Wine Pairings for Your Northwest Holiday Feast

by Cole Danehower | Photo © Chehalem/Shawn Linehan and © L’Ecole No 41

How do you pair Northwest wines with Northwest foods to make your holiday feasting its festive best? To help, I offer my first rule of holiday food and wine pairing: Relax—it’s hard to go really wrong. My second rule should reduce your stress further: Rely on the tried and true. Many have successfully trod down the holiday pairing path before you. 

Let’s start with the most common centerpiece of American holiday tables: turkey.

Turkey has a mild flavor; a bold wine would overwhelm it. The tart cherry fruit and earthy qualities of Oregon pinot noir complement the gentle qualities of turkey. Similarly, the fruitiness of pinot noir complements the savory qualities of traditional turkey accompaniments such as wild rice, herb stuffing and fresh mushrooms.

Pairing Proposal: Roasted free-range turkey from Provenance Farm (Philomath, Oregon; provenancefarm.com) paired with Adelsheim, 2010 Pinot Noir, Elizabeth’s Reserve, Willamette Valley AVA (adelsheim.com).

The Northwest is also perfect for another classic pairing: cabernet sauvignon and roast beef. Eastern Washington is home to some of the best, big, bold red wines in the country, wines made for a holiday roast—especially from eastern Washington beef. The dark and plummy fruit of a Washington cabernet sauvignon—or a Bordeaux-style blend that includes cabernet—accentuates beefy flavors, while robust tannins help cut the meat’s fat.

Pairing Proposal: Grass-fed chuck roast from Lostine Cattle Company in Walla Walla, Washington (lostinecattlecompany.com) paired with L’Ecole No. 41, 2010 Estate Perigee, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla AVA (lecole.com).

Oysters are another traditional holiday food, and few places grow them as well as the Northwest. The buttery texture and brine-accented creamy flavors beg for a bright, fresh, citrus-tinged Northwest white wine. A steely dry, no-oak chardonnay offers lively acidity and minerality for a satisfying contrast to the oyster’s mellow succulence. Similarly, a bone-dry riesling or a steel-fermented pinot blanc make a delicious match.

Pairing Proposal: Fresh-shucked Kumamoto oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Washington (taylorshellfishfarms.com) paired with Chehalem, 2011 Chardonnay INOX, Willamette Valley AVA (chehalemwines.com).

A wonderful baked ham rounds out the time-honored holiday protein line-up. The salt/sweet dichotomy in many ham preparations automatically limits your wine choices when you realize that salt accentuates the perception of both alcohol and tannin. Look to lighter-bodied, off-dry whites and rosés for the best balance.

Pairing Proposal: An old-fashioned bone-in baked ham from Carlton Farms, Carlton, Oregon (carltonfarms.com) paired with Brooks, 2010 Riesling, Ara, Willamette Valley AVA (brookswine.com).

One of the season’s delights is the variety of desserts on offer. Think apple, pumpkin or mincemeat pie, English trifle, a steamed pudding, cheeses and nuts, or Buche de Noël. Fruit-based desserts are best matched to a sweeter wine that displays abundant fruitiness of its own; a British Columbia or Washington ice wine, or an Idaho late harvest riesling would fit the bill. Desserts with a savory element, like cheese and nuts, or rich chocolate desserts successfully pair with port-style wine or sherry.

Pairing Proposal: A homemade, like-Grandma-baked-it, Washington apple pie with a slice of Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese (tillamook.com) on top, paired with Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Eroica Ice Wine (ste-michelle.com).

Here’s a final holiday wine-pairing tip: When in doubt, go sparkling! From appetizers to main course and even dessert, the bright, bubbly freshness of Northwest sparkling wine (never call it Champagne: it doesn’t come from France) works in almost any food-paring scenario.

Pairing Proposal: Try Argyle 2009 Blanc de blancs, Willamette Valley (argylewinery.com) or Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut (domaine-ste-michelle.com) with anything.

With a little thought and paying attention to using the best ingredients possible, you’ll come up with a pairing your family and holiday guests will love.

Suggested Northwest Wine Styles Holiday Food Pairings
Willamette Valley pinot noir Turkey, wild salmon, wild mushrooms, wild rice, pork, quail, pheasant, guinea hen
Columbia Valley cabernet sauvignon or Bordeaux-style red blend Roast beef, short ribs, beef daube, grilled vegetables, lamb
Columbia Valley or Southern Oregon merlot Pork tenderloin, elk tenderloin, venison steaks, pheasant, lamb, berries, rice
Dry riesling, unoaked chardonnay Oysters, halibut, crab, chicken, cheeses
Fruity riesling, oaked chardonnay Chicken, halibut, scalloped potatoes, lobster, prawns
Light-bodied white or rosé Ham
Port-style wine Fruit, nuts, rich chocolate desserts
Ice wine Sweet desserts