Drink More Wine: What a pair

Choosing wines that complement or contrast your holiday feasts.

click to enlarge COVER THE SPREAD: Holiday meals are so varied they can be hard to pair with just one wine. - ALCINOE VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Alcinoe via Wikimedia Commons
COVER THE SPREAD: Holiday meals are so varied they can be hard to pair with just one wine.


As we approach the holidays and prepare to celebrate with family and friends, wine always seems to work its way into the discussion. I hope you’re all tasting more and expanding your palate, reaching outside your comfort zone to try new things.

I also trust that you’re taking these newfound experiences and applying the knowledge you’ve gleaned from examining the elements that make up a great glass of wine — those that we’ve covered over the past few months in these pages. You don’t have to be a wine expert, or even desire to be one, to benefit from learning about vino and bringing the knowledge you’ve acquired to enhance your enjoyment of wine.

So let’s look at two basic pairing principles to build a strategy for what to bring to the Thanksgiving table or the myriad holiday meals leading up to New Year’s Eve.

First, accept that we all have innate taste preferences, which complicate pairing for a blowout holiday meal. While our appreciation of wine revolves around using our eyes (clarity and color), nose (bouquet) and tongue (flavors), digging a little deeper beyond a first impression helps. Add knowledge of different foods, and now you’ve got a springboard from which to make the best matching choices.

An important and often overlooked quality of wine is texture, or “mouthfeel.” Regardless of all the other qualities you know about the wine, and the dish that you’re wishing to pair it with, start by considering the relative weights (or body) of each. Turn your initial focus to matching light dishes with light wines, and heavy to heavy, and you’re halfway there regardless of any other qualities (in either the wine or food).

Secondly, decide if you want to complement, or to contrast, the flavors on the plate. You can look for similarities to enhance the match (say butter-poached lobster with chardonnay) or choose to echo (rich pork juxtaposed with lean, crisp riesling).

Great chefs work with bridge ingredients to tie flavors together and make matches seamless (more on that next month), but with holiday repasts there are too many flavors. Families embrace diverse traditions, and holiday meals tend to cover all the bases (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory), so wine matching is a crapshoot.

My favorite approach to mish-mash feasts like Thanksgiving is to adopt a dual-pronged M.O. Serve a white wine blend designed to complement fusion cuisine and a sparkling red, which is low in alcohol but has a fair amount of acidity. My white preference is Conundrum from California. It offers exotic full-flavored fruit that’s the result of a blending of five grapes to produce a complexity that makes it a real culinary chameleon. A similar option is Evolution, by Oregon’s Sokol Blosser Vineyards.

As for the red, try sparkling shiraz. American sommeliers may turn up their noses, but it hits on all the notes for a traditional Thanksgiving. Bottles from The Chook or Paringa are available at Total Wine, or grab Shooting Star Black Bubbles at Luekens. 

And for this, we give thanks. 

About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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