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Foodie Finds
Pairing Holiday Food And Wine


The holidays are meant to be a season of cheer and good will, but they can also include hefty doses of stress and pressure, especially for those hosting festive gatherings. From difficult relations to strained conversations, there are plenty of potential pitfalls to a merry meal with loved ones, but pairing the perfect wines with your holiday menu doesn’t have to be one of them.

If your current wine wisdom is limited to the basic tenets that red goes with red meat and white with fish and poultry, you’re already well-equipped to satisfy the average holiday reveler. But, if you’re hosting savvy sippers or want to impress your guests, your selections will need to be a bit more refined.

To help you make the perfect pairings, Guido Pisani, Head Sommelier at Cape Lodge—a premier destination for fine dining and top wines in Western Australia’s Margaret River wine region—offers pointers for several classic holiday dishes and desserts.


For a savory, fattier meat like roast beef, Pisani suggests a red wine with a rich tannin structure, like an Italian Barolo or Barbaresco, both from the Nebbiolo grape. The long and powerful palate of these wines includes a flavor spectrum that varies between dark cherry and plum, and the soft spice introduced by a long barrel fermentation complements the slight sweetness of roast beef.


Pisani cautions that the right wine selection can depend on how the ham is cooked and how sweet the glaze is, but says the safest bet is a “bright, fruity red, like a Rhône Valley Syrah, Grenache, or Mourvèdre.” The key elements you’re looking for are a medium-bodied red offering light acidity and fruity characteristics, plus polished tannins that match the oiliness of the glazed ham.


For early dishes of this multi-course meal, pair a Champagne-style Blanc de Noirs, a richer style of sparkling wine composed of red grapes and bringing an ideal acidity with fizz and notes of stone fruits for lighter plates like seafood crudos. For the main dishes of meat or seafood pastas, Pisani suggests a white with good substance that can adapt to various fishes, like a chardonnay, with wide representations from Napa Valley and Oregon to Burgundy and Australia.


“The best wines for a really thick and rich dessert like a yule log are Sauternes, from the southern part of the Left Bank of Burgundy,” says Pisani, adding that the “abundant nectarine, tangerine, and caramel-like flavors, plus zesty acidity make them a perfect match for this dish.” If you’re not a fan of sweet dessert wines, though, Pisani suggests considering a spirit pairing, like a single malt whiskey or rum.

desert wine


For simpler desserts like gingerbread cookies, Pisani recommends choosing from among the wide world of ice wines, which can be made from the likes of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Cabernet Franc. Left to harvest after the first frost, these grapes then produce a crisp acidity and super sweetness of honeysuckle, stone fruits, and florals that balance the spicy gingerbread.


With the high fat content and rich flavor of tender beef brisket, Pisani recommends choosing a Cabernet Sauvignon. “The best options come from the Left Bank of Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and Margaret River,” he says. “We’re looking for strong acidity to cut through the gamier flavors of the meat, an earthiness to match the meat’s profile, and a good tannin profile that will first clean your palate and then interact with the fat for an explosion of flavors in your mouth.”


Whether you’re serving sweet or savory rugelach, Pisani assures that Moscato d’Asti is an ideal pairing for these classic pastries. “This wine has brightness, aromaticity, and complexity that is often underestimated, with amazing versatility,” he says, describing a profile of “delicate flavors of wisteria and lime, peach, and apricot with hints of sage, lemon, and orange blossom.”


Pisani says a sparkling wine is the best pairing for these fried potato favorites, citing Champagne as a top choice for its “strong acidity to cut through the oiliness of the latkes, and a lot of fine bubbles to clean your palate and complement the crunchy texture of the pancake.”