The Christmas holiday is definitely a challenging topic when it come to the pairing of food and wine. Not everybody is serving turkey! An informal poll of friends regarding what they do for Christmas dinner elicited several delicious responses: ham, roast beef or prime rib, turkey, duck, wild hare (from a relative in the Netherlands), goose, Cornish hen, and venison. It is a daunting task at best, so it was time to narrow down the choices. Ham was the overwhelming first choice, so let’s start there.
Ham is salty and smoky, and it is often served with sweet glazes or fruit, which provides a nice balance to the saltiness. Looking at complementary wines, Riesling and Gewürztraminer provide this balance. With a sweet glaze, like honey or apricot, these flavors are picked up in the stone fruit (like apricot, peaches, etc.) and honey notes of a dry or semi-dry Riesling and Gewürz-traminer. Specifically, Gewürztraminer is an aromatic wine grape with a flamboyant bouquet of lychee fruit and aromas of roses and passion fruit and floral notes. The word “Gewürz” literally means spice or perfume. These wines have enough fruit to balance the salt and enough acidity so that they don’t get lost with the strong flavors of the dish. The Finger Lakes wine region offers many great wines that will be sure to please, Damiani, Anthony Road, Hermann Wiemer, Dr. Frank, Bloomer Creek, Atwater Estate, and Red Newt are all great options.
If Chardonnay is a favorite of yours, it can be a neutral complement to the ham and various side dishes. Make sure to choose a lightly oaked Chardonnay. A dry Rose can also go very well with ham, try one from Sheldrake Point, Anthony Road or Dr. Frank.
Although white wine is most often served with ham, a Zinfandel or Pinot Noir would work. Zinfandel can stand up to the strong flavors of the ham; Long Point has a very nice Zinfandel (made with California grapes). Pinot Noir works with a savory rather than sweet sauce. Some of the local wineries with lovely Pinot Noirs include Shalestone, Bloomer Creek, Silver Thread, Damiani, Red Tail Ridge, Atwater, Heart and Hands, and Fox Run.
If you are serving prime rib or roast beef, you’ll want a nice big red wine. Bordeaux (a French region and known as a style of wine) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and often “seasoned” with Petit Verdot and Malbec. In this country many wineries produce a lovely Bordeaux style wine but may use the name Meritage (a portmanteau of Merit-Heritage, it rhymes with “heritage”). Wineries must pay to use the name so you may also see wineries using their own names to indicate that it is a Bordeaux style of wine. Some local wineries that make nice Meritage wines are Keuka Springs, Ravines, Damiani, and Fox Run. You can also pair the beef with the major components of the Bordeaux blend, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Merlot.
Another wine that would pair well with beef is a Lemberger. No, not the cheese Limburger but Lemberger! Also known as Blaufränkisch, it grows well in Austria and also in upstate New York. It has aromas of blackberry, raspberry, complemented by rich plum and black cherry flavors with vanilla, smoke, and a spicy black pepper finish. Fox Run, Damiani, and Anthony Road (Cabernet Franc/Lemberger) all produce very nice wines from this varietal (i.e., grape variety).
Yet another favorite entrée for Christmas dinner is poultry. Turkey, goose duck and Cornish Hens are all considered. They can all do well with Pinot Noir, with subtle earthy and mushroom inspired flavors. Cayuga Ridge has two cranberry wines that I’ve heard go great with turkey.
White wines pair well with poultry. Both Riesling and Gewurztraminer are good food-friendly choices. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay will also work well as long as there’s not too much spice in the entrée or the sides.
Venison and wild hare go well with lighter reds as well, such as Pinot Noir as well as some of the bigger reds ordinarily paired with beef.
Dessert, there are so many options here. Having pie? Serving port with pumpkin and pecan pie provides a delicious nutty, sweet spice-filled character to the pairing. There are many delicious ports here in the Finger Lakes region. Check out Fox Run, Goose Watch (which make a rare wh port), Swedish Hill, Ports of New York, Hazlitt, Lakewood and Red Newt.
If you are having an apple dessert, cobbler, or pie, a late harvest Riesling brings rich, concentrated flavors of honey to a variety of desserts. I love the Sheldrake 2008 Late Harvest Riesling with any apple dessert. There are numerous fine examples of late harvest and ice wines in the Finger Lakesk which offer the sweetness and the richness in many desserts.
Happy Holidays to you all!
Annemarie Morse has a Masters of Professional Studies in Enology (winemaking) and is an American Wine Society Certified wine judge