4 New Rules for Winning the Holiday Wine Pairing Game
Do away with imposter syndrome this season and pair like a pro, brought to you in collaboration with JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery.
December 1, 2017 ● 4 min read
By Lauren Friel | Illustrations by Courtney Moy
Well, it’s happening again. The holidays cometh.
‘Tis the season for joy, feasting, boozing (responsibly, of course), and worrying about your friends and family judging your culinary prowess. And while we can’t teach you how to not overcook your holiday roast again this year, we can provide you with the latest and greatest in wine pairing intel (including what to drink with that roast). Read on for all the best advice on breaking the rules (and making new ones), winning the dinner party, and achieving general greatness in all things vino-related.
Rule #1: Red Blends Forever and Ever
Where my party people at? For real, though. Are you going to a party? Do you have no idea what to bring, what they’re cooking, or what they like? What if they’re roasting a whole pig? What if it’s just pizza? How well do you know these people, anyway? What if they’re wine snobs? Stop panicking. The red blend is here to save the day/your life.
Originating out of the age-old quest to build the most balanced wine possible, red blends (wines made from more than one grape variety) have been around forever (like, thousands of years forever). Some of the world’s most famous wines—like Bordeaux and Chianti— are your classical blends, and they’ve been getting a lot of love from the wine world recently. Why? Red blends give the ultimate bang for your buck; by virtue of their production methods, winemakers are basically able to build the perfect wine (rather than having to rely on a single variety to do everything). When hunting for red blends, you’ll find all kinds of balance and finesse.
But the real benefit that a red blend brings to the table is versatility, which is why it’s the ultimate solution to your “What am I even doing?” pre-party freak-outs. Red blends are often fruit-driven, but not jammy; structured, but not aggressive, and maybe sees some oak, but not too much. A red blend is the 90s R&B of the wine world: even a bunch of strangers at a dinner party are guaranteed to agree that it’s just so good.
Not sure where to start? Try JUSTIN’s JUSTIFICATION, a blend of merlot and cabernet franc that’ll blow your dad’s Bordeaux out of the water without breaking the bank. JUSTIFICATION is all about deep red fruit, wild herbs, and warm spices, and it's as versatile as the dinner party is long. Bring two bottles. Trust.
Rule #2: Veg & Red on the Reg
Repeat after me: I am allowed to drink red wine with vegetables.
Red wine lovers, consider yourselves freed from your erroneous vegetable-offending existence. You’ve been wrongfully relegated to the meat-only areas of the menu for far too long. Welcome home. Have some kale.
Seriously, though. The idea that vegetables or vegetarian food can only be drunk with the shrinking violets of the wine sphere so as not to disturb the delicate expression of your roughage is so over. Perhaps this is a holdover from the time when the American vegetable diet consisted mainly of canned green beans and creamed corn. But salt-roasted beets? Radicchio a la plancha? Grilled cauliflower? Today’s veggies are bold, flexible centerpieces, and so are red wines.
Get this: some vegetables are actually better with red wine. I give you eggplant, for example. Slather it in olive oil, grill it up, and kick back with a glass of negroamaro. You are now living your best life. If you dig that, seek out Sicilian darling nerello mascalese or lovely Loire Valley cabernet franc.
Rule #3: Consider The Orange
Behold, the answer to (almost) all of your pairing quandaries: Orange wine.
Orange wines are not made from oranges, but are the delicious result of white grapes being handled via methods usually employed during red wine production; extended skin contact and micro-oxygenation yield a wine that’s orange-hued, slightly tannic, and full of rustic, complex aromatics. They’re white wines for red wine drinkers, and just crazy-awesome wines for everyone else. They also pair with nearly everything (especially turducken), thanks to their balance of structure and complexity. (And even though orange wines date back to thousands of years, they’re the darling of wine hipsters the world over right now, so the cool factor is high.) Try these heady wines with pork, curries, and hearty vegetarian fare, and look to regions like Italy’s Friuli or Sicily for super old-school expressions.
Rule #4: When in doubt, bubbles work too.
Like we have to tell you this one twice. Here’s a sommelier secret: Sparkling wine goes with everything, one hundred percent of the time. Its naturally high acidity and fresh fizz mean it’s the ultimate palate refresher, offering versatility with every sip. Fish? Bubbles. Steak? Bubbles. Dance party with a bag of pretzels? Bubbles.
Don’t feel like you have to save the bubbles for the oysters—drink that good bub all night long. While you’re at it, ditch your prosecco for something unexpected, like a sparkling riesling or bottle-fermented pét-nat. Or, get fancy with the food-loving bubbles from the Aube, Champagne’s lesser-known, southern half.
Bam. You’re now armed with enough super-secret wine knowledge to totally impress your friends and family (even your brother’s girlfriend, Beth, who went to culinary school in Paris and will not let you forget it). Office holiday soiree? Done. Dinner with oh-so-cool neighbors you totally want to be friends with? Nailed it. Party with your vegetarian brother and his vegan friends? No problemo.
Go forth, wine lovers, and drink well.
Lauren Friel is an award-winning wine director and freelance writer living in Boston.