Christmas and New Year’s main courses are more varied than Thanksgiving and that means a broader range of wine possibilities. Roast beef offers the greatest opportunity for drinking those glorious reds we abstained from on Thanksgiving. For many holiday roast beef means a standing rib roast, a regal piece of meat.
With a rib roast, I’d drink those aged California Cabs Gaither and Brecher liked. From France try reds from Bordeaux, if you like a more elegant style, or Burgundy, which is lighter but can be earthier. Then there are the sturdy Italian reds from Piedmont (Barolo and Barbaresco) and Tuscany (Super Tuscans and Brunello di Montalcino). You could even try an Amarone from the Veneto region. Don’t overlook Shiraz and Shiraz-Cabernet blends from Australia, the Spanish Riojas, and reds from Spain’s Ribera del Duero.
Lamb, especially a crown roast, is another elegant centerpiece for the holidays. If I had to choose one grape variety to go with lamb it would be Syrah especially wines from the northern Rhone of France such as Cote-Rotie, though Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas offer better values. Australian Shiraz and Shiraz-Cabernet blends are also good matches.
With its dark meat and hearty nature, one would think red rather than white wines with goose. And I did like an Haut-Medoc, a Cahors, Madiran, Barbera and a Nebbiolo, though I preferred a peppery Syrah-based St. Joseph. However, to my astonishment and delight, two whites bested all the reds. Condrieu, the famed Rhone white, was rich enough to stand up to the goose and had a spiciness that gave it the sizzle to cut through the fat. A nicely aged (1989) Vouvray was equally luxurious and made up for its lack of spice with bracing acidity. Alsatian Riesling and Pinot Gris are also goose friendly.
I think game is great for the holidays. Game birds, even those with white breasts, demand red wine. For example, with a domesticated pheasant I liked a Gattinara Riserva and cru bourgeois Bordeaux. But my favorite wine was a nicely matured Napa Petite Sirah, which would also be appropriate for venison along with an Italian Barolo or Barbaresco.
Pork roasts were always popular at my house for the holidays. But stay away from pork loins, which can easily dry out. Instead, try a fresh ham, which is richer and juicer. Because it straddles the line between light and dark meat, pork lends itself to a variety of wine pairings. My favorites are two German Rieslings: a rich and fruity Rheingau Spatlese and a crisp Mosel Kabinett. The floral qualities of Viognier and an Alsatian Gewürztraminer also work well with pork. Among reds I like Pinot Noir and a young Spanish Tempranillo.
Many people will be having ham for Christmas or New Years, which presents problems similar to Thanksgiving. The sweet glazes on ham can be as difficult for wine as cranberry sauce and candied yams are for turkey. Ham also has a smoky quality. To contrast the smokiness and any spiciness (like cloves) and to match any sweetness you need soft fruity reds with little tannin like Pinot Noir, off-dry whites like Gewürztraminer, and California sparkling wines. Hard cider is also a good idea.
Have you thrown up your hands in despair and confusion with too many choices? In that case, stick with just one wine for the entire meal, Champagne. It’s festive and refreshing and vintage Champagne has enough gravitas to stand up to red meat. Now that’s a holiday treat.