11 Festive Holiday Foods (and Wines to Pair Them With)

Every holiday comes with its own set of traditions, but most involve a meal enjoyed with family and friends. Holidays are a time to celebrate the foods and people we love, but as with many special occasions, the dishes served are likely not the same ones we eat every day. As such, it may be a challenge to select appropriate wines to pair for the rich fare served during this season. Below, we review eleven traditional holiday dishes from many cultures to recommend wine pairing options for each plate. Read more to see which dishes are best for your table this season.

1. Chester Turkey

The Chester turkey was introduced in Brazil in the early 1980s and has since become a staple of Ceia de Natal, or Christmas supper. The poultry, which is actually a specially-bred chicken, is often accompanied by tropical fruits. These vary by region but include kiwis, mangoes, and preserved cherries.

Puligny-Montrachet, Les Enseignères, Coche-Dury

Pair with: A Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru from a good year will have aromas of nut and stone, lemon and pear flavors, and fine acidity. Coche-Dury Les Enseignères, for example, has the energy to complement the complex taste of tropical fruits. In Brazil, of course, a cold beer is more traditional.

2. Carp in Butter Sauce

In Poland, the Wigilia celebration on Christmas Eve is the main event. In the Roman Catholic tradition, dinner tends to be meat-free and includes barszcz (beetroot soup), cabbage rolls, pierogi dumplings, braised sauerkraut, and dried fruits. A white fish like carp or pike in a sauce of butter, lemon, and dill may be served as the main dish, and is often accompanied by sauerkraut with mushrooms or braised potatoes.

Pair with: A Chablis Premier Cru has clean, mineral flavors and keen acidity that will suit the texture of meaty white fish, the strength of dill, and the richness of butter. The Les Vaillons vineyard catches plenty of sun, so wines produced from its grapes tend to have a better balance of acidity and fruit than less illustrious Chablis wines.

3. Bacalao Navideño

Roman Catholic tradition prohibits eating meat over the fasting period leading up to Christmas, so the extensive coastline in Mexico makes fish an obvious alternative for Noche Buena. A twist on the salted cod eaten by Spanish sailors from the Basque Country, bacalao navideño is cooked with tomatoes, garlic, and raisins for a delicious savory-and-sweet combination.

Lot 450: Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain, Selection de Grains Nobles 1993. Ravenel (December 1)

Pair with: Dashe Cellars Les Enfants Terribles Zinfandel is one of the ‘lower alcohol’ breeds coming out of California. In this case that means about 14% abv, but with plenty of fresh strawberry and fennel on the nose and palate to complement the fruit and spice in this dish. If you prefer a more traditional white wine with fish, try an aromatic bottle with medium-to-full body. A Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris from the Clos Windsbuhl vineyard (considered the domaine’s best) will display ripe peach and pear flavors and set off the acidic tomato sauce with a hint of residual sugar.

4. Lechón

In the Philippines, no Christmas celebration is complete without lechón, a whole pig roasted in the Spanish tradition. The spit is turned over hot coals to create the ultimate barbecue aroma, and the resulting dish is an ideal contrast between soft meat and crispy crackling.

Pair with: Condrieu, from the Northern Rhône valley, is considered the epitome of the Viognier grape. Its lush peach and apricot flavors suit pork well, and there’s just enough acidity to handle the crackling. Push the boat out with a bottle or two from Domaine Georges Vernay: their Coteau de Vernon wines will keep for up to 15 years.

5. Saffransbullar

It is impossible to match the Swedish smorgasbord staples of lutfisk, pickled herring, and gubbröra with wine; however, Swedish Christmas desserts work well with a grape-based drink. The S-shaped yellow buns known as saffransbullar are popular on St. Lucia’s Day, the 13th of December, as well as Christmas. Full of soft spices, butter, and currants, saffransbullar make a soothing end to a meal.

Pair with: Go beyond Sauternes when you think about matching wines with sweet foods. De Bortoli’s Noble One is probably the most famous botrytized Semillon from Australia and makes a lovely alternative to Sauternes. A Monbazillac from the rolling hills south of Bordeaux is a fresher option. Made with the same grapes as Sauternes, a Monbazillac wine has distinctive elderflower aromas and goes well with a range of lightly spiced citrus desserts.

6. Ghanaian Groundnut Stew

A Pan African celebration of cultural unity, human dignity, and wellbeing, Kwanzaa was first celebrated in the United States of the 1960s. Traditional foods reflect the variety of cultures and ingredients of the African diaspora, with influences from the Southern U.S., the Caribbean, and the West African coast. Ghanaian groundnut stew makes a rich main dish packed with tomato, okra, peanuts, and spices.

Image courtesy of Sonoma Magazine

Pair with: A Sonoma Chardonnay with light nuttiness from oak and lemon chiffon aromas, Bonneau Wines St Catharine’s Vineyard Los Carneros has enough fruit and body to balance the stew’s spice. As the oak is light and the Carneros climate is relatively cool compared with neighboring regions, the wine also pairs well with high-acidity foods like tomatoes.

7. Latkes

The eight-day festival of Hanukkah commemorates the story of the Maccabees, who liberated Jerusalem over two thousand years ago. Though they only had enough oil to light the Temple’s Menorah for one night, the oil lasted for eight nights. Many Hanukkah celebrations today include fried foods like latkes, or potato pancakes, to acknowledge the perseverance of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil.

Lot 280: Taittinger Champagne Brut 2002. Waddington’s (November 28).

Pair with: Champagne is the recommended beverage pairing for latkes because its high acidity cuts through the oil, while the bubbles act as a palette cleanser. Select a dry bottle, like Taittinger’s Champagne Brut. As an alternative, try a sparkling wine like Schramsberg’s 2009 Blanc de Noirs if you are pairing with savory toppings, or a bottle of Prosecco if you are eating your latkes with applesauce.

8. Brisket

Jewish families often serve braised brisket on festive holidays like Hanukkah and Passover. Brisket, which was traditionally viewed as a poor cut of meat, reflects the Eastern European heritage of many Jewish people now living in the Americas and Western Europe. In the past, brisket may have been admired chiefly for its affordability; however, as any good cook knows, it softens beautifully when slow-cooked.

Pair with: The relatively cool soils of St-Estèphe on Bordeaux’s Left Bank tend to produce quite structured wines with plenty of dark berry fruit. These age well, so choose an older vintage for a fuller body and silkier tannins that will still stand up to the richness of braised meat. Château Phélan Ségur produces classic red Bordeaux of high quality and good value. You should also look out for the chateau’s second wine, Frank Phélan, in good vintages like 2005, 2009 and 2010.

9. Buddha’s Delight

On the first day of the lunar New Year, Buddhist tradition forbids the killing of animals. The occasion represents a fresh start, which Buddhists in China symbolize by eating purifying foods. Buddha’s Delight, or jai, ticks all the right boxes. It’s full of ingredients with symbolic meanings related to long life and purity, including tofu, mushrooms, lily buds, and noodles.

Pair with: To complement the diverse flavors and textures of jai, opt for a cru Beaujolais in a light style. The relatively low tannin levels and crisp berry flavors from crus like Fleurie, Saint-Amour and Brouilly are great options. Try a Domaine des Marrans from Saint-Amour or a Château de la Pierre from Brouilly.

10. Haggis

Hogmanay is Scotland’s winter feast, marking the end of the year with a week-long celebration including food, fireworks, and music. No Hogmanay is complete without a helping of one of Scotland’s most divisive dishes: haggis. Together with minced sheep offal, onions, and a secret spice blend, oats create the stuffing of haggis pudding.

Lot 632: 12 Bottles Rioja Alta Club de Cosecheros 1980. Duran Arte Y Subastas (November 23).

Pair with: Whisky expert Dave Broom’s preferred drink with haggis is Talisker 10 Year Old; however, if you choose to branch out, try a fruit-rich, buttery red wine. La Rioja Alta has produced some of the most famous Reserva and Gran Reserva wines of Rioja for 125 years. They add the refined Graciano grape to Tempranillo and use American oak for long maturation, resulting in wines that possess great finesse and are rich in cinnamon, cherry, and tobacco aromas.

11. Vegetarian Nut Loaf

For those looking to diversify their holiday protein options, consider adding a nut loaf to the rotation this season. This vegetarian dish is stuffed with chestnuts, mushrooms, and sage. It can be served with a red wine sauce that will soak into the mushrooms, lending them flavor and moisture. In this unconventional main dish, the vegetables take center stage.

Pair with: Bring out the earthy taste of the roast with a good red Burgundy, such as Domaine Amiot-Servelle’s Chambolle Musigny Premier Cru. The domaine uses organic viticulture and minimizes new oak in the maturation process. This helps the earthy character of aged Burgundy shine through.

While there’s nothing wrong with a safe Pommard paired with boeuf bourguignon, we suggest you try something new this season. Replace some tried-and-true holiday favorites with new dishes that you may end up returning to year after year. After all, there is an entire world full of enticing food combinations to be explored, and an equally interesting array of fine wines to pair them with.