Pairing Wine with Holiday Dinners

Uncork a delicious match for dinner, whether turkey, beef, pork or ham is on the menu


Even if our holiday dinners will be smaller this year, it can be a comfort to still enjoy some family-favorite recipes and traditional main course roasts at the dinner table. When selecting wine to pair with these favorites, do you find yourself once again pondering what makes the best match? Whether your meal includes turkey, beef, pork or ham at its center, the following suggestions can help you raise a glass to the season with a pleasing pairing. There are some go-to classic wines, but also selections that may not be top-of-mind that can make delicious matches.

Amarone, the full-flavored and full-bodied Italian red made with a blend of grapes (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara), has a hint of sweetness and will pair nicely with turkey and ham, especially enhanced with cinnamon and clove.

Beaujolais, a lighter French red wine made with the Gamay grape, complements turkey and ham as well as beef.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic match with beef. Some Cabernet-based blends from Argentina and Chile can also offer good, affordable options.

Carmenère, a medium-bodied Chilean wine that has herbaceous qualities similar to Cabernet Franc, pairs well with beef roast.

Champagne and other sparkling wines are good for more than a toast—they complement ham and turkey.

Chardonnay’s buttery character may be a match if turkey is drizzled with buttery juices.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a southern Rhône French red blend dominated by Grenache, is traditionally rich and full-bodied with raspberry flavors and will pair nicely with beef, turkey and ham—plus work well with roasted root vegetables.

Gewürztraminer and Riesling can be good matches with turkey that is accompanied by a fruit-based or sweet sauce. The slightly sweet flavor of ham pairs well with these fruity, light- to medium-bodied whites.

Grenache has a fruitiness that stands up to inherently sweet ham, plus it is a good partner with beef and turkey.

Lambrusco pairs well not only with the turkey, but this slightly sweet Italian wine made from grapes of the same name can complement sweet side dishes such as yams or those family-favorite sweet potatoes topped with mini marshmallows.

Merlot offers a delicious alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon as a partner for beef—and is usually less expensive.

Nero d’Avola, a full-bodied Sicilian wine that is often compared to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, can accompany beef.

Pinot Noir’s balanced acidity and fruit flavors lend to its reputation as one of the most food-friendly reds. It pairs well with beef, turkey and pork. Plus, it can work well for ham served with a mustard sauce.

Rosé is a classic match with ham. Provence, France is noted for highly regarded dry rosé.

Sangiovese, the Italian red grape known by many regional names, is a natural partner with beef. Some wines to look for include Montalcino Rosso, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the highly regarded Brunello di Montalcino.

Tempranillo, a full-bodied and fruity Spanish wine, pairs well with beef. Look for options from the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions.

Zinfandel is a food-friendly homegrown varietal that works nicely with the medley of flavors at holiday meals, whether you are looking for a wine that can work with cranberries and turkey or beef. Often called “America’s heritage grape,” Zinfandel vines have been grown in California since the 1850s.

Want to warm things up?

Mix up some spiced cider or mulled wine, bundle up and head out to the fire pit. Check out recipes here.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.