A Guide To Holiday Food and Wine Pairings

Life & Love | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 11/25/2014 | 10:00 AM EST

Centric's resident wine expert Charles Springfield gives the lowdown on choosing the perfect vino for holiday dinner

While you may be looking forward to the Turkey and stuffing at the dinner table this holiday season, no meal is complete without a savory glass (or two) of wine. Finding the right wine to pair with your plentiful meal, however, can be challenging.

That’s why we asked Centric resident wine expert/sommelier Charles Springfield, owner of The Wine Stylings of Charles Springfield, to help guide us to the best ways to enjoy your wines and delicious Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts.

Springfield recommends grabbing an array of fabulous wines to bring to your various outings. Pick out your favorite wines to pair with, but also try to be a little adventurous by choosing some you’ve never tried.

“When it comes to pairing food with Thanksgiving and other holiday-inspired meals, it can be very tricky to match wines with the variety and range of foods provided,” Springfield says.

“There are not only the multitude of meats and proteins, but there are tons of side dishes ranging from vegetables and starches, sweet and savory items and light and rich offerings. And as cultures and culinary styles blend, the old rules of food and wine pairing don’t always apply – especially for my generation of sommeliers.”

There are no cut-and-dry wine pairings that fit all the dishes found in one meal, Springfield points out. However, there are some important rules of thumb that can help make the food and wine combinations more marvelous.

The rules to wine pairings aren’t so strict. If it tastes good to you, then it’s a good pairing because, as Springfield says, you know your palate better than anyone else.

“If you like White Zinfandel with your turkey, then please enjoy that pairing. If you like it, I love it,” Springfield says.

Considering you will most likely be serving (or attending) a dinner with a larger group of people (and very different palates), Springfield recommends the following when selecting wines for dinner.

Wines to Consider Incorporating into Thanksgiving

There are some tried and true wine style options that fit into these various recommendations. For whites, I would suggest the following: Pinot Gris (from Oregon or Alsace, France), St. Veran (French Chardonnay), Dry Riesling and/or sparkling white wine (French Champagne, Italian Franciacorta or Spanish Cava). For reds, opt for the following: Beaujolais Village, Pinot Noir (USA, Chile or Argentina), Cotes du Rhone and/or sparkling red wine (Sparkling Pinot Noir from Burgundy or Sparkling Shiraz from Australia).

Match Body with Body

An easy way to pair things is to match the body (texture/weight) of the wine with the body of the food. Think of the body of wine (the weight and texture) like the body of milk. A light-bodied wine would be similar to Skim milk in weight and texture. A medium-bodied wine would be closer to a 1 or 2 percent milk. A full-bodied wine would resemble whole milk. You don’t want your wine to overpower the food and you don’t want your food to overpower the wine. You want them to complement each other or cut each other. Therefore, you wouldn’t want to serve a nice Pinot Grigio with a barbeque beef brisket. The flavor, fat and protein in the beef would severely overpower the wine. But the wine would work well with a lighter dish like Soupe de Poisson (fish soup) or Shredded Caesar Salad.

Versatility is Key

You want a wine that is going to be as versatile as possible, whether it’s red, white or rose. That means that the components of the wine – alcohol, acidity, tannins (reds) and flavors need to fit with a wide range of dishes. A simple way to think about this is the smoother and easy going the wine, the better the pairings. Specifics to follow below.

Watch the Alcohol Content

Higher alcohol wines have a tendency to clash with certain tastes and flavors. If at all possible, keep your wine choices in the low to moderate alcohol range, from 8 to 13 percent. Plus it helps you get through the dinner without the complications that come with too much alcohol – getting too sleepy or causing a scene at the dinner table. Save the hard stuff for later after you have a full belly.

Embrace Acidity

High acid wines are food-loving wines. Acid is a palate-cleanser, washing your mouth clean of buttery, spicy, or meaty flavors and leaving you ready for one more bite! Plus it gets the appetite going, making you able to finish your plate; and maybe even have seconds.

Easy on the Tannins

Tannins are very important, especially when it comes to the structure and aging of a red wine. Tannins are an astringent quality in red wine that comes from the skin, stems and seeds of the grape. It can give you a cottonmouth tactile sensation. Tannins in wines are best balanced with dishes that have a little more fat (animal fat, butter, cream, olive oil). But too much tannin can clash with salty tastes or spicy flavors.

Light on the Oak

Highly oaked wines can clash with some food flavors. Most of holiday feasts usually have a few dishes that are slightly sweet, a bit fruity or spicy. All of these flavors can spell trouble when combined with oak! Select something with no oak or mild oak for reds and whites.

(Photo: Garlick, Ian/the food passionates/Corbis)

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