3 Foolproof Holiday Dinner Wine Pairings

holiday dinner wine pairings
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The holidays are here, and with their cheer, they also bring stress. In addition to all the little tasks like braving crowded shopping malls to buy gifts, you’ve got to plan a meal. You have to clean the house, set the table, and get a fabulous meal out.

Before you even get down to cooking, you’ve got to plan the menu and shop for it. And of course a fabulous dinner must have wine with it, and that means even more planning. This guide can help you choose the perfect varietal for your meal, so you don’t end up wandering the wine aisles in a daze while you should be cooking.

Holiday dinners usually have a lot of delicious side dishes, from the stuffing to the cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes to Brussels sprouts, and while these should factor into your wine buying decision, it’s best to choose your wine around the main course – usually the meat.

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Luckily, all of the typical holiday sides tend to be quite versatile, and work with a lot of different wine varietals. No matter what protein you need a pairing for, we’ve got the perfect wine for you. Read on to find the wine for your holiday dinner.

holiday dinner - turkey


A holiday favorite, turkey is as good on tomorrow’s sandwich as it is at your holiday dinner. Many people mistakenly assume that turkey is an automatic white wine pairing, but it’s best to pair it with a fruity, lighter bodied red. Here are three that will bring out the best in your holiday turkey dinner:

  • Pinot Noir – The lightest bodied of all the red wine varietals, pinot noir is an excellent compliment to your holiday dinner. If you can splurge, a pricier Burgundy brings everything great about pinot noir to the table. The graceful, silky mouth feel and the wonderful earthiness will make you want to follow every bite with a sip. A California wine from the Russian River Valley will be more affordable, and bring red fruit and moderate spice. If your meal includes any baking spices in the turkey, cranberry sauce or any other dish, an Oregon or Washington wine will be a perfect compliment with its dark fruit and high spiciness.
  • Beaujolais – This southern Burgundy varietal is a classic turkey pairing. The high acid will help cut through the richness of your side dishes, while the low tannins won’t overpower the delicate white meat. Buy a case and save some for your new year’s party. It makes a fantastic sangria!
  • Zinfandel – These super fruity, high alcohol wines are perfect with a holiday meal. Zin is heavier than a pinot or beaujolais and will be better suited to a meal with very rich side dishes, so if your potatoes are extra buttery, or there’s bacon in the Brussels sprouts, this festive wine should be your holiday turkey accompaniment.
holiday dinner - ham


Ham is the Christmas dinner classic. Hams usually need a sweetness to them to balance out the saltiness of the meat. This is often accomplished by a honey glaze, but your wine can also help the effort. Generally white wines are best with a good ham.

  • Riesling – A good riesling is the perfect accompaniment to ham – especially if it’s smoked. The minerality and brightness will help it stand out against all the complex side dishes. If you don’t like sweeter wines, or you think your ham’s glaze is sweet enough, try a dry Alsatian riesling. If you want the sweetness, then a German or Washington State wine will be just the thing.
  • Chardonnay – A good chardonnay with little-to-no oak will be an excellent pairing with your ham. The full bodied, well rounded wine will not be overpowered even by rich side dishes. A Bordeaux or good California wine will bring a balanced minerality and perfect acidity to the table. Avoid cheaper California chardonnays as they tend to be over-ripe and over-oaked.
  • Zinfandel – This all-American red is making its second appearance on this list, and for a good reason – it really may be the perfect holiday pairing. If you want to pair your ham with a red wine, then zin won’t let you down. The fruit-forward character and high alcohol will help it stand up to the salt and fat of the ham. As mentioned, it’s fantastic with everything else you’ll find on your holiday table as well.

Of course, ham is also a perennial favorite at Easter, so these recommendations apply a few months later as well!

holiday dinner - beef


Many people opt for red meat on their holiday table, usually a beef rib roast. Beef nearly always needs a big red wine to stand up to its richness, and typical holiday preparations tend to make this even more true. A holiday roast will often be seasoned heavily with peppercorns, rosemary and thyme so having a bold red is all the more important.

  • Syrah – Syrah is a big red varietal from the Rhone valley in France. Its red and black fruit flavors make it a classic beef pairing. French examples tend to be earthier and sometimes have a wonderful smokiness to them. Australian (where they call it shiraz), and Californian syrahs are more floral and usually higher in alcohol. Don’t worry too much about where it’s from – any good syrah will make a great beef pairing at your holiday meal.
  • Sangiovese – Sometimes also called Brunello, Sangiovese is a varietal that can do great things on your table. This wonderful Italian wine has strong notes of red fruit and hints of leather and tobacco making it a perfect pairing for beef. The high tannins will cut through the fat of the meat and the high acidity will help with the richness of the side dishes.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Usually the biggest and boldest red wine, cabs have a high tannin content that makes them the most typical red meat pairing. Black currant is usually the predominant fruit flavor in cabernet, and cedar will likely be present as well. You should open the bottles an hour or so before serving to let the wine breathe a little.

You’ve got a lot to worry about already this holiday season, here’s hoping we at least made one part of it a little easier. Cheers, relax, and happy holidays!

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