When it comes to guidance on choosing the best wine to pair with a special dinner,
it is not as difficult as it sounds.
Researching this important subject, here is what we have learned and in turn share with you: Pairing wine with food can be challenging even when a meal is simple. But for a holiday dinner, when food is usually plentiful in a variety of both traditional and ethnic offerings, selecting an appropriate wine can feel downright humbling. But don’t let it be!
A general rule: rather than trying to pair wine to individual flavors or dishes, focus on varieties that complement a wide range of foods. Our experts recommend that the best choices are wines that can blanket the entire dinner. Sound complicated? It’s not!
In the red wine category, light-bodied choices that avoid heavy use of oak are a great option. Beaujolais, once again gaining in well-deserved recognition, are a source of lighter-bodied, easy-drinking reds that tend to pack enough fruit and acid to complement but not overshadow a range of dishes and flavors. Kevin, from The Spring Lake Bottle Shop, suggests a French Gamay, like Cru Beaujolais, or one from the Alsace region known for aromatic, floral and spicy white wines. Carl at Lush in Asbury Park recommends the Louis Jadot’s Beaujolais when pairing with Thanksgiving dinner.
Fine-boned and delicate Pinot Noirs, like many of those made in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, are a great choice and considered to be a food friendly wine as well with classic fall flavors such as cranberry, red apple skin, dried leaves, and allspice. Carl at LUSH also weighs in here with the California Pinot, Simple Life. Sound intimidating? It’s not!
Although fuller bodied wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are crowd-pleasers, their bold and typically oaky notes may be considered by some to be better suited to the roasted red meats of December’s holidays. But you know your pallet! If you love them serve them. In that category Cynthia, from Egans in Sea Girt, suggest Cabernets from the Aviary Vineyard and from Napa’s Martin Ray Vineyard or a Chardonnay from Santa Lucia Highlands.
In the white wine category, wonderful lighter-bodied Sauvignon Blancs abound, and their primary fruit
flavors: lime, green apple, passion fruit and white peach make them a suitable choice for the holidays. Try something young and fresh with ‘green’ notes. A Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling are excellent options. And a high quality South African Chenin Blanc, with traits similar to the Sauvignon Blanc, will also pair beautifully with just about any addition to the holiday table. Remember, high quality doesn’t necessarily equate to high price.
Whites with a little sparkle and sharpness are always an option as well when served with a broad range of foods. You will find that the folks at your local wine shop are generally eager to help you find just what you are looking for.
Again, The Spring Lake Bottle Shop, Lush in Asbury Park and Egan’s in Sea Girt are just a few shops who are readily available to help you find just what you’re looking for – even if you have no idea what that is!
Thanks to our friendly wine connoisseurs from Asbury Park to Bay Head and beyond, the assorted whites and reds on this list will serve as can’t-miss options for your table.
Sidebar High Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($20) *
This Sauvignon Blanc from famed California winemaker David Ramey is easy to sip on its own, but it really needs food to show off its best stuff. Bracing and refreshing, it is a great wine to help clean and refresh your palate between bites and helpings!
Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2018 ($39) *
Tropical but soft, stony, and acidic, this South African Chenin Blanc is an absolute knockout. It has the heft to stand up to rich dishes, but it will not overpower the flavors of milder meats and sides.
Humo Blanco Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($15) *
This Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s Colchagua Valley has all the citrus and acid you are used to from this grape, but there is an underlying thread of minerals that give this depth and sophistication.
The Four Graces Pinot Noir 2017 ($26) *
Flavors of bright-red berries such as turkey-friendly cranberry are prominent in this balanced, subtly spicy Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Priced under $30, it’s a killer value.
Flaneur Wines Cuvée Constantin Pinot Noir 2016 ($40) *
This Oregon-based producer uses sustainable, irrigation-free practices, and they also take a gentle approach to wine additives and manipulation. Their 2016 Cuvée Constantin features juicy red fruit and a nice mix of spice and earth. It’s a great mate for food, but it goes down just as well on its own making it a year-round favorite.
JJ Vincent Cru du Beaujolais Juliénas 2015 ($28) *
Fruit, funk, and a hint of smokiness come together in this smooth Beaujolais. Throw your turkey, ham, or spice-covered vegetable sides at this wine; you will not regret it!
Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2016 ($34) *
Ripe berries, herbs, and the right ratio of acid-to-tannin make this Zinfandel a perfect partner for the rich flavors and sauces of Thanksgiving.
Amity Vineyards White Pinot Noir 2018 ($19) *
This “white” Pinot Noir, a particular favorite of many of our pals, is rosé-hued and made from skinned Pinot Noir grapes. It is a juicy and delectable blend of fruit and minerals.
Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($29) *
For less than $30, few Sauvignon Blancs can compete with this offering from Napa’s Cakebread. Tropical fruit and herbs mingle with white flowers in this excellent wine.
Division Winemaking Company Gamay Noir “Lutte” 2017 ($28) *
France’s Beaujolais region is known to be ground-zero for good Gamay wines. However, a few U.S. producers create lovely takes on the conventional French grape and the fruit-forward flavors makes this option a great choice
The variety of suggested wines underscores that there are no hard and fast rules about which to drink with your holiday dinner. And hopefully, this missive is just in time to ease your mind when making these decisions. Our goal has been to offer some helpful guidelines but, at the end of the day, your personal preference and your family's own holiday menu may offer the best direction. Many thanks to our friendly wine aficionados and local retailers for their excellent direction thorough this enlightening experience. Cheers to giving thanks!
*Please note, per bottle pricing may vary slightly depending upon the retailer.