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A Food and Wine Pairing Guide To Get You Through The Holidays

The holiday season is one of the most popular times to host gatherings with an all-out meal. And nothing quite fits a special occasion like great wine. Read on to learn about pairing wine with holiday fare.

Here in California, we do things a little differently, and that includes our holiday celebrations. 

If the weather is cooperating, we might pull out our grill in winter. If the olive oil harvest is exceptional, we’ll pour some olio nuovo on our Thanksgiving spread. Or, if the season starts early enough, we’ll have Dungeness crab at Christmas. 

We like to celebrate all aspects of the Golden State, and we do so this time of year – be it a wine country inspired table or a beachside gathering. But one thing that’s always sure to be on the table? An assortment of California wines. Because nothing compliments a special occasion like festive wines on your table. Read on to learn about pairing wine with holiday fare.


What are the key elements associated with wine and food pairing?

Our biggest advice for pairing wine and food is to think of wine as an ingredient – one who’s main role is to elevate the food. 

Start by identifying the primary elements in the dish (fat, acid, salty, sweet, spicy, or bitter) and search for a wine that will provide balance.

For example, a rich and salty dish like this Mac and Cheese with Fresh Peas, Cauliflower and Toasted Garlic Breadcrumbs, goes with a Chardonnay because it has enough body and acidity to balance it.



Mac and Cheese food and wine pairing

What are the main principles one should follow when matching food and wine?

The classic pairing adage is that fish goes with white wines and meats with red wines. While there is some truth to that, feel free to get much more creative with your pairings

Keep in mind that all wines bring some element of acid, alcohol, body, sweetness, and, in the case of red wines, tannin. You generally want your wine to have more acid and sweetness than the food you’re pairing it with and for it to have a similar intensity.


Cheese and wine pairing

Tips for Holiday Food and Wine Pairing

Be it Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year’s, there are a few wine pairing guidelines during the whole holiday season.

  • Choose Crowd Pleasers

Now is not the time to get experimental. Opt for wines that are crowd-pleasers, food-friendly, and, of course, delicious. 

  • Have At Least One Wine to Toast and One for Your Meal

Kick off your celebration with some bubbly, and then have at least one other wine if you’re having a sit-down meal. 

  • Up The Ante with Intensity

Think of flavors of wines like you do a haircut: you can add more but not less. So, you can go bigger in taste or texture during your party, but don’t go less subtle. 

  • Don’t Try to Match to Every Side

Pay attention to all the dishes on the menu, but don’t be so precious as to try to pair a wine with every side dish.

  • Consider The Sauce

However, you want to account for any “hero sauces” or sauces used on main dishes like a roast or main course. A turkey paired with a simple herb butter gravy will need a different wine than one served with pumpkin mole. 

Holiday Dinners Course by Course

Now that you have the lay of the land, here are some holiday dinner recipe ideas, along with some suggested pairings. 




Grilled Oysters with Green Chile Butter

Nothing quite says special occasion like oysters! Pair these spicy Grilled Oysters with Green Chile Butter from ¡Hola! Jalapeño with a brut sparkling wine.

oyster food and wine pairing


Roasted Butternut Squash Pepita Pesto Dip

Pair this plant-based Roasted Butternut Squash Pepita Pesto Dip recipe from Salt & Wind with a Marsanne, Roussanne, or Chardonnay

food and wine pairing

First Courses


Winter Beet and Citrus Salad with Dates and Almonds

We’re always game for winter salads, and the sweet-tart flavors and crunch of this Winter Beet and Citrus Salad with Dates and Almonds add a refreshing contrast to heavier mains. Serve it with sparkling wine or Chardonnay.

winter salad recipe with wine


French Onion Soup

Go for a bit of decadence with the classic comfort food that is French Onion Soup. The caramelized onions and cheese are natural with Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon. 

food and wine pairing


Meyer Lemon Brown Butter Pasta

Our friend Meg of This Mess Is Ours has a recipe for Meyer Lemon Brown Butter Pasta that is perfect this time of year when Meyer lemons are in season. The richness of the brown butter and the lemon go fabulously with a Chardonnay.

food and wine pairing Brown Butter Pasta

Main Courses


Beef Rib Roast with Horseradish Ricotta Cream

For some, it isn’t the holiday without a centerpiece roast, and this Beef Rib Roast with Horseradish Ricotta Cream fits the bill. Serve it with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

food and wine pairing Beef Roast


Seared Duck Breasts with Port Cherry Sauce

Sonoma County has some of California’s best duck and top Pinot Noir, which happen to go lovely together! Serve this Seared Duck Breasts with Port Cherry Sauce with a Pinot or Merlot. Since cherries are out of season, use good quality frozen ones.

Duck Breasts


Focaccia Bread Pudding with Wild Mushrooms and Goat Cheese

Serve it as a vegetarian main or a side; this Focaccia Bread Pudding with Wild Mushrooms and Goat Cheese can do it all. It also goes just as well with Chardonnay as it does Pinot Noir. 

Bread Pudding



White Wine Poached Pears Stuffed with Chocolate, Dried Plums and Hazelnuts

If you serve a big spread, you might want to finish the meal on a lighter note. Serve these White Wine Poached Pears Stuffed with Chocolate, Dried Plums and Hazelnuts along with sparkling wine or dessert wine.



Gluten-Free Coconut Cake

For something without gluten but with many great flavors, turn to this light and airy Gluten-Free Coconut Cake from GFree Foodie and pour a glass of sparkling wine or dessert wine.

Coconut Cake


Mexican Chocolate Sweet Tamales with Hot Honey

You probably know that tamales are on many holiday tables, but maybe you haven’t thought of having them for dessert. Serve these Mexican Chocolate Sweet Tamales with Hot Honey from ¡Hola! Jalapeño with a fortified dessert wine. 

Mexican Sweet Tamales
holiday wine

One-Size-Fits-All Wines

While we can’t tell you which wines pair best with your Christmas dinner or holiday cocktail party unless we know your exact menu, there are a few incredibly food-friendly styles of wine. 

Namely, rosé sparkling wine and dry Riesling are super versatile as they can go with spicy food, rich food, and seafood. 

If you’re making a sit-down dinner with a turkey or another roasted meat, light to medium-bodied red like a Pinot Noir from Sonoma or Santa Barbara or a classic California Zinfandel will do the trick. 

And, there is no time like the holidays to pull out the dessert wines. 

If you’re heading to a party and are not sure what they’re serving, you can opt for one of the above picks and know you will at least be in the ballpark.

About the Author

Aida Mollenkamp is a food and travel expert WSET Level 2 certified, on-camera host, author and founder of Salt & Wind, a travel company for food lovers. The company started with the food and travel online magazine, Salt & Wind, and has expanded to include concierge services and boutique group travel for food lovers with Salt & Wind Travel. Prior to forming Salt & Wind, she hosted Ask Aida on the Food Network, Foodcrafters on the Cooking Channel, and In The Pantry on Yahoo! Aida was raised in Southern California and makes her home in the Golden State, often sharing her favorite local finds and farmers’ market trips.

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