Most of us will be running around looking for that perfect Christmas gift for our loved ones right up to the last minute. But let us not forget to purchase the wines that will pair with the food we will all be enjoying over the holidays.
There are some basic pairing rules to help you with this process. The first rule is not to look at how cool the label looks. You are not drinking the label. But the label will tell you what is in the bottle and the year the grape was harvested… the vintage. Some wines are supposed to be opened and enjoyed while young. Other wines should be kept and stored for a while and then enjoyed. The second rule of buying wine is to know what food you will pair with the wine. Below, I will offer my guide for you to know what variety of wine to pair with what type of food.
Typically, at Christmas time, roast beef, lamb, turkey, ham, and roasted vegetables are on the table. So here is the list categorized by food type.
Wines for the Christmas Dinner
Serving roast beef? Choose Carmenere, a medium bodied wine from Chile or a more full-bodied Syrah from either Washington State or Paso Robles, CA. Of course Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, CA will always be a perfect match.
Serving roast lamb? Choose a nice Merlot from Bordeaux, France, but make sure it’s either a 2005, 2007, or 2009. If you can’t find this vintage, look for a Barbera (Italy). You can always pick up a Primitivo, which is the Italian cousin to the Zinfandel.
Serving ham? Choose a Chateauneuf du Pape (France), Amarone (Italy), or a lighter Pinot Noir from Oregon. Of course white wines such as Chenin Blanc from California or France pair nicely. Sauvignon Blanc’s from Marlborough, New Zealand are particularly delightful as well.
Serving roasted vegetables, especially root vegetables? You must rely on the fact that roasting vegetables will have more of a robust flavor on the palate. It would be wise to choose a more medium bodied wine such as Chardonnay (oaked) from California or a Rosé. If you are not into white wines or Rosé, try a Lambrusco. This is a slightly sweeter wine from Italy, but will hold up to the sweetness on some of the vegetables served with the meal as well.
Champagne versus Sparkling Wine
Let’s not forget Champagne during the holidays. Don’t wait until New Years Eve to open a couple of bottles of bubbly.
Let’s face it; buying Champagne is not always easy. Champagne can only be called “Champagne” if it is made in Champagne, France. But, there are sparkling wines that are made in the same fashion as its counterparts in Champagne, France. If you like that fresh baked bread, yeasty, aromas and flavors found in Champagne then you can expect to pay upwards of $60 for a good bottle of the bubbly stuff. Talk to your wine merchant and let them know you are looking for elegant, not opulent Champagne. Remember, a vintage Champagne will cost a lot more than the non-vintage (NV).
Here are some sparkling wines from other countries — Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain. Cava’s are dry and fruity with not a lot of the yeastiness on the nose or palate. Crémants are sparkling wines from outside of the Champagne region. A crémant rosé from the area of Alsace, France are by law to have 100% Pinot Noir grapes. Metodo Classico is from the northern part of Italy. These wines still have that fresh baked bread aroma and some nuttiness on the palate. Look for ones from the Franciacorta DOC and Trento DOC.
There is only one rule when pairing wine with desserts… the desserts cannot be sweeter than the wine or it will make the wine taste bitter. Look for fortified wines such as Sherry, Ports or a Pedro Ximinéz (PX).
Better yet, purchase a bottle of Kerrygold Irish Cream and make your own dessert drink with this beautiful blend of Irish cream, Irish whiskey and chocolate.
I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Scott Richardson has been in the hotel and restaurant business for almost 30 years. His love for producing remarkable food and service evolved to his love for all things wine. Scott has worked at many prestigious locations including The Cavendish Hotel, in London England and The Grove Park Inn and Resorts in Asheville, NC, as well as Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resorts as General Manger of several restaurants. His culinary background and his love for wine pushed into the teaching profession with University of Central Florida’s Rosen School of Hospitality Management, Valencia College, Johnson and Wales University and New England Culinary Institute, where he wrote Advanced Food and Wine Pairing, currently being offered as part of the school’s BS in Food and Beverage Management degree. If that was not enough, Scott is also a volunteer judge at several food and wine festivals in Central Florida throughout the year. In his spare time, Scott writes for The Park Press, his column “The Educated Palate” can be found at www.theparkpress.com. Scott is currently pursuing his passion in wine by working towards his PhD in Hospitality Leadership with research in the wine tourism industry. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @1educatedpalate.