I love the holiday season for so many reasons, not the least of which is getting together with family and friends over festive food and drink. I'm clearly not the only one -- my email inbox fills up with requests for wine suggestions for Christmas dinners, toasting the New Year and various other holiday get-togethers.
I'll get to New Year's Eve and bubbly next week -- for now, let's focus on wines for your typical Christmas dinner. The holiday feast often features turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, some sort of veggies on the side and if you're lucky (or unlucky, as the case may be), the infamous green bean casserole.
White wine options for a big holiday feast are plentiful -- in fact, I'd say you're safe to go with your favourite white regardless of whether it's dry, sweeter, lighter or heavier. With very few exceptions (such as a big oaked Chardonnay), there are qualities to most white wines that will work with one or more components of your holiday meal.
Some sweetness and spice are exactly why Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines are so commonly recommended with Christmas dinner (and are often my go-to picks over the holidays). Even when they're made in a dry style, there's enough residual sugar there to please most palates, while the acidity in these wines can cut through heavier dishes like mashed potatoes, wild rice casserole and so forth.
My other standby white wines for roast turkey and trimmings include Pinot Gris, Viognier, and un-oaked Chardonnay. They're typically slightly heavier-bodied than Riesling and Gewürztraminer, and deliver ripe apple, stone fruit and/or tropical fruit flavours that complement a wide variety of dishes.
When it comes to red wine, you certainly don't want to go too big. Pinot Noir or Beaujolais (or Gamay, the primary Beaujolais red grape) are my standby reds, but I certainly like to tinker when it comes to red wine and Christmas dinner. A fruit-forward Merlot, for example, wouldn't be too aggressive in the oak or tannin department for a turkey dinner, nor would a South African Pinotage, a Portuguese red blend or, as I mentioned around Thanksgiving, an entry-level Aussie red blend.
If wine's not really your thing, there's always the beer option, if that tickles your fancy. I'm not talking a six-pack of insipid corn water here -- rather, I'm thinking of heartier winter beers that bring spice and weight on the palate and generally are more food-friendly. From Oktoberfest lagers to red or winter ales to stouts and beyond, beer can work just as well as wine with your holiday dinner.
There never have been any rules when it comes to pairing wine and food -- Christmas dinner or otherwise -- but picking the right wine can definitely elevate the flavours of your holiday meal.
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CHARLES SMITH 2010 THE VELVET DEVIL MERLOT
(Columbia Valley, Washington -- $18.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
The Velvet Devil is textbook New World Merlot; it's beautifully soft on the nose, with ripe plum, blueberry jam, perfume and light spice aromas. Plush and medium-plus bodied on the palate, there are all sorts of lush plum, blueberry, tobacco and cocoa flavours, with a touch of light, soft tannin. It's a no-brainer crowd-pleaser with Christmas dinner or solo. 87/100
DFJ 2008 TOURIGA NACIONAL-TOURIGA FRANCA
(Lisboa, Portugal -- $16.55, Liqour Marts and beyond)
Two indigenous Portuguese varieties make up this deep violet red. Raisin, caramel, stewed cherry and plum aromas are decidedly fleshy, with secondary perfume notes lingering in there as well. It's plush and medium-plus bodied, with those slightly fleshy plum and cherry flavours taking on light acidity and tannin. Cranberry sauce would be well-served by the DFJ. 86/100
QUAILS GATE 2010 DRY RIESLING
(Okanagan Valley, B.C. -- around $19, private wine stores)
Despite being labelled a dry Riesling, the Quails Gate still shows soft, ripe red apple and peach flavours on the nose, as well as lemongrass and stony aromas. While fermented dry, the apple skin and peach flavours provide some natural sweetness, while chalky minerality provides some grip that's almost tannin-like. It all works; it's lean but complex, with lemon rind and waxy/honey notes working in great balance with the more dominant ripe fruit flavours. 88/100
GRANVILLE ISLAND BREWING LIONS IN WINTER ALE
(Vancouver, B.C. -- $11.03/6x341ml bottles, Liquor Marts)
Deep caramel in colour, this ale offers caramel, vanilla and spice notes on the nose. There's certainly some pronounced vanilla and caramel flavours on the palate of this winter ale as well, although the Lions in Winter avoids tasting sweet. Try with Christmas dinner or dessert, or check it out on tap at the King's Head (where I first tried it) if you're heading out for a holiday pint.