Wine Advocate Weekend Pairings: Christmas Edition

The Christmas countdown is on, and the hordes have taken to the streets for shopping and general merriment. Holiday prep, too, is in full swing and tablestakes are high. To help ease any woes, or answer any pairing questions you may have, we’ve stepped in to lend a little guidance when it comes to food and drink.

Turkey might be a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner essential for many families, but for some, ham takes center stage. That certainly rings true for Joshua Brown, executive chef and director of operations of one-Michelin-starred restaurant Cut at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

“My mom would usually prepare a smoked honey-baked ham, and she always made fudge, which was one of my favorite things to help her make for Christmas,” says the American chef. His mother’s ham recipe calls for honey, maple syrup, maple sugar, sherry vinegar, pineapple rings and cloves. 

Growing up in the South, honey-baked ham with pineapple was always on the holiday table at Erin Brooks’s grandmother’s house. “And she made it better than anyone, of course,” she poignantly says. “I realize turkey and Gewürztraminer are the classic match, but turkey be damned, my slice of sweet ham and pineapple begs for a Gewürztraminer with all its weight, tropical fruit and just enough sugar lurking in the background. The 2017 Albert Boxler Gewurztraminer Réserve is just what the doctor ordered (grandma might like it, too).”

As for sides, David Kinch, executive chef and owner of three-Michelin-starred Manresa in Los Gatos, California, is “always on potato duty” when it comes to the holidays, often whipping up a gratin Savoyard for the holidays. The French classic, whose recipe is perfect for beginners and can be made in advance, results in a rich and creamy interior and crunchy exterior. 

“Butter, cloves, cheese—am I talking about potato gratin or Chardonnay?,” muses Brooks. “David Kinch's potato Savoyard is the stuff of holiday dreams—after a dish like this, it's promptly time for a nap. Rich, cheesy, creamy potatoes need a wine with equal oomph to stand up to it. A big, rich, full-bodied Chardonnay like the 2016 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge will give those potatoes a run for their money.” 

The Wine Advocate’s managing editor, Joe Czerwinski, also weighs in his pairing suggestions for the main event.. “For savory dishes with sweet elements, like the honey-baked ham, look for wines that have some sweetness, but with crisp acidity to provide balance,” he says. “A kabinett or spätlese Riesling from Germany would certainly do the trick, but you might try something a little different this year by reaching for a similarly styled wine from New Zealand, like the 2017 Felton Road Riesling, the 2017 Fromm Riesling Spatlese or the 2017 Framingham Wine Co Select Riesling. The crisp acids in all of these wines will also help to cut the richness of the potato side dish.”
Photo by Justin Burke.

And no Christmas menu would be complete without some kind of cookie. Elevate your tray game with lemon and thyme shortbread cookies that have been generously dipped in dark chocolate. 

“Switch gears for dessert by pairing a fortified red wine with the dark chocolate,” adds Czerwinski. “Domaine la Soumade in the Southern Rhône makes a Rasteau Vin Doux Natural that's neither too sweet or too alcoholic, and whose herb and chocolate notes will echo the shortbread's dark chocolate and thyme flavors. Either the 2015 or 2016 vintage will work.”

Want to learn more about wine? Follow Robert Parker Wine Advocate on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

More articles from this author