Choosing the Best Wine for Christmas Dinner

The best wine for christmas dinner doesn't overwhelm the main dish.

The best wine for Christmas dinner is usually an acidic, full-bodied red, because it pairs well with meat-heavy dishes.

MENTIONED IN THIS POST:

Every year, my family makes an enormous batch of lasagna on Christmas Eve. While this Italian holiday tradition makes for a delicious dining experience, sometimes, finding the perfect wine pairing can be a challenge. The layers of creamy ricotta, spicy sausage, acidic marinara, and buttery noodles have so many flavors that the lasagna tends to overpower all but a handful of wines. That’s why we usually go with a full-bodied, acidic wine like 2004 Vietti Barolo, which can pair well with just about any savory Christmas dish, from lasagna to prime rib. Whether you’re serving a holiday classic like Christmas ham or you’re cooking up something a little more exotic this year, the best wine for Christmas dinner usually falls in the category of acidic, full-bodied reds and whites. These varieties will enhance the food at your table and elevate the holiday experience for you and your guests.

General Rules for Finding the Best Wine for Christmas Dinner

Pairing wine with Christmas dinner is different from other kinds of food and wine pairing, such as you might do for a wine tasting party. In a tasting party, you’ll pair your food to your wine, ensuring that the ideal balance of flavors comes through in both. But on Christmas day, you’re at the mercy of your family’s traditions and their dietary restrictions; the food comes first, and the wine comes second. This means that the best wine for Christmas dinner will have a lot in common with the wine you served at Thanksgiving this year. It needs to be bold enough to compete with the intense flavors of the food, and have enough acidity to cut through some of the fattier, creamier dishes on the table. Yet the wine shouldn’t be so bold that it completely overtakes the dishes being served. You should also consider age when you pick out wine for Christmas dinner. Wines that are too young tend to have raspy tannins and near-unpleasant acidity that will only taste harsh when paired with supple mashed potatoes or candied yams. So before you pull your most treasured bottles out of storage, consider whether these wines have reached their ideal maturity, or if they could use another five years in your cellar.

The Best Wine to Serve with Appetizers

Start the meal with your lightest, brightest wines first, then move on to darker, richer varieties, then finally bring out your ultra-sweet dessert wines. For appetizers, a crisp, chilled white wine will excite the palate, preparing your guests for the meal to come. Dry vintage Champagne is an especially great choice as an appetizer because your guests can fully appreciate the bready, nutty flavors of the wine before their palates get too exhausted by the main Christmas dishes. Now is the time to pull out a high-quality aged Champagne like 2006 Taittinger. Here are a few wines that pair well with two classic Christmas appetizers:

Assorted Cheese Plates

Creamy Champagne and full-bodied white Burgundy pair well with the fattiness of the cheese.

Savory Flatbread or Cracker Bites

A flatbread or cracker-based appetizer usually contains a combination of herbs, salted meat, and cheese, and will pair well with citrusy white wines, or slightly fruity reds.

The Best Wines to Serve with the Main Course

By and large, meat-based dishes tend to be at the center of Christmas dinner celebrations. While many different types of complex, brightly acidic wines will pair well with beef, pork, or poultry, some varieties match these dishes better than others. For instance, an intense, fruity Rhône Syrah is a much more natural match for an equally intense prime rib than it is for a more delicate roasted turkey. To pick the best wine for your Christmas dinner, take a look at some of our top selections for each of the main courses below:

Prime Rib

Prime rib and any other style of roast beef usually pair best with a bolder, slightly herbaceous red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon or some richer Bordeaux blends. This dish is also one of the few that pairs well with extremely rich wines like Syrah, since the meat is hearty enough to compete with this intense variety.

Ham

Ham is perhaps the most difficult dish to pair with wine, since it is very salty and has a strong flavor. You need to balance out these characteristics with a touch of sweetness in your wine. Grenache and Gamay are great options, as are certain slightly sweeter bottles of Zinfandel.

Turkey

A turkey will pair beautifully with a light, fruity red like Pinot Noir. The strawberry and cherry notes in these wines tend to lift the more savory, herbaceous flavors in the turkey without overwhelming it.

When in Doubt, Choose Italian Reds

If you’re serving something other than prime rib, ham, or turkey this holiday season, many styles of Italian red wines, like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, are excellent all-around choices for a wide range of foods. These types of wines are usually light enough to play well with delicate foods like brie, yet they’re acidic and full-bodied enough to compete with heartier ones like gravy.

WINE PICKS FOR ALMOST ANY MAIN DISH:

The Best Wines to Serve with Dessert

FOR BREADY DESSERTS (like bread pudding):

FOR CHOCOLATE DESSERTS (like flourless chocolate cake):

FOR FRUIT DESSERTS (like pavlova):

Generally, Sauternes and fortified wines will pair well with any dessert you serve. Look for an ultra-sweet, aged white wine with plenty of noble rot, or, if you’d rather serve a red variety, read up on the tasting notes first to ensure that it is truly a sweet wine, and not just semi-dry. Demi-sec wines can taste too acidic when paired with dessert, even if they seem sweet enough on their own.

Choose Wines That You and Your Guests Love

The key to finding the best wine for Christmas dinner is to think about which wines you and your guests enjoy most. Even though a Pinot Noir will technically pair better with roasted turkey than, say, Syrah, if a bottle of Syrah excites you more, that may be the better choice for your holiday celebration. As long as you choose wines that won’t completely overpower your food, you can enjoy just about any bottle of wine with Christmas dinner.

At Vinfolio, we help our clients buy, sell, store, and manage their most treasured bottles of wine. But in our spare time, we’re just a group of passionate and slightly obsessed oenophiles--we love sharing a great glass of vintage Champagne, followed by a Burgundy, and then a Bordeaux, to get things started. We’re always obsessing over the latest (and oldest) vintages, and we want to share that knowledge and passion with our readers.