Christmas Cooking For Dummies
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Planning what wines to serve at your Christmas or Thanksgiving party can be overwhelming. You don’t have to have a personal sommelier at your side to make decisions about matching wine with Christmas food. Holiday foods tend to be rich and full-flavored, so here are a few surefire choices:

  • Beaujolais: This light-bodied red wine is easy to drink; even white wine lovers enjoy it. It has a fruity aroma and pairs perfectly with holiday turkey or pasta dishes. It also works well on a buffet that includes a variety of foods.

    Beaujolais Nouveau is a fresh batch of seven- to nine-week-old wine that’s released every third Thursday of November. (Beaujolais being a French product, the French government controls this date.) Many fans eagerly await this day, because these young wines are at their peak when released. So head to the store around Thanksgiving and grab a few bottles to serve over the holidays.

  • Zinfandel: This California red wine has many fans — so many that it has earned the nickname “Zin.” It is a heavier wine with full flavor and a high alcohol content. (Don’t confuse Zinfandel with White Zinfandel, which is a light, sweet blush wine made from the same grapes.) It works with turkey, ham, roast beef, and any spicy foods you might be serving.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Here’s another red wine with a nickname. When you hear someone speaking of a “Cab,” they may not be talking about hailing a ride. This wine is produced both domestically and as an import from France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, and Chile. Cabernets can be medium- to full-bodied and, while rich, can have fruity overtones. This wine goes well with full-flavored foods such as ham, roast beef, duck, and strong cheeses.

  • Pinot Noir: Another red wine that’s quite flexible and goes with the multiple layers of flavors presented at a holiday table. It is smooth and bright and pairs beautifully with turkey recipes.

  • Pinot Grigio: This Italian white wine is identical to the French Pinot Gris. It is easy to drink, even during the cocktail hour when you may or may not be nibbling. It is clear and refeshing and can cut through many holiday foods.

  • Sauvignon Blanc: This dry white wine is best suited to the holiday’s full-flavored dishes. It is produced all over the world, usually has a light to medium body, and can be quite acidic. It’s a good basic white to offer throughout the season.

  • Dessert wines and liqueurs: This area can even intimidate those who are well versed in the main course reds and whites. Try a port or a Sauternes or ask the wine merchant for something called Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise, which is a very special sweet wine with a wonderful floral flavor. You could also try a clear fruit-based eau de vie, such as blackberry or apple. Offering a dessert wine with, after, or in place of dessert can set your dinner apart from just another meal.

Are you still confused? Then just go to a reputable wine merchant and tell him that you need help. That’s what he’s there for! Explain your menu, and you should be guided to just what you need.

Remember, too, that rules are made to be broken. Many experts drink red wine with fish, which you may have heard is a no-no. Follow your instincts, and serve wines that you enjoy.

Hard cider may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking about what drinks to offer, but its flavor goes beautifully with many holiday foods. Hard cider is sweet cider that has been allowed to ferment. Varieties range from soft and sweet to hard and dry, but any which way, cider’s inherent fruitiness will be a welcome surprise for the adventurous drinkers in the crowd. Try it with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.

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Dede Wilson, CCP, contributes to Bon Appétit and Pastry and Design magazine and to NBC's Todayshow. She is also the Food and Entertaining expert for

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