A Laid Back (And Very California) Guide To Holiday Food And Wine Pairing

To say there are a lot of stressors during the holidays–rowdy relatives, long shopping lines, new recipes–is an understatement. 

While we can't help with all of it, we can help relieve angst on the food and wine front. As in, you can peruse our advice on holiday prep, our pointers for entertaining, our tried and true appetizers, and read on for our top tips for food and wine pairings.

The good news about food and wine pairing is that there are some overarching concepts and rules you can abide by.

If you've been following along with the "What Grows Together Goes Together" Instagram Live series with Aida and California wine expert and sommelier Amanda McCrossin on California Grown and California Wines, then you likely already have a few pointers when it comes to food and wine pairings. 

Here are all the top tips in one place for your convenience!

Oysters With Pomegranate Mignonette Granita Recipe

Splurge With A Statement Ingredient 

Yes, we're primarily all about low stress, high-reward entertaining with make-ahead menus and relaxed decor. But the holidays are a time to up the ante with something a little special.

This year, many of us aren't able to do a big holiday gathering, but trust that there is a silver lining. Specifically, you can take that budget and splurge on your small group if you have the means.

Do something that feels decadent, like serving caviar and bubbles, Dungeness crab, or even this Oysters With Pomegranate Mignonette Granita (aka our current obsession). 

Turkey On Table With Holiday Spread By Cara Dolan

Holiday Food And Wine Best Practices 

We could write a book about food and wine pairing best practices, but here is what to keep in mind for the holidays: 

  • Up The Ante With Intensity
    Think of flavors of wines like you do salt in a recipe; you can add more but not less. As in, you can go forward–bigger in taste or texture–with the wines, but you don't want to go more subtle.

    If you start with a Sauvignon Blanc, don't serve a lighter wine like a Pinot Grigio as the flavor would be lost. Instead, turn to a white wine with texture–say an oaked Chardonnay or a Viognier–or open red wine. 
  • Opt For Lower Alcohol Wines
    There are a lot of reasons you want to opt for lower alcohol wines during the holidays. First, high alcohol wines will more quickly lead to palate fatigue (yes, that's a real thing).

    Also, holiday meals tend to be a multi-hour affair, so lower alcohol means people can drink for a long time without getting tipsy. Finally, well, there can be a lot of simmering family drama at a holiday affair, and having extra alcohol will only add heat to the emotional fire. 
  • Don't Decant Or Get Too Chi-chi 
    When it comes to wine, McCrossin says, "I don't love anything too precious during the holidays, and that includes wines and glassware."

    She urges you to save the unique wines for a less hectic occasion and instead opts for quality wines that are crowd-pleasers. That way, you won't need to pull out the decanter or valuable glassware but will still be able to keep everyone happy.  

Wine Pour Cameron Whitman

A Word About Stemware And The Holidays

Amanda's mentality of eschewing all things precious also extends to stemware, and, as such, she advises you to use stemless glassware.  

Side note: stems are great for a cocktail party because they make it easier to hold a plate of food and a wine glass while standing. These Schott Zwiesel Tritan Crystal wine glasses are our go-to's for entertaining because they are high quality, seriously durable, and machine washable.

But stemmed wine glasses are not ideal for a buffet or family-style meal as they will crowd the table and block people's line of sight.

Instead, opt for short quality tumblers -- they're less likely to break and, so long as they have thicker glass, your hand won't heat the wine while you hold them. These are our picks for durable, quality stemless glassware worthy of quality wine: 

Group With Wine Glasses Cheersing By Cara Dolan

California Wines To Serve At To Your Holiday Gathering

As California is the nation's top producer of wine and the world's fourth-largest wine producer, there are a ton of wines to choose from for pairing. The Golden State's varied terroir means more than 100 grape varieties can be grown across the state, leading to diverse styles. So, no matter your preference, there is most likely an excellent wine for you to sip. 

When it comes to wine at holiday gatherings, choose something that's a crowd-pleaser, really food-friendly, and is across the board delicious. Here are a few specific styles McCrossin recommends: 

  • Dry Rosé Sparkling
    Rosé is highly overlooked as a food pairing option, but a lot of food goes well with a dry rosé sparkling. It gives more of an impression of texture and will stand up to dishes better than white sparkling. Translation: you can drink it throughout the meal, from appetizers to the main course.
    Our California Pick: Domaine Carneros Cuvée de la Pompadour Brut Rose
  • Clean And Easy White
    If you want to serve a white, go for something clean, lower alcohol, and ideally screw top (to keep things even easier) like a Sauvignon Blanc. 
    Our California Pick: Dragonette Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc
  • A Versatile Light Bodied Red
    A lighter-bodied, versatile red is the best bet when it comes to turkey, vegetable sides, and all the fixings. Think of a high-quality Grenache, Gamay, or Pinot Noir from Sonoma or Santa Barbara. 
    Our California Pick: Westwood Annadel Gap Pinot Noir

California Inspired Fall Cheese Board

California-Inspired Wine-Friendly Holiday Recipes

Now that you have a starting point, here are some holiday-worthy recipes (many of which we've shared in our Instagram Live series!) that use the top of seasonal flavors and are fabulous paired with wine!

Okay, follow these tips, and you'll have your bases covered for holiday food and wine pairing. Now get your holiday table ready, then share it with us by tagging @saltandwind and #swsociety on social! 


Want to remember these? Save this pin to your Pinterest board so you can access it later! 

Holiday Food Wine Pairing Tips Pinterest Pin

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Photo Credit: Opening photo, turkey photo, and group toasting by Cara Dolan; wine pour by Cameron Whitman; other photos by Team Salt & Wind Travel