The Christmas holidays are fast approaching! And who says ‘Christmas parties’ says ‘Christmas feasts’: real marathons of food where the festivities never seem to end. Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve… Every year, we find ourselves putting down our cutlery with the existential question: What to drink with these festive dishes? Father-in-law prefers long-keeping wines, mom has a weakness for full-bodied wines, while your partner is crazy about bubbles? Discover the basics of wine food pairing this Christmas with this quick guide.
From appetizers to cold starters, warm starters, main courses, and desserts, there will be many refined dishes to match. From the Grands Crus to the more eclectic wines that are both rare and unknown, here are the nuggets that everyone will be talking about on New Year’s Eve!
Who is Giovanni Arpaia?
Meet Giovanni, an Italian from origin where he grew up surrounded by wine as a family tradition. Nowadays a modern day nomad who has travelled all around the (wine) world. A wine professional that has been active in pretty much every part of the wine industry; from tourism to marketing, from wine making to exporting it – he’s been there or has done that! Giovanni proudly is a WSET Diploma holder and Certified Educator, Wine judge at International competitions and wine consultant for wine businesses and private collectors
Simple rules for wine food pairing
For Christmas, the classic dishes take center stage: from appetizers to desserts, it’s a culinary parade! Oysters, clams, foie gras, turkey, cod, and, of course, the extensive cheese selection. Matching these festive dishes with wines is no easy feat! However, you should know that there are several possible pairings: between the classic complementary pairing, which respects the harmony of flavors, and the contrasting pairing to play the originality card by betting on the unexpected, just to break away from the norm. But to start, let’s play it safe by betting on tried-and-tested pairings. For a perfect match, all you need to do is follow a few simple rules of wine service and tasting.
Wines in ascending order of strength and quality.
When it comes to the order of wine tasting, you should build up to a crescendo:
- White wines and rosé wines before red wines.
- Light wines before full-bodied wines.
- Young wines before older vintages.
- Dry wines before sweet wines.
- Chilled wines before room-temperature wines (between 15 and 18°C).
It is possible to choose only one wine for the entire meal! As long as you adjust the dishes accordingly. It’s also a great way to stay within your budget!
What to pair with white and rosé wines this Christmas?
If it is a white wine, choose fish and seafood as a starter and a main course, or perhaps a delicate poultry dish. And if you couldn’t decide between cheese and dessert, know that white wine and cheese (best if soft cheese) always go well together! Opt for a crisp Vinho Verde, Gruner Veltliner, or a cool Muscadet with seafood and a slightly oaked Chardonnay or Fiano for creamier dishes.
You could also play the gastronomic rosé card (I love this choice), but do not make the mistake of pairing it with dishes in rich or spicy sauces. This does not enhance its freshness or its aromatic profile. Go for game birds (quail stuffed with grapes), or seafood (sea bream carpaccio, skate wing, monkfish, scallops) or veggie casserole dishes.
Bonus: With their versatility, these rosé wines are great fun for pairing experiments! Consider a Tibouren from Provence or a Primitivo Rosato for a more vibrant touch.
Dishes and thus food, to pair with red wine
If it is a red wine, it will generally not pair well with seafood. On the other hand, it will go well with red meat, duck breast, game, and hard cheese. Consider a robust Touriga Nacional or an aged Sangiovese for serious red meat dishes or a Pinot Noir or Baga for a lighter touch with duck, turkey with earthy sauces.
Funky food wine combinations with sweet white wine
As for sweet white wines, they are suitable for appetizers (foie gras), with cheese, or dessert. However, the sweet, mellow, or luscious wines can saturate the palate, making it difficult to appreciate the rest of the meal. The sweet white wines will certainly go well with cheeses of character: blue cheeses (Roquefort, Stilton…). A Sauternes or a late-harvest Riesling would be a delightful choice to pair with foie gras or blue cheeses. And don’t get me started with Port wine pairings: Stilton, chocolate, creme brulee, ice creams, red fruit sauce desserts.
From sparkling christmas lights to sparkling Champagne
But Champagne has not yet spoken its final words! Whether it is Christmas or New Year’s Eve, there must always be a splendid bottle of sparkling in the fridge! Often enjoyed at the beginning or the end, this is my favorite beverage for the entire meal. I find Blanc de Noirs to be perfect, as it pairs well with meats of character such as lamb and game (venison, partridge). These are termed ‘vinous’ sparklings with fine bubbles, crafted for extended aging and having spent most of their time in oak barrels. The robustness of Blanc de Noirs Champagnes makes them an ideal complement to poultry dishes. I love it in any form: Rosé Champagne, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Vintage Champagne, Magnum format, Jeroboam, or even in cocktails!
Golden rules for the best wine-food pairing combinations.
- Match the richness of a dish: a rich dish requires a full-bodied wine (any color).
- Match the aromas of a dish: a very spicy dish will require a more aromatic wine.
- The wine serves the dish, and vice versa.
- Poultry will not go with a wine that is too powerful, too dense, or too tannic. For desserts, the trick to remember is that the color of the wine matches that of the dessert.
Finally, it would be a shame to not enjoy these wines properly without the optimal service conditions. Pay attention to the serving temperature: some red wines need to be opened in advance to oxygenate in the bottle or in a decanter. As for old vintages, decanting will avoid deposits at the bottom of the glass. That’s all! The pretty lights are shining. In the living room, the tree is doing its best with your playful cat… Every morning you anxiously think about your gift list while enjoying the chocolate of the advent calendar: Christmas is coming!
Learn more about wine with Giovanni Arpaia
Do you want to learn from the best teachers to be found in Portugal? Join Giovanni on several courses this coming schoolyear and learn all about wine food pairing combinations and more. With extensive experience in pretty much every field of the international wine industry, he’s our go-to teacher for both wine enhusiasts as wine professionals. Book your course with Giovanni, or with one of our other teachers here.