Christmas is not only the time for family gatherings, reflectiveness, and gifts; it’s also the time for delicious meals. And of course, these meals often come with a good glass of wine. While it’s never wrong to have multiple wines at hand to match the taste of different people, there are some best practices. In this article, we will discuss how to find the matching wine for Christmas dinner.

5 Basic Rules for Pairing Food and Wine

When you look for the matching wine for your Christmas meal, following these simple rules will help you narrow down your options:

  1. Rich meals pair with full-bodied wines, while tender, light food matches light-bodied wines.
  2. In general, red wine goes with red meat such as beef, pork, and game. Accordingly, white wine goes with white meat, including rabbit, chicken, turkey, and other poultry. Most fish belong to the white meat category.
  3. For fatty preparations, you need a wine with a good acidity level. The same is true if you use plenty of cream or cheese as ingredients.
  4. Tannic wines work well with complex, rich meals. For simple, light dishes and all fish preparations, you should pick a low-tannin wine.
  5. If your meal is very spicy, consider sparkling wine. Its bubbles help clean your palate and tone down the meal’s heat. Also, off-dry and sweet wines are an excellent choice to counter the spices.

With these guidelines in mind, let’s talk about the best food and wine pairings for Christmas dinner.

Roasted Turkey

Turkey is not only a popular dish for Thanksgiving but also Christmas. Typically, it gets stuffed with herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and garlic and spends up to two hours in the oven. When served, its meat is juicy and tender, while its skin is golden-brown and crispy. Together with mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, and a thick sauce, it’s a rich and flavorful meal.

Roasted Turkey for Christmas

Roasted Turkey

As a white wine lover, you should pair your roasted turkey with a French Chardonnay. The bold white wine has just enough acidity to deal with the crispy skin and the rich sauce. And its citrus aromas are an exciting add-on to the menu’s flavor profile. If your roast is very intensely spiced or has smokey notes, you can go for a New World Chardonnay, for instance, from California or Australia.

If you prefer red wine, go for a light one that doesn’t overpower the tender meat. Pinot Noir is always a good pick. Its intense aromas of red fruits work perfectly with rich and fruity sauces. Again, look out for bottles from France.

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Roast Beef

When talking about roasts, we can’t ignore roast beef. Just like turkey, it enjoys a seasoning with salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme, before spending one to two hours in the oven. Depending on the cooking time, it can end up somewhere between medium-rare and well-done. Common side dishes are roasted or boiled potatoes, balsamic mushrooms, glazed carrots, green beans, and red wine gravy.

Roast beef is a rich meal, and the side dishes make it even richer. In this case, bold red wine is the best choice. Especially for fatty cuts such as Prime Rib, you need a wine with a good level of tannins, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or a Cabernet-dominated Bordeaux wine. Alternatively, try a Syrah.

For more tender preparations, go for oak-aged wines. While they age, their tannins soften, and thus they are a better match for lean roast beef. You can also try lighter wines such as Pinot Noir.

Glazed Ham Roasts

Not only in the U.S. but also in Europe is ham a typical meal for Christmas evening. The meat from the pig’s hind leg has a fleshy density and is relatively low in fat. A glazed roast offers a fascinating combination of salty, sweet, and spicy aromas. And its perfect wine match depends on the seasoning and the dominating flavors.

If you prepare your ham roast with a sweet glaze made from brown sugar, honey, or pineapple juice, pair it with a New World Pinot Noir. The wine’s fruity flavors will pair perfectly with the ham’s sweetness.

A white Pinot Grigio from Italy is a good pairing for glazed ham roast, too. It tends to feature citrus and green fruits as well as slightly bitter notes. This mix creates an interesting contrast to the ham. If you enjoy off-dry wines, try a French Gewürztraminer from the Alsace region.

Ham Roast on a Wooden Board

Ham Roast

For spicy and savory glazes with mustard, cayenne, or chili, you can try even sweeter wines. Or even better, sweet sparkling wines, such as Moscato d’Asti or Lambrusco. They are perfect to create a sweet-and-spicy contrast while tuning down the heat at the same time.

In case you prefer to stay on the dry side, go for a Pinot Noir. You should focus on the Old World, though, because you need a higher acidity level to deal with a savory preparation.

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Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon is another traditional Christmas dish in many European Countries. Salmon differs from most other types of fish, as it is rather fatty and has a meaty texture. While it has salty notes, it doesn’t have the typical fishy taste that some people dislike. When smoked, this saltiness and the smoky aromas combine with lemon juice and onions to a surprisingly rich culinary experience.

To match this dish, you need a white wine with a good level of acidity. In Germany (where this meal is quite common for Christmas), wine lovers typically open a bottle of dry Riesling for this purpose.

You can pair your smoked Christmas salmon with red wine, too, but you need to be careful. Tannins can cause a very unpleasant metallic taste when you combine them with salty fish aromas. Thus, a high-tannin wine is a no-go for salmon. Low-tannin reds are acceptable, though. Try a Spanish Garnacha. With its earthy and smoky notes, it’s a perfect match for smoked salmon.

If you love bubbles in your glass, you can pair your fish with a glass of Champagne. Both white and rosé styles are good choices.

More Salmon and Wine Pairings: FOOD PAIRING: HOW TO COMBINE WINE AND SALMON

Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon is another traditional Christmas dish in many European Countries. Salmon differs from most other types of fish, as it is rather fatty and has a meaty texture. While it has salty notes, it doesn’t have the typical fishy taste that some people dislike. When smoked, this saltiness and the smoky aromas combine with lemon juice and onions to a surprisingly rich culinary experience.

To match this dish, you need a white wine with a good level of acidity. In Germany (where this meal is quite common for Christmas), wine lovers typically open a bottle of dry Riesling for this purpose.

You can pair your smoked Christmas salmon with red wine, too, but you need to be careful. Tannins can cause a very unpleasant metallic taste when you combine them with salty fish aromas. Thus, a high-tannin wine is a no-go for salmon. Low-tannin reds are acceptable, though. Try a Spanish Garnacha. With its earthy and smoky notes, it’s a perfect match for smoked salmon.

If you love bubbles in your glass, you can pair your fish with a glass of Champagne. Both white and rosé styles are good choices.

More Salmon and Wine Pairings: FOOD PAIRING: HOW TO COMBINE WINE AND SALMON

Sandwiches and Rolls

It might sound odd, but big, opulent family dinners have to wait until Boxing Day in many households. Instead, simple dishes like sandwiches or rolls are served on Christmas Eve. They come with toppings such as sliced meat or sausage, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and various sauces.

A simple meal is no reason to waive the wine pairing, though. And you can find surprisingly delicious sandwich and wine combinations:

  • Grilled cheese sandwiches call for wines with a good level of acidity. Go for a dry white such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. For intense types of cheese like cheddar, consider a light-bodied red like Merlot or sparkling rosé.
  • Light to medium reds are also suitable matches for sandwiches with turkey, ham, or bacon. Besides Merlot, you can try a Pinot Noir or a Grenache.
  • Roast beef sandwiches go very well (you might have guessed it) with Cabernet Sauvignon or another bold, red wine.
  • All spicy sandwiches pair excellently with off-dry Rieslings or a Moscato d’Asti.
  • In any case, Chardonnay is a good allrounder for your sandwiches.

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Final Words

Of course, Christmas is not primarily about eating and drinking. But every festive get-together gets a little bit better with a delicious meal and a matching glass of wine. With the details from this article, you are ready to create the best food and wine pairings for Christmas. Happy Holidays!