There are a wide variety of dishes prepared to celebrate the holiday season, and many of these reflect back to culture and ethnicity. However, I would suspect that the three classic dishes for holiday fare are turkey, ham, and crown roast of beef. The type of wines for each of these varies somewhat, depending on the accompaniments and method of preparation, but the core philosophy for wine-food pairings remains fairly straightforward. Let us discuss the wine matches for each of these three dishes.
Matching the weight of a dish with that of the wine is the starting point for marrying a wine with food. Turkey is a medium-weight dish that will work best with a medium-weight wine—red or white—depending on the ancillary ingredients. For example, if the bird is stuffed with a standard giblet-based dressing, you could choose either wine style. My choice would be a Pinot Noir or red Burgundy. On the other hand, if an oyster stuffing was used, a crisp white wine would be the better choice. The flavor in oysters (and most seafood) is enhanced by the crisp acidity found in many white wines. This is the reason that a squeeze of lemon is frequently served with seafood. With the oyster stuffing, my personal favorite wine would be a white Burgundy.
For ham, the same principle applies—match the weight of the food to that of the wine. There are two issues to consider with ham. First of all, it’s a salty food, and salty foods call for tart wines. Second, the sweetness of the dish must be considered. In a simple, unadorned presentation, ham has no sweetness. A Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc would both be good choices. However, if the ham is cured with maple sugar or is glazed with a sweet, fruity glaze, you must bring sweetness into the equation. My mother always basted her ham with a brown-sugar-fruity glaze, and prior to baking decorated it with fresh pineapple chunks and red cherries. With this combination, we have a sweet, salty product that calls for a sweet, tart wine. There is no better wine with these credentials than a quality German Riesling. My choice would be a Riesling Spätlese from the Mosel Valley.
This brings us to the stuffed crown roast of beef. The choice is simple here. This is a big, hearty dish that calls for a big, hearty wine. There is no white wine that can stand up to the majesty and gusto of a crown roast of beef. It doesn’t matter what dressing you stuff in the roast; the sheer volume of the dish dictates the wine style. A full-bodied Cabernet or high-quality red Bordeaux will make the perfect match.
I hope that you can see how the ancillary ingredients and method of preparation can tip your hand from one wine style to another. Remember, a correct wine-food pairing can elevate a dish from simple to sublime. Happy Holidays!
John Fischer is a member and past president of the International Wine & Food Society, Omaha Branch.