The holiday season is a time for festive gatherings, sumptuous repasts, and delicious drinks. The many meals and servings that await as the weather turns cool and celebrations approach call for proper preparation to fully enjoy.
The time and energy put into creating elaborate meals (and eating them) calls for equal consideration for what you’re drinking. Particularly in this time of year when dishes may be rich, bold, and complex, you need complimentary beverages. Even if you’re serving fewer people than usual this year, make the most of your holiday dishes with these wine and beer pairings for all the recipes you might be planning.
Wine is a widely diverse beverage, with a variety of flavors, aromas, and tastes, all influenced by its vintage, region, and age. As such, there will always be a glass (or bottle) that pairs well with what you’re enjoying. Before we go into some popular, specific pairings, it’s worth noting a few general and simple rules about pairing wine with meals.
Chances are high that you’ll find some mushroom, beef, or red-wine based sauces on festive occasions. Particularly with earthy vegetables like mushrooms, you’ll want a bold red from a fertile, old-world region to enhance the taste. In that case, the best option is a glass of Bordeaux.
In most cases, it’s advised to look at the sauce of the meal and not necessarily what’s being coated in it. Pesto, mint, and chimichurri sauces are versatile and delicious, and as such they’re becoming increasingly popular, especially among vegetarians and vegans. If you run across them, you’ll want to opt for a fruity, bold red wine like a Malbec.
Here is an example of a popular dish that may call for different pairings based on its sauce and additional ingredients. If you’re preparing a more traditional macaroni dish this season featuring a creamy, cheesy sauce, a zesty white wine high in acidity will complement it nicely. The fatty nature of the dish will be embraced by a sauvignon blanc, for example.
Here’s another pasta dish with a sauce, but the differences translate to a very different wine pairing. Baked pasta, like lasagna, made with tomato sauce is balanced out best by a red. We recommend Barbera, not only because of its bold nature and red fruity flavor, but also because it’s a popular Italian wine to match the popular Italian dish.
Change the method of cooking, and we’re changing wines. Boil a pot of spaghetti and add tomato sauce to it, and you’ll want a more balanced red one. Merlot makes for an ideal complement to pasta dishes featuring tomato sauce as its body and acidity are strong enough to match the dish, but not so bold that it overpowers what you’re eating.
Ham dishes that are generally sweet and salty, like Canadian bacon, honey ham, or glazed ham, are best to be paired with a wine that has a touch of sweetness to it. We recommend a riesling, which offers a light, complimentary drink, particularly if the ham is being enjoyed as a side dish, appetizer, or brunch fare.
The method of cooking here is important, as the different ways in which chicken or turkey is prepared will influence its taste (just like pasta). Roasting your poultry creates tender meat and intense flavor, which requires an equally bold wine to balance out the meal. We like pairing white wines with white meat, so we’re opting for a chardonnay, particularly an unoaked bottle from France.
If you’re opting for some spice this holiday season, you’ll want a wine that complements the heat. Curry is a hearty dish that may appeal to both meat-lovers and vegetarians alike. In the case of this meal, it’s again less about the content and more about the sauce when it comes to wine pairing. For those enjoying butter chicken, tikka masala, or similar, thick, creamy sauces, look to a tart, fruity, medium-bodied rosé.
Many folks start off holiday mornings with a delectable piece of fruit bread. While the specific recipe may change depending on region and tradition, these are typically sweet and fruity, best enjoyed with something acidic. Pour a glass of Champagne, top it off with some orange or grapefruit juice (and maybe a berry), and start your day with a mimosa.
Loaves often make their way to the table as side dishes for dinners, maintaining the fruity nature they have for breakfast but swapping out the sweetness for something nutty or earthy. When that’s the case, look for a fruity red that has high tannin and acidity. We recommend a fruit-forward Beaujolais.
This classic pair is an ideal go-to for hosting cocktail parties or when enjoying snacks or appetizers ahead of a large meal. The diverse and complex nature of cheese, however, means that specific types will pair better with specific wines.
A lot of the same rules apply to matching beer with food as they do with wine. Just like wine, beer may be sweet, bitter, tart, or fruity. In most cases, you want to match intensity and look for acidity or bitterness to balance out fatty qualities.
Holiday breakfasts are likely to feature an array of sweets and pastries. Opt for a radler where the acidity and fruity nature will complement your fare, but the low alcohol by volume content won’t slow down the start to your day. A shandy would also serve a similar purpose.
The wheat and barley in wheat beers help them enhance salads, particularly those with beans and legumes. Light salads with more green and citrus will do well with fruity, American wheat beers (drop an orange slice in it), while bean salads, especially with creamier dressings, may be better enjoyed by German and Belgian witbiers.
Sides of carrots, brussels sprouts, and parsnips are surely going to make their way a meal or two this season. The earthy quality is best complimented by a beer that’s slightly tart. Look for a sour beer, particularly North American or northern European ones, that will enhance the umami flavors.
Game birds pair particularly well with American-style ales, especially pale ales and brown ales. The fattiness of the meal is balanced by the bitterness of the beer, while the roasted nature of the game bird complements the hoppiness.
The hoppy nature of an India Pale Ale is the ideal complement to spices regularly used on grilled meat, particularly lemongrass and pepper. As we’ve done before, the acidity of the beverage will complement the fattiness of the food. IPAs are fairly versatile, and will also pair well with lighter dishes using Asian spices, like green curry or stir fry.
Stouts are rich and dark beers meant to be sipped and enjoyed slowly. They are likely to be best enjoyed after meals when partaking in a chocolate dessert or coffee, particularly because most stouts have chocolate and coffee notes. Just be sure to avoid a bitter stout with bitter chocolate, as that’s much too much bitterness for anyone to handle.
Anthony Marcusa is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.