The Ultimate Holiday Wine Pairing Guide

The Ultimate Holiday Wine Pairing Guide
There is nothing more stressful than putting together the perfect spread for the holidays. Whether you are the one stuck with turkey duty on Thanksgiving or you’re hosting a killer New Year’s bash, it isn’t just the food and décor you need to worry about. Wine pairing has long been one of the more feared tasks by hosts and hostesses – but it doesn’t have to be.

The truth is, any wine that you enjoy is considered a good wine. You don’t have to fret over buying the most expensive bottles just to impress your guests – especially when we all know there are amazing bottles of wine for under $5. Sure, this sounds simplistic, but it is a point that is missed all too often in today’s modern obsession with wine ratings. Wine, bottom line, is about taste and nothing more. It is a highly subjective, personal preference that cannot be quantified by a score.

That being said, we get that you want to pair the wines you enjoy with what you’re serving – and perhaps mix in a few newbies to try. That is why we have come up with this comprehensive wine pairing guide that you can use for your holiday feasts and celebrations – or just year round next time you want to host a dinner party.

First Things First: The Types of Wine

Yes, there are a lot here. It is important you know the different types – so that when we make a suggestion you know what we’re talking about.

Wines are easily classified by their color – so next time you’re at the wine store, take a peek at the color of the wine rather than reading the label.

To help you identify wines, we will go by color:

  • Caramel – This caramel-leather color is classic for dessert wines, including sherry, port, Madeira, Marsala, Muscat and other sweet varieties of wine.
  • Deep Luscious Purple – This color indicates aging and higher volumes of alcohol content too while we are on the topic. Wines in this category include Syrah, cabernet sauvignon, Malbec, petite Syrah, agilanico, and verdot.
  • Violet – A cross between a red and purple, these wines include merlot, cabernet franc, zinfandel, tempranillo and barbera varieties.
  • Pale Reds – These wines have a ruby red color and include pinot noirs and Grenache.
  • Salmon – These deep pink hues include rose of cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo.
  • Pink – Bright and airy and include roses of merlot, roses of Grenache and roses of sangiovese.
  • Pale Pink – Fruity and airy and include rose of pinot noir and zinfandel.
  • Rich Gold – These are those noble dessert wines that include Riesling and Chenin Blanc.
  • Pale Gold – Dry, yet still fruity and include Chardonnay varieties.
  • Easter Yellow – Can be sweet and fruity and include Moscato, Pinot Blanc and Chenin Blanc.
  • Greenish Yellow – These are fruitier, lighter and include Sauvignon Blanc and the like.
  • Almost See Through – They’re still alcohol (we promise) and include Sparkling Wines, Rieslings and Vinho Verdes.
  • Second: Use the Right Glass

    It doesn’t matter how many great wines you serve if you don’t serve them up in the right glass. Yes, glass matters quite a bit. The glass you choose is what aerates the drier, richer wines and keeps the bubbles tantalizing your taste buds for sparkling varieties. Don’t worry, you don’t have to buy up every glass at the store, but a few you will want to keep on hand include:

  • Sparkling Wine Flutes – Obvious for champagne and sparkling wines, but can also be used for everything up to the rich golden colored wines.
  • White Wine Glass – As the name implies, if it is white, yellow or gold, it goes in here. Nope, sorry, that doesn’t include pinks or reds.
  • Standard Wine Glass – Yes, there’s a standard. This is perfect for all of the pinks and salmon-colored wines that aren’t quite white and aren’t quite red.
  • Light Red Wine Glass – This is ideal for those pale reds, such as Pinot Noir.
  • Red Wine Glass – Ideal for the deeper wines. If you don’t have a light red wine glass, then you can serve up your paler reds in this glass as well.
  • Dessert Wine Glass – These are much shorter in size – serving up about three ounces – and exclusively for your caramel-colored dessert wines.
  • Pairing Up the Wines

    When picking a wine for your holiday feast, you will want to focus on wines that match up with your main course (i.e. the turkey, ham, etc.). Some flavors and pairs that work nicely together include:

  • Salty Foods – Salty meats and appetizers need something refreshing. So whether you are serving a deep-fried turkey, anchovies, sushi or even potato chips as starters, you will want to stick with a sparkling wine.
  • Vegetable Dishes – For those vegan-friendly holiday meals or just the salad course you will want to add some dry white wines to the table. White wines also pair well with chicken and fish – making them more versatile.
  • Creamy Dishes – Got creamed soups or cream-based gravies galore on the menu? Then you will want something to cut through the rich, such as a rich white wine. Don’t worry; it goes great with turkey too.
  • Rich Dishes – From those hearty gravies to over-seasoned prime ribs, you need something that can pair up nicely. Rose wines are the most versatile for holiday dinner spreads.
  • Roasted Food – Got roasted prime rib? Perhaps you are roasting a duck for Christmas? To stand up to the heavy seasonings and potential dryness, you need a medium-red variety of wine.
  • Rich Meats – Serving lamb roast, cured meats or even game meat? Then stick to the bolder varieties of red wines.
  • Dessert – You cannot use the same bottle throughout service and dessert, but that is okay. Once dessert rolls around whip out a bottle of Port, Tawny, Sherry or even Muscat to finish it all off.
  • Wait, What About the New Year’s Toast?

    Okay, okay. You can use the champagne. But, if you want something a little different, try sparkling roses or hey, a sparkling wine. Just FYI, sparkling wines are champagnes – they just aren’t as flashy on the price tag. You could save some money and no one will know the difference.

    Bottom line, you’re going to need some wines before the big day. You may not have time to join a wine of the month club – though we recommend you look into them so you always have a well-stocked home cellar in the future.

    To get wines fast and find the perfect wines for your holiday events, we recommend doing your last minute shopping with Wine.com, Global Wine Cellars or California Wine Club – just a few of our favorites.

    Want more tips and tidbits? Check out our Wine board on Pinterest and don’t forget to follow us to see what else we are up to.



    Shailynn is a word slinger, chef, Pinterest addict and adult coloring book collector. As our Operations Manager and Senior Researcher/Editor, you will find Shailynn busy finding new companies and topics to research, but also handling the crazy day-to-day on the backend – and by crazy…we mean all of us. She attended the International Culinary Institute, where she studied pastry arts and she worked as an executive pastry chef before hanging up her chef’s hat and decided to work from home as a writer. She is a fanatic for a great cup of coffee or wonderful glass of wine! Shailynn is a mother of three and married to a handsome firefighter.

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