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Pairing Wine with Your Holiday Meals

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Planning a special holiday meal? Don’t forget the wine. Antonio Anderson of Enoteca Toscana Wine Bistro in Camarillo, CA offers tips for what to serve with traditional holiday favorites such as turkey, ham, and prime rib.

A cornucopia of side dishes often goes along with the bird, and Anderson says it can be a challenge to pair wine with all the different side dishes. So, he says your best bet is to go with a Pinot Noir, a smooth, less-heavy red wine.

“Usually California Pinot Noirs are a bit bigger and fuller than your Burgundian style Pinot Noirs, and that fruit forwardness will work well with stuffing (sausage or oyster), the cranberry, macaroni, green beans, and other side dish items.”

If you also want to serve a white wine, Anderson suggests a California White Riesling. “It’s a sweeter wine, but with all the different items that typically go along with turkey, a Riesling will also work if people aren’t into red wines.

Looking for a fail-safe choice to go with turkey?  Anderson suggests a rose, which is a dry blush-colored, or pink, wine. Not to be confused with white zinfandel, rose is not a sweet wine. Anderson describes it as “dry, austere, typically a soft balanced wine with no residual sugar.”

When shopping for a decent rose, Anderson suggests selecting one that comes from Provence, France, because it’s more difficult to select a good California rose just by reading the label.

Prime Rib
You’re best off to stick with serving a red wine with this hearty red meat, which is typically served with heavier side dishes.

“Merlot is one I would pick, as opposed to a Napa Valley Cabernet, which might be too heavy on the palate for prime rib,” said Anderson.

“Another softer red wine that would still hold up (to prime rib) would be a Tempranillo.” Tempranillo is a red Spanish wine that is on the spicy side. Anderson says Spanish Grenache would also have enough depth and body to hold up to the prime rib.

“Ham’s tough, because you have the saltiness of the ham, (or) the sweetness of the ham with the glazing,” said Anderson, who recommends going with a California Zinfandel, because it has enough fruit forwardness to handle the vast flavors of the ham.

But be warned—California Zinfandel is a big wine, typically high in alcohol content, so be sure to enjoy Zin with food or on a full stomach.

Anderson’s personal choice of beverage to go along with ham is Champagne.

“If it was my dinner party and ham was the centerpiece, I would go to brut champagne or Rose champagne,” said Anderson, adding, “You have the effervescence of the sparkling wine … that will cut through the saltiness and the fat of the ham.”

Listen to my interview with Antonio Anderson at to find out how much wine you should have on hand to serve your dinner guests. You’ll also find more wine and holiday meal tips.

Updated November 26, 2008


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