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Getting the Holiday Spirit(s)

Holiday Red Wines

With pressure on and Christmas fast approaching, the last thing you need is to fret about what wine to serve with the meal. The good news? There is little need for fuss. Festive family meals revolve more around fun company and friendly conversation than on how well wine went with cranberry sauce.

Following these few simple guidelines should keep your nerves steady and the budget on track. Seek out your favorite wine (and beer) merchant for specific recommendations.

Turkey pairs with both red and white wine. Go for rich whites and fruity reds with light-to-moderate tannins. A bottle of each on the table is nice. A French Cote du Rhone Villages, based on the Grenache grape, and Pinot Noir likes herbs and cranberry sauce. One fellow I know likes to quaff a Zinfandel with his drumstick. Riesling and Gewurztraminer have become popular over the years and do partner well with turkey, but I prefer to sip on a lush Chardonnay or Chardonnay blend. A toasty, buttery New World Chardonnay from Australia, California, Chile or the Pacific Northwest works with the bird, spuds and/or yams, and carrots. (Brussels Sprouts may not fare too well with wine—or with some folks for that matter—that’s inconsequential). Australia also puts out Semillon Chardonnay, which I find particularly appealing with poultry. Bubbles and beer will see the whole meal through as well. The budget a bit tight? Run with a Spanish Cava, California sparkling or well-hopped ale.

Glasses of red and white wine

Turkey with stuffing pairs well with reds or whites.

If you do keep a wine cellar, this is the time to bring up the aged Bordeaux. White Bordeaux (there’s Semillon again, this time blended with Sauvignon Blanc) is seldom thought of, but works very well with turkey.

Goose, Duck, and Prime Rib Pairs

If you’re upping the bird ante to goose or duck, you may wish to up the wine. The birds’ dark meat and gamey flavors can take on fine peppery shiraz from Australia, but my first choice would be one from the Northern Rhone where syrah also rules—say a St. Joseph, or at least a Crozes Hermitage. Goose and duck also deserve the richness and complexity of fine Pinot Noir– say from Oregon, Sonoma;s Russian River Valley or the Cote de Nuits (Burgundy France). As for white, Alsace riesling reigns supreme. Oregon also produces splendid Rieslings, as do our friends over the border, particularly in Ontario’s Niagara region. Viognier with its beautiful forward fruit from California or France is an excellent choice and a little outside the usual box.

I’ve not experienced many Italian wines with Christmas dinner, but I don’t see why a Valpolicella, Chianti or Aglianico wouldn’t work for a red selection, or for white wine, an Arneis from Piedmont Falanghina from Campania, or Vermentino from Sardinia.

If Prime Rib highlights your festive meal, embark [again] on rich New World Pinot Noir or Merlot, or Italian Barolo or Barbaresco featuring Peidmont’s noble nebbiolo grape. Or think Spanish Rioja from Tempranillo or a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha. The advantage here is that many Riojas are released with some age to them.

Platter of oysters

Oysters, a holiday favorite at our wine editor’s house, go well with Chablis or a crisp French champagne.

Oysters, Cheeses and Desserts

Oysters figure big-time over the holidays in our house. Oysters are at their peak, and we begin Christmas dinner (which, in our case, is usually duck) and ring in the New Year by shucking a few dozen. That’s where I reach into the wallet for fine French champagne and Chablis and where crisp mineral meet briny oyster at its best. If the budget is blown I’ll opt for crisp young muscadet, or dark beer.

Coffee with scotch

A rich cup of coffee and a nip of good scotch make a great end to the meal.

Amontillado sherry and almonds make a light entry into a hefty meal. Port and English Stilton is a classic finish. If Christmas pudding wraps up the meal, it’s port again. Try tawny port or sweet sherry with sticky toffee pudding. Sauternes matches nicely with most Christmas cookies.

Not usually one for dessert and wine, I like to brew a good rich roast after dinner—then settle in with the book I always get for Christmas—over a wee nip of Scotch. – by Julie Pegg, RFT Canada Wine Editor

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Julie Pegg, Wine & Spirits Editor, Canada

Julie Pegg has been writing about food, wine, and spirits for 15 years. She was a product consultant for 14 of her 24 years working for the British Columbia Liquor Board in Vancouver. She still keeps her hand in (and elbow firmly bent) at Dundarave Wine Cellars in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Julie is also a keen amateur cook who loves culinary travel. Farmers’ markets and wine shops are always her first stop. Julie is RFT’s Senior Wine & Spirits Editor, Canada.