The first rule of thumb for planning the perfect Christmas dinner is serving a beverage you love. It’s common sense, but you’d be surprised by how many people serve a wine they hate to appease guests. Christmas dinner is not the occasion to try new things. Go with something you know and love. With so many different flavors and aromas floating through your kitchen, decide if your main entrée is sweet or salty.

Pairing Wines with Entrees

If you plan to serve salmon or other fatty fish, Pinot Noir is by far the best choice. Not far behind are Red Chardonnay and Riesling (a terrific choice if your entrée is spicy, e.g. blackened salmon). If you plan on going light, even by yielding a bit on the flavor, then Pinot Grigio is the way to go.

Ham is a traditional Christmas dish. Which type of ham will you be serving, sweet ham or spicy roast? The best way to pair wine with sweet foods is to choose one with some sweetness to match the dish. Riesling, Chenin Blanc or Merlot are perfect choices. Merlot is great if you prefer the dry variety, but if you want to go sweeter, consider Moscato, White Port or even Shiraz.

Roast beef, which includes prime rib, is perhaps the most demanding of pairing choices. A lot depends on if you are serving a low-fat cut of meat or a more marbled piece. For the former, “aged low tannin” wines such as Claret or Beaujolais are perfect. For fatty marbled meats, a more tannic and acidic choice such as Red Bordeaux or a Cabernet Sauvignon would be terrific.

Turkey is another popular entrée for families and friends on Christmas evening. If this will be your choice, read our article concerning wines that go best with turkey.

What is Tannin?

You might be asking yourself what tannins are. These are compounds that exist in grape skins, seeds and sterns. They give some wines their characteristic astringency (dryness). You will notice the effects of tannins each time you drink a wine that leaves a dry sensation in your mouth. The level of tannins in a wine will determine the dry aftertaste.

Making it Easy

Here’s the flipside if you’re the type of person who hates putting too much thought into wine pairing with certain dishes: choose a good quality bright and nippy sparkling beverage. A few choices fall into this category, such as Champagne, Cava, Chardonnay, etc. Fizz is the name of the game and quality is the keyword.

Lastly, if you just can’t make a decision, don’t be afraid to seek the advice of a good sommelier. Most have experience in wine pairings, so if you’d prefer the word of an expert, don’t hesitate to ask!

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I like to consider myself a “Jack-of-all-trades”, an “apprentice of everything, master of nothing” type of guy. I’ve dabbled in many a profession. You name it, I’ve done it. My colorful professional past includes stints as a chef, banker, license stockbroker, restauranteur, day trader, and everything in between. Alas, my zeal for food and my interest in the future of the web outweighed my liking of every other industry.