive dinner is not the menu – it’s the people who share it with you.
(From: Canadian WineCrafter Fall 2011)