I've been over the traditional pairings in podcasts and blog posts, so I'll do a short recap here, and then give you some ideas for other pairings. Gotta thank some friends on the Facebook page for the suggestions.
You may still be able to grab a bottle of something (or at least pick something from your stash) before you chow down...
I. Traditional Christmas Food.
While I've already put forth that I'm Jewish (and truly I'm not religious so I celebrate Festivus...for the rest of us) so I'm no expert on Christmas food, I know from being married to a Catholic and from attending lots of Christmas festivities with non-Jewish friends that the food can be similar to Thanksgiving food. I can't tell you much more than what I've already told you except give you a recap of our TG meal this year and tell you about the greatest hits:
- Amontillado Sherry. If you haven't gotten on the sherry bandwagon yet, do it! This is a perfect wine to serve as a starter with nuts, and nutty-tasting cheeses (Gruyére, aged cheeses with a nut-caramel flavor are great and harder cheese is better than soft). You can do Fino sherry or Manzanilla too, but I love the almond-extract flavor of Amontillado and so did our guests. It's a hit.
- Sparkling wine (no picture, we did Seguras Viudas brut). Cava, Cremant, Prosecco, American, Australian, South African, or English sparkling wine, Franciacorta from Italy, or Champagne are all great with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and even salad. Such a versatile wine and fabulous with so many different foods at the Christmas table -- even a goose! The key to picking the type: Sparkling can range from delicate and floral to bready and fruity. Don't forget: heavy with heavy, light with light.
- Grüner Veltliner. We had the best value Grüner out there -- the 2011 Berger -- which is about $15 for 1 liter. It did beautifully with the green veggies as a complementary pairing, and held up nicely against the turkey. Not so great with herbal popcorn stuffing, so watch the more savory dishes and switch wines to something less "green" for the savory stuff.
- Saviennieres. A completely dry Chenin Blanc from the Loire, the 2008 Baumard served us well for the entire meal. Chenin Blanc is so versatile. It has a waxy, full texture but then high acid so it can make the heavy dishes feel lighter. Great with butternut squash soup, with veggies, turkey, stuffing. A hit, although MC Ice found it too acidic for his taste.
- Rosé...the STAR of the meal, the most versatile wine that went with every dish at every turn was our J Rosé of Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma. A perfect balance of delicate and flavorful, and a medium body, this was the best pairing wine of the night. If I had to recommend one and only one wine for Christmas, it would be Rosé.
II. Italian influenced food -- lasagna, stuffed shells, chicken or eggplant Parmesan.
- Lots of people (me included) love Italian dishes and opt for something hearty yet different for Christmas. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- nothing goes better with Italian food than Italian wine. The acid in the wine aligns perfectly with the acid in tomato-based sauces, something I haven't found universally true with wines from France, Spain, Portugal, or the New World. Whether it's Chianti, Barbera, Brunello, Aglianico from the south (they have a solid one for $6 at Trader Joe's, look for Epicuro), or Barolo you're going to do well with an Italian red.
There's no arguing the adage, "What grows together, goes together."
III. Fish dishes
- M.C. Ice's mother always serves us a tasty fish dish for Christmas. I love it because we never leave feeling heavy or stuffed!
- For lighter preparations of fish -- lemon butter, green herb rubs or sauces, light breading, or straight-up grilled -- look to wines that come from seaside regions for the best options. Muscadet from the Loire, Albariño from northwest Spain, and white Bordeaux are my top picks. If you're a Pinot Grigio fan, that will work too!
- For heavier preps -- blackened rubs, mango or tropical fruit sauces, miso or soy sauces -- pick heavier whites. A lightly oaked Chardonnay from any region would work, a richer Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand would shine with tropical sauces, and Riesling will be great with the miso or soy.
IV. The Other 1/4 of the Population
I wrote a post a few years back about what the other 25% of the population who isn't Christian does on Christmas. If we're not hanging out with Christian friends or spouses, we're either at the movies, or we're hitting Chinese/Sushi/Thai/Indian/etc. restaurants. I can't speak for other nationalities but some Jews may be re-creating their traditional food on Christmas, because who really can get enough of potato latkes? I know I can't!
- Here's a quick key to pairing with different Asian cuisine:
- For Thai and Indian, which have "warmer" spices than Chinese food, off-dry Gewurztraminer or Riesling is your friend with curries on most dishes. Try Beaujolais if you're going for red meat and for Pad Thai, bubbles all the way.
- For Chinese food, think of the main flavors in the dish. For pork fried rice, egg is a component so you want to bring on the bubbles (pay attention to the weight of the wine as noted above. You want heavier here). Steamed shrimp dumplings -- go with a wine from the sea, like I mentioned above. Salty lo mein or things where soy dominates -- go for a sweeter wine like an off-dry Riesling (Auslese is a good bet from Germany), Chenin Blanc (Vouvray), or a Gewurztraminer.
- I've found that most sushi restaurants are closed on Christmas, but if I'm wrong, follow the wines of the sea rule and you'll do great. For heavier fish like tuna, you could think about a red Burgundy, but stay away from New World Pinot Noir, which will be way too fruity and wipe out the fresh flavor of the tuna.
- For Jewish food, I've got you covered:
- Potato kugel, knishes, or latkes -- gotta bring the ubbles. Preferably something less delicate like a Prosecco which is fruity and will bring a lightness to the salty potato goodness. For sweet kugel or blintzes you want to go for an off-dry Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) or Gewurztraminer.
- Brisket -- go for a Cabernet Franc with rich, low, earthy, tea-like notes or a Beaujolais or Zin with fruitier, lighter flavors that will help counteract the salt.
- For movie popcorn (if you go to a theater that sells booze) -- get a single serve sparkling wine. Can't go wrong. I swear it.
And if you still have room for Christmas cookies and wine, go for a sweet Riesling or a Sauternes if it's a butter cookie and Port if it's chocolate based. Whatever the case, the wine HAS to be sweeter than the dessert.