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Holiday Wine Pairings: Tips and Recommendations

Updated: Nov 29, 2023



Thanksgiving is coming up and planning for the big meal can be daunting. Add wine pairings and it can be downright stressful. No need to fret, the perfect wines are usually the ones you like most, but when you open them throughout your holiday meal plan can make a big difference in highlighting both the dish and the wine.


There is no real science here, but there are a few general rules to wine and food pairing upon which most wine experts will agree. We’ll borrow from the International Court of Master Sommeliers’ guidance on how to approach lining up wines with your meal:


General Guidelines for Pairing Wine with Meals


● Progress from lighter to fuller wines and from drier to sweeter

● Match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine

● Acidity needs acidity

● Fish oils love acidity but hate tannins

● Tannins love fat, except for fish oils

● Acidity cuts saltiness

● Sweets need sweets

● Alcohol + spicy = fire

● Spicy + sugar = no fire

● Local wines are usually best paired with local foods


There are also a few foods that are generally more difficult to find traditional wine pairing partners for varying reasons. If you can keep these off your November or December holiday menus, wine pairing will be easier. Some of these include:


● Vegetable soup

● Artichokes (Cynarine content)

● Asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc. (organosulfur content)

● Smoked foods

● Pickles or pickled foods / sauces

● Chocolate

● Blue cheese


Most of these have chemical compounds that make pairing difficult, while others are a bit more obvious. Either way, if you can steer clear of adding these foods to your holiday meal menus, wine pairing will be that much easier.


Let’s go through our own holiday meal wine list to perhaps give you some ideas of what you can do for your holiday table:



Sparkling Wine


Every special occasion should start with a sparkling wine. In fact, there are plenty of these you can drink throughout your entire holiday meal, and they can serve as a palate cleanser if you choose, but for our table, this will serve as our aperitif. Make it a good one as this is again, a special occasion.


Occasional Wine picks:


Top Pick

Incredible Value


American Option


Something Different


The Lambrusco may seem a bit of a surprise here, but truth be told this slightly sweet, effervescent red wine pairs really well with just about anything you’re serving for Thanksgiving, and you can find pretty good ones at reasonable prices.



Sauvignon Blanc


These are acidic, herbal, sometimes mineral white wines that pair well with your salads, green beans, or the other green vegetables that might be on your holiday meal table.


Occasional Wine picks:


Top Picks

Incredible Value


American Options


Something Different


The Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc blends are, as a standard, referred to as “Bordeaux Blancs.” In these, the Sauvignon Blanc provides the acidity while the Semillon provides the body. As such, these are a bit heavier and the Semillon also softens the acidity a bit. If you want to tone down the acidity a bit, these might be a great alternative.



Chardonnay


If you’re going to stick with white wines throughout the meal, you might consider taking a step up in body. A Chardonnay, particularly those big creamy butter bombs from California, might just be the ticket. These will compliment your turkey and your cream sauces, gravies, and buttered rolls.


Occasional Wine picks:


Top Picks


Incredible Value


Something Different


The Chablis offerings are a lot less buttery than their Sonoma counterparts so if you’re looking for wines with less pronounced fruit and greater mineral notes, these French alternatives can substitute here or even for the aforementioned Sauvignon Blanc options.



Pinot Noir


This is perhaps the most important red wine to highlight for your holiday feast as it pretty much will accompany everything on your menu. It has the acidity, reasonable tannin, and the fruit to compliment the whole gamut of meal options.


Occasional Wine picks:


Top Picks


Incredible Value


Something Different

● Beaujolais Nouveau


Beaujolais Nouveau is a 100% Gamay wine from the Beaujolais region of Bourgogne, France. It is made using carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration which in the end really highlights the fruit in these wines. Coincidentally, the newest productions of these wines are always launched on the 3rd Thursday in November. These go really well with Thanksgiving dinners, particularly those with lots of sweet dishes (e.g., candied yams), and have a lot less tannin so they also go well with any color of meat.


GSM Blends


GSM stands for Grenach, Syrah, Mourvedre, which are the standard wines of the Rhone Valley in France. These are largely easy drinking wines, particularly those with higher concentrations of the lighter Grenache grape, that go with just about everything, but of course are better when the meat and stuffing makes it to the table. If you’re serving smoked turkey, GSMs that are heavier on the Syrah and/or Mourvedre might be better bets, but you really can’t miss here.


Occasional Wine picks:


Top Picks


Incredible Value


Something Different


The rosé is a lighter, more refreshing GSM for those who prefer to go that route.


Zinfandel


What could be more American than pairing your American Thanksgiving meal with an American Zinfandel. These fruit forward, higher alcohol options will pair well with your dark turkey meat, pork roast, rib roast, or ham. It also amplifies the flavors of the holiday season - cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, etc.


Occasional Wine picks:


Top Picks



Cabernet Sauvignon


For those who enjoy beef roasts as their holiday centerpiece, or for those like us who believe that all special occasions call for something truly special from the wine cellar, a big juicy California Cabernet needs to make its way onto the menu.


Occasional Wine picks:


Top Picks


Incredible Value


Something Different


The “something different” wines listed are really just Cabernets made in other countries, but the associated flavors and aromas will typically be more restrained and earthy than their California counterparts.



Dessert Wine Options

As noted earlier, you’ll want to ensure that your wine is at least as sweet as your dessert to avoid any extreme contrast every time you take a drink. There are plenty of options here to choose from, but we’ll offer a couple of notes that may come in handy.


● Pumpkin Pie - Off-Dry to sweet quality Riesling, or sweet Oloroso Sherry

● Pecan Pie - Malmsey (Bual), the sweetest type of Madeira

● Apple Pie - Tawny tPort or Moscato d’Asti or sweet Moscatel


There are several other dessert wine options available to fit all tastes. We will go into greater detail on dessert wines in a future blog post. Until then, some of the other more popular dessert wine types include:


● Sweet sparkling red wines like Lambrusco (Emilia-Romagna) or Brachetto d'Acqui (Piedmonte)

● Sauternes - Noble Rot-affected Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes produced in Bordeaux

● Sweet Chenin Blanc from Quarts de Chaume, Bonnezeaux, or Savennières in the Loire Valley of France

● Tokaji - a Hungarian dessert wine made from noble-rot-affected Furmint grapes

● Vin Santo - Tuscan dessert wine made from Malvasia, Trebbiano, and/or Sangiovese grapes via passito (drying grapes on straw mats to concentrate sugars)


Uniquely Curated Subscription Plans and Fine Wines by the Bottle

At Occasional Wine, we are passionate about wine and love sharing our knowledge with others so they too can enjoy the pleasures of an exceptional wine. The holidays are one of the best times to get to share that pleasure with family and friends, whether it’s giving the gift of wine or planning a big holiday dinner.


We offer three different tiers of biannual wine subscriptions, each with curated selections of six wines from six wine regions delivered each Spring and Fall to give you and yours samples of some of the best wines in the world.





We also offer fine wines by the bottle from our private stock, a constantly updated wide selection of top rated wines from around the world.


Stay tuned for more helpful content in finding that next great wine for you, and as always feel free to contact us with any questions.

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