The Best Holiday Wines For Every Food And Occasion

The winter holiday season is upon us, and people everywhere are craving delectable meals of classic recipes representing family and cultural traditions. Whether you spend blustery days building snowpeople, skiing, ice skating, and winter nights with family around the fireplace; or your days are filled with sunny surf, sand, and palm trees, we can all agree on one thing –- the holidays are a time of indulgence.

The holidays call for sparkling opulence, glittering lights, a beautifully set table, and the smells of hot-from-the-oven gingerbread, grandma's Norwegian lefse, mom's holiday cookies, rich walnut fudge, and peppermint bark, wafting from kitchens. Prosecco and cocktails flow at company holiday parties. Warmed spiced cider is a delicious treat for holiday pageants and plays. Bags of freshly roasted chestnuts and cups of piping hot mulled (spiced) wine are requisite accompaniments when shopping at chilly Christmas markets.

Holiday parties and meals are a time to bring out your best recipes to celebrate the season and the special people in your life. Sometimes, pairing holiday dishes can be challenging, but we have you covered this year. Keep in mind that seasonings, spices, and sauces, are where the wine-pairing magic happens. So bring out your favorite Champagne, tins of caviar, icy bowls of plump shrimp cocktail, and briny oysters on the half-shell, and get ready for the best wine and holiday food pairings to impress your guests. Remember, Champagne pairs with everything!

Cheese, match texture and flavor intensity

Cheese is the ultimate comfort food and a perfect addition to any celebration. Check out a specialty cheese shop for advice on your selections and ask about serving temperatures to highlight their best flavors and textures. MasterClass suggests offering several styles of cheese, soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard cheeses. Aside from different textures, each category has different flavor intensities, ranging from delicate and sweet to pungent and salty. Selecting just one wine can be a challenge even for the most skilled sommelier. Stick to one category of cheese, be it texture, milk type, or flavor intensity. For instance, sheep's milk cheese or goat milk cheeses, soft and creamy cheeses, salty hard cheeses, or herb, truffle, or wine-infused cheese balls and logs.

Tangy cheese: Think spritzy wine or riesling. Creamy cheese: Call for silky French sémillon or garnacha. Sharp cheese: Look for grüner veltliner, negroamaro, ruby Port, or Champagne.

Charcuterie with fizzy or fortified wine

Few things impress like an ample charcuterie board stacked with savory, smoked, or cured meats, flanked with crunchy crackers, bruschetta, crisp vegetables, and a selection of tangy mustards and dips. Charcuterie boards should include five things, according to MasterClass: a selection of meats, pickled vegetables, fresh or dried fruits, a few kinds of cheese, garnishes, and crackers or bread.

With all of these flavors, picking a wine might be confusing. Pair your wine with the strongest flavors, often the meats. Salty-cured meats like salami, prosciutto, smoked meats and fish, and gravlax need a wine with a strong backbone and bright acidity to balance the fat and salt. Rosé Champagne is a gorgeous choice, as is effervescent Italian Lambrusco. Consider aperitif wines like amontillado sherry and Madeira: Both have nutty, saline, and dried citrus peel notes, but maintain refreshing puckery acidity.

Roasted vegetables with lush and acidic wine

The beauty of roasted butternut or acorn squash and roasted root vegetables is the resulting caramelized sugars and slight char marks that create a juxtaposition of sweet and savory flavors. Slather roasted vegetables with pats of butter elevating the flavors, and don't forget the seasonings.

Consider sprinkling winter vegetables like beets, parsnips, rutabaga, and squash, with thyme, rosemary, ginger, cayenne, and cumin, before roasting. Keep in mind that extra spicy seasonings can be a challenge when it comes to wine pairings. The heat from cayenne and ginger can interact with tannic wines, heightening the burn. Select wines with bright acidity and restrained tannins like crisp rosés, Côtes du Rhône blanc, or a lush red and aromatic Valpolicella.

Mashed potatoes and gravy -- so many wine choices

Everyone has their favorite mashed potatoes recipe, and the best mashers are creamy, and buttery, and have delicious accents like garlic, herbs, and cheese (in our opinion). Mashed potatoes are easy enough to pair with a buttery chardonnay, but what happens when you drizzle (or drown) your fluffy potatoes with gravy? That depends on the gravy. Not all gravies are created equal.

Some are intensely flavored and others are delicate. Mushroom gravy calls for savory, earthy wines like pinot noir. Turkey gravy needs a boost of flavor from an aromatic white wine like riesling or Madeira. Beef gravy stands up to rich merlots and cabernet sauvignons. If you use a certain wine to deglaze your pan before whisking up your gravy, use a great quality wine and serve it alongside your meal.

Baccalà and the feast of the seven fishes call for zesty wine

"La Vigilia di Natale," the Christmas Eve vigil, is a ritual fish and seafood-centric meal, celebrated by Italian Americans and Roman Catholics, says La Cucina Italiana. The feast is founded on religious fasting and abstaining from meat. According to La Cucina Italiana, immigrants from Southern Italy brought the tradition to the United States in the late 19th century. Dishes range from piping-hot calamari and shrimp cocktails to fish soup and stew, fish and seafood salads, seafood pasta dishes, baked whole fish, and the essential baccalà.

Filetti di baccalà, a breaded and fried delicacy, is a classic Roman dish prepared from salt cod. The best pairings are light and effervescent like Txakolina, vinho, favorita, and method traditional Cava, Champagne, or Franciacorta. Keep with tradition and complete the feast with a digestive anise-flavored liqueur like Pastis, Sambuca, or limoncello.

Ham and fruity wine

Ham is a classic celebratory dish served for several religious and secular holidays, including Christmas. Spiraled, smoked, honey-baked, studded with cloves, or draped in pineapple, ham can be a pairing challenge. A salty-sweet meat, ham is often glazed with brown sugar, maple syrup, and tropical fruits. Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, crafts a tangy glaze for her signature ham that includes dijon mustard, brown sugar, orange, garlic, and mango chutney.

With its sweet nature and layers of honeyed, brown sugar, and clove accents, glazed ham needs a fruity, fun wine like spritzy Lambrusco, cru or Nouveau Beaujolais, Salice Salentino, or a fruit-forward German zweigelt. Smoked or barbecued ham can stand up to a smoky Rhône red wine, fruity cinsault, and a solid merlot.

Turkey calls for tangy wine

Turkey can lack flavor and moisture on its own, especially when slightly overcooked. The white meat is mild while the dark meat has a gamey accent. MasterClass suggests brining the turkey for the juiciest results. Pairing wine with turkey depends a lot on its preparation. If the bird is deep-fried, locking in its juices, it can stand up to a zesty French chablis or an Italian Gavi. Drizzle the bird with a squeeze of fresh lemons, marrying the flavors.

Roasted turkey is basted with herb-infused butter or bacon-wrapped, adding complexity to the meat that calls for a floral wine like puckery-floral German riesling or Italian falanghina. Smoked turkeys need a flavorful wine with bright acidity and fruity, mineral notes; think zweigelt, sagrantino, or gamay.

Prime rib and Yorkshire pudding pairs perfectly with bold red wine

Holiday classics like succulent prime rib, Yorkshire pudding, or a standing rib roast harken back to Dickinson Christmases past. The holidays are the perfect time to splurge on expensive cuts of beef like rib roast and prime rib. Rich and packed with flavor, these tender and juicy cuts, often cooked rare or medium rare and have generous marbling and a delicate sweetness.

Prime rib and rib roasts are often accompanied by Yorkshire pudding, little doughy cakes made from the flavorful pan drippings of the beef. Beef begs for bold and tannic red wines with prominent fruit and ripe tannins. Check out Italian Amarone or Barolo, zinfandel, primitivo, or a sturdy Californian cabernet sauvignon.

Game birds and spicy red wine

Late autumn is game bird hunting season and game birds are plentiful. Try a few pheasants or quails for your holiday table. Aromatic, tiny, and lean, game birds for an intimate holiday celebration. Specialty meat markets sell quail, pheasant, cornish hen, and squab. Take care when cooking these little birds, as there isn't an excess of meat or fat, and they overcook easily. When roasted, poached, or smoked properly, game birds are a delicious treat. Present each guest with a bird, or strip the birds and serve slices of the delicate meat sauced with aromatic gravy.

Add the meat to risotto, pasta, or a casserole. Consider deviling the meat, serving it on potato latkes or crusty bread. Game birds are pungent and flavorful and need a wine that matches their intensity. Think dolcetto, tannat, Cahors, or a GSM (grenache-syrah-mourvedre), all aromatic, spicy, and lush.

Brisket and brawny red wine

Whether it is braised, roasted, or smoked, brisket is delish. You can slowly braise brisket in a Dutch oven with carrots, celery, onion, garlic, herbs, dry red wine, and tomatoes, to ensure a juicy and tender result. The vegetables can be served alongside the brisket or whipped into a flavorful mash. The absolute best wine pairing for this style is the wine used in the braising.

Look for a red wine with moderate acidity, body, and tannins, like a sangiovese or tempranillo. The acidity tenderizes the meat and the cherry and herbal notes of the wine pair beautifully with the finished dish. Smoked brisket needs a brawny, substantial wine: think peppery syrah, muscular cabernet sauvignon, or smoky pinotage. Many high-end kosher wines make use of boldly flavored grapes, according to Wine Enthusiast.

Stuffing, dressing, and two pinots

To stuff or not to stuff the bird, that is the question! Every home cook and restaurant chef grapples with this dilemma during the holidays. No matter your preference, there is a stuffing or dressing recipe to satisfy every taste. Both side dishes are crafted from cubed wheat bread or cornbread augmented with minced mirepoix vegetables (celery, carrots, and onion, per Martha Stewart), herbs, finely minced gizzards, neck meat, and broth made from pan drippings.

Occasionally, stuffings and dressings include savory wild rice, tangy dried fruits, roasted nuts, and oysters. Classic oyster dressing, a centuries-old stable, pairs beautifully with floral white wines like fragrant pinot blanc. Robust chestnut stuffing has richer flavors and pairs perfectly with earthy, woodsy pinot noir.

Tofurky craves aromatic wine

Tofurky is a brand-named plant-based vegan holiday "roast" prepared from wheat gluten and organic soy tofu that has been infused with savory flavors. Tofurky resembles a roasted turkey breast or rolled roast filled with bread and rice stuffing, but meatless meat like Tofurky can be bland and needs a boost of flavor. Special care must be taken when roasting a delicate Tofurky because it dries out easily or becomes too firm and chewy.

Tofurky is a salty dish that takes on the flavors of its side dishes or gravy. Its mild flavors and textures are balanced out with a buttery chardonnay, medium-bodied rosé, aromatic sipping vermouth, or a young and fruity pinot noir with prominent acidity which gives the dish a boost of flavor and moisture.

Kugel and chardonnay

Kugel is a rich and hearty Jewish savory casserole crafted from eggs and noodles or potatoes. According to The New York Times, the classic dish combines layers and layers of sliced potatoes with chopped onions, seasonings, and several beaten eggs, baked in a casserole dish until firm and browned. Some recipes call for cooked noodles instead of potatoes.

Savory kugel pairs beautifully with a buttery chardonnay, a fragrant pinot blanc, or delicately fruity torrontes. Sweet kugel is another popular holiday treat. Sweet kugel is prepared much the same as the savory type but switches the seasonings to cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, sour cream, chopped apples, per Martha Stewart, and a handful of raisins. Serve sweet kugel with an effervescent, fruity Portuguese Vinho Verde rosé.

Chicken lo mein and sparkling wine

According to NPR, the tradition of Jewish people dining at Chinese restaurants on the Christian holiday of Christmas dates back to 1899. At the time, holidays were taken much more seriously than they are now, and most businesses, restaurants included, would be closed on weekends and holidays. In a largely Christian country, Jewish folks found camaraderie dining in Chinese restaurants on the most important of Christian holidays.

Whether it be lo mein, Szechuan, fried rice, triple delight, Peking duck, Kung Pao chicken, or sweet and sour pork, Chinese food isn't a natural fit for red wine. Soy sauce, ample spice, and tangy flavors pair well with acidity, floral notes, and zesty lemony aromatics found in sparkling white wines like chenin blanc sparkling Vouvray, and effervescent Basque Txakolina.

Potato latkes and fragrant viognier

Traditional potato latkes are crafted from shredded potatoes, flour, egg, and seasonings blended together and formed into pancakes that can be pan-fried in oil or dipped into a deep-fryer, creating a crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside treat. The ancient delicacy has modernized, and there are many contemporary riffs on the simple potato latke; including apples, beets, carrots, onion, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potato.

No matter the ingredients, the crisp treats are often topped with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream. Latkes need a medium-bodied wine with moderate or high acidity to stand up to the oiliness of the dish. French viognier, with its floral, peach, honeysuckle, and tangerine notes, is a great pairing for latkes.

Pumpkin, pecan, or fruit pie and gewürztraminer

The best way to top off any holiday meal is with something sweet. Autumn pies are requisite on Christmas tables. Deliciously spicy, classic pumpkin pie doused with a heavy dollop of sweetened whipped cream or a crisp Granny Smith apple pie topped with cheddar cheese shavings are signatures of autumn and winter. Buttery maple-scented pecan pie graces Christmas tables alongside classic minced-meat pie or vegetarian minced 'meat' fruit pie. One thing these pies have in common is aromatic spices. Traditional pie spice often contains cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, according to Martha Stewart.

Add a pinch of mace and cardamom for an elevated flavor. In the world of wines, one white wine stands out for its spicy clove and lychee fruit fragrance, and that is gewürztraminer. It is the perfect pairing for autumn pies. Look for a dry Alsatian gewürztraminer or a slightly sweet late-harvest selection.

Yule logs and Port or cherry brandy

The bûche de Nöel or yule log is an old world confection with pagan roots. My Paris Kitchen suggests that the chocolate confection is a nod to the Yule (winter solstice) wood-burning ritual meant to protect the house and bring blessings to the family. Christians adopted the ritual, of burning an enormous log from Christmas to Epiphany, 12 days later. As houses modernized, giant fireplaces were replaced with compact ones and electric or gas ovens, making the ritual impossible to continue.

A clever 19th-century French chef devised a delicious way to carry on the yule log ritual by crafting a yule log cake from chocolate sponge cake rolled with buttercream and frosted to look like a log. Yule logs are decorated with meringue mushrooms, candied holly berries, and leaves. Pair these sweet chocolate confections with a cask-aged vintage Port or a morello cherry brandy (technically made from wine) like Ginja Morello cherry brandy or Luxardo Maraschino cherry liqueur.

Fruit breads: fruitcake, stollen, and panettone pairs perfectly with Vin Santo

Fruit bread: fruitcake, stollen, and panettone are a perfect way to wake up on a sleepy holiday morning. Yeasty, eggy, and warm, studded with dried fruits, nuts, and glazed or unglazed, fruit bread is delicious. Some fruit bread, like fruitcake, is soaked in generous pours of brandy before and after baking. Stollen is iced with crunchy white royal icing. Panettone is the lightest holiday fruit bread. Pair fruitcake and bread with Italian Vin Santo (which means holy wine in Italian). Its dried raisin, date, honey, and roasted nut aromas pair perfectly with fruit bread.

Repurpose fruit bread into custardy bread pudding and panettone French toast for brunch. Pair with floral and sweet wines like zesty white Port, peaches and cream-scented Moscato D'asti, and moscatel Sherry, which exudes notes of honeysuckle and jasmine.

Christmas pudding and Pedro Ximėnez Sherry

British Christmas pudding is essentially a fruit cake that is steamed rather than baked. It is a baking soda-leavened sweet bread studded with dried fruits, citrus peel, apples, orange zest, nuts, brown sugar, eggs, and brandy. It is steamed in a dome-shaped mold until cooked through. Once cooked, the pudding is brushed with brandy butter and flambéed to sear in the flavors and caramelize the crust.

Christmas pudding is a classic British holiday dessert and a generous gift, even given by the late Queen to her staff and family. Due to its rich flavors and a hint of brandy, pair Christmas pudding with Pedro Ximėnez Sherry, with its coffee, toffee, dried fruit, and citrus zest aromas and flavors.

Sufganiyot and Italian Moscato D'Asti

Sufganiyot is a traditional Jewish jelly-filled donut served during the eight-day Hanukkah celebration honoring the ancient rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem after it was destroyed in war, per Britannica. It is tradition to nibble on fried foods during Hanukkah, nodding to the miracle of the small vial of holy oil that burned for eight days, rather than just one.

My Jewish Learning explains that sufganiyot is a yeast-leavened pastry, filled with strawberry, apricot, or raspberry jam, and deep-fried until just browned. Topped with a sprinkling of granulated sugar, the little warm pockets of sweetness are best paired with a sweet wine like peaches and cream-scented effervescent Moscato D'Asti, a gorgeous wine from Piedmont, Italy. By matching sweetness levels in the dessert and the wine, the delicious fruity flavors shine through.

Pair gelt and toffee and oloroso Sherry

Dessert wines have fallen out of favor, but they are incredibly delicious and should be at the top of your holiday wine list. Nibbly holiday treats like chocolate, gelt, old-fashioned toffee, walnut fudge, spiced candied nuts, candied citrus peels, and nougat all call for potent wines. Only dessert wines will do. Thankfully, there is a wide range of dessert wines from the slightly sweet and fruity late-bottled vintage Port and cream Sherry to richer tawny Port.

For chocolate gelt — the foil-wrapped gold and silver coins — opt for a fragrant cream Sherry. With its caramel and dried fruit notes, it is wonderful with chocolate. Toffee calls for tawny Port, with notes of dried plum, figs, dates, vanilla, and spice, and its nutty cocoa finish.