Holiday Wine Pairings

Sutton Quantum

Holiday Wine Pairings

Whether you’re on turkey duty on Christmas Day or you’re hosting a New Year’s bash, it isn’t just the food and décor you need to worry about. Wine pairing has long been one of the more feared tasks by hosts – but it doesn’t have to be.

Wine is loved by many and understood by few, but the truth is that any wine you genuinely enjoy is agoodwine, regardless of rating or price tag. With that being said,  you still want to pair wines you enjoy with flavours that make sense, and perhaps try something new. We’ve put together a comprehensive wine pairing guide that you can use not only for your holiday celebrations but throughout the year.

The Types of Wine

If the question “red or white?” leaves you at a loss, then figuring out the seemingly endless list of wine varietals is enough to put anyone in a tailspin. The good news is that wines are easily classified by their color, so next time you’re at the wine store, you may find it helpful to take a peek at the color of the wine rather than reading the label.

Caramel– This caramel-leather color is classic for dessert wines, including sherry, port, Madeira, Marsala, Muscat and other sweet varieties of wine.

Deep Purple– This color indicates aging and higher volumes of alcohol content. Wines in this category include Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Agilanico, and Verdot.

Violet– A cross between a red and purple, these wines include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Barbera varieties.


Pale Reds– These wines have a ruby red color and include Pinot Noirs and Grenache.

Salmon– These deep pink hues include rose of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo.

Pink– Bright and airy and include Roses of Merlot, Roses of Grenache and Roses of Sangiovese.

Pale Pink– Fruity and airy and include Rose of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.

Rich Gold– These are those noble dessert wines that include Riesling and Chenin Blanc.


Pale Gold– Dry, yet still fruity and include Chardonnay varieties.

Sunny Yellow– Can be sweet and fruity and include Moscato, Pinot Blanc and Chenin Blanc.

Greenish Yellow– These are fruitier, lighter and include Sauvignon Blanc and the like.

Almost See Through– Generally include Sparkling Wines, Rieslings and Vinho Verdes.


Using the Right Glass

A wine glass is more than just a vessel - the right glass will aerate drier, richer wines and keep the bubbles afloat for sparkling varieties. You don’t need a huge selection, but you will appreciate having a few varieties on hand. Learn how to tell the difference below:

Sparkling Wine FluteThis glass is upright and narrower than most wine glasses to maintain the carbonation and better capture the beverage’s flavour.

White Wine GlassThe bowl will be more U-shaped and upright than that of a red wine glass, allowing the aromas to be released while also maintaining a cooler temperature.

Rose Wine GlassWhen selecting a rose wine glass, those with a slightly flared lip are usually preferred for wines that are younger, crisper, and less sweet than the more mature varieties. The flared lip design lets the wine run out of the bowl and right onto the tip of the tongue where the taste buds are most sensitive to sweetness. This allows whatever sweetness is in the wine to be enhanced, giving crisp wines a more balanced flavor and minimizing any bite.

Red Wine GlassThe bowls of these glasses will be fuller and rounder with a larger opening in order to allow you to dip your nose into the glass to detect aroma. This bowl style is also important because the complex aromas and flavors of red wine demand a glass with a larger surface area to ensure that the wine comes in contact with more air.

Dessert Wine GlassThis should be smaller to direct the wine to the back of the mouth so the sweetness doesn't overwhelm. Dessert wines generally have a higher alcohol content, making small dessert wine glasses perfect for a smaller serving. The same rule of thumb applies to sherry and cordial glasses.

Pairing Up the Wines

When it comes to your guests, you will likely find as many different kinds of palates as you will political opinions. While we can’t guarantee an argument won’t break out over current events, there are a few wine categories that will pair well with holiday meals on a broad spectrum to satisfy all palates.

Salty Foods– Salty meats and appetizers need something refreshing to balance the flavour, so whether you’re serving a deep-fried turkey, anchovies, or even potato chips as starters, you will want to stick with a sparkling wine.

Vegetable Dishes– For those vegan-friendly holiday meals or just the salad course you will want to add some dry white wines to the table. White wines also pair well with chicken and fish – making them more versatile.


Creamy Dishes– Got creamed soups or cream-based gravies galore on the menu? A rich white  Don’t worry; it goes great with turkey too.

Heavy Dishes– From those hearty gravies to over-seasoned prime ribs, rose wines are the most adaptable for holiday dinner spreads.

Roasted Food– To stand up to the heavy seasonings and potential dryness, you need a medium-red variety of wine.

Rich Meats– Serving lamb roast, cured meats or even game meat? Then stick to the bolder varieties of red wines.

To Start

No matter what your first course is, it will meet its match in a faceted chardonnay. Stay away from overly oaky, buttery varietals and instead look for a more balanced and restrained yet fully ripe and fruit-forward style that pairs well with lighter start dishes like salads, seafood, and soup.

The Main Course

More often than not, the side dishes are the stars of a holiday meal. The turkey, ham, or other mild protein dish tends to play second fiddle to much more exciting sweet potatoes, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and a smorgasbord of other dishes with bigger, bolder flavors. Put a bottle each of red and white on the table, and let everyone serve themselves based on the dishes they gravitate toward.

A red such as Zin, Cabernet, Merlot, or Petit Verdot can complement just about any dish without overpowering it. And a Gewürztraminer has much more overt aromas and flavors than your typical white, which allows it to complement the sweeter-style dishes that land on the dinner table at this time of year like roasted yams and honey-glazed ham.



Once dismissed as the unofficial “grandfather” beverage, there’s something about a tawny Port that lends itself so well to the holiday season. Port is both high in alcohol and sweetness, making it a perfect way to end a meal and complement strong cheeses, chocolate desserts, cakes and pies... you get the idea. Since tawny Ports are aged in barrels for several years before they’re bottled, it can be exposed to oxygen for about six weeks after the bottle is opened meaning you won’t have to worry about finishing the bottle right away.

Toast of the Town

Sure, you could go for a champagne - no one will object! But if you’d like to do something a little different, try a sparkling rose or a sparkling riesling. Sparkling wines are a great alternative to capital-C Champagnes, they just don’t come with a hefty price tag. You could save some money and still achieve the desired result - namely, providing your guests with something fizzy and delicious to end the night.