Has Holiday Wine Pairing Jumped The Shark? (Have Your Say For A Chance To Win A Wine Soiree!)

Vinted on March 15, 2011 binned in commentary, giveaways, holidays

Is the holiday wine pairing idea totally over-and-done?  Did it, in fact,  jump the shark full-on in Arthur Fonzarelli leather jacket and scarf? Is it deader than Aunt Martha’s Christmas fruitcake?

You’re probably thinking “Why dredge up this topic when we’re between holidays?”  Great question, sir (or madam… or whatever…).  I mean, I’m sure as hell not going into a St. Patrick’s Day wine pairing here (that’s my birthday anyway, so for me the pairing will be “the best and most exclusive vino I can get my grubby little hands on, and if at all possible in large quantities and preferably on someone else’s tab.”).

You see, it is precisely because we’re between holidays – removed from the craziness, glass in hand (hopefully), and welcoming (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway) the onset of Spring – that I want to breach this topic.  We are chill right now.  We are rational.  We don’t have the specter of holiday stress and deadlines looming over our heads like a f*cking Sword of Damocles.  We put on the relaxation tape, take a sip, and chill out. Feel ze tension leeeeving yer boudee…

That was nice.  Ok – I’m an anal-retentive East Coaster so the 30 seconds of relaxation I’ve allowed everyone is officially over.  Now that we’re chill… let’s get all riled up again, shall we?

Seems to me that one of the trendiest things for wine geeks to do over the last couple of years is to declare the death of many a stalwart wine practice, and the wine + holiday pairing is one of the items in the wine geek sniper cross-hairs.

Where do you stand on holiday wine pairing recommendations?  Shout it out in the comments – and on March 22 I will randomly select a commenter to win a Wine Soiree aerator (about a $25 value)! To learn more about the Wine Soiree, check out my review from 2008.  Please note that Wine Soiree has no affiliation with this post idea, I just happen to have an extra one and feel like having another giveaway!

But before you get commentin’, let’s look at both sides of the story…

On the one hand, if there ever was a zombie of a wine topic, it’s holiday pairings. The recent arguments against them look something like this: Randomly select any ten holiday wine pairing articles, and they’ll often seem as though they’re following a template more predictable than a California vintage report on a wine’s back-label (don’t even get us started on regional vintage reports, which probably deserve the same, if not more, focus of wine geek ire). Personal preference trumps any “pairing” idea any day of the week, so why bother?

On the other hand, holidays are stressful, and people want help with a complex subject (wine) so that they have one less thing to have to worry about during those hectic times. It was wine writer and generally-awesome-perpetually-clad-in-black-fellow Eric Asimov who once told me that many, many people want holiday wine pairing recommendations (emphasis is mine): “if the articles are boring or routine, then it’s our fault as wine writers; it’s our job to make wine and holiday pairings interesting for readers.”  Tough to argue with Eric (though that hasn’t stopped me in the past, because I’m pig-headed).

My personal view is that while I find most holiday wine pairings to be rote, that’s no different than any other writing on annual topics. I’m a big fan of giving people what they want and as long as they want holiday wine pairing ideas and tips, the challenge is in trying to present the topic in fresh, entertaining and interesting ways.  I leave it to everyone out there in wine blog-o-land to decide how successful I am at that.  I figure the worst that can happen with those pairing articles is that a few peeps get turned on to a wine region, brand or style that they haven’t tried before, and that’s never, ever a bad thing in the wine world.

Where do YOU stand on wine & holiday pairings?  Shout it out for a chance to win!






  • Aaron

    Holidays are really difficult because inevitably you have disparate people and disparate food all at the same table. On top of that, even the most stalwart spirit/beer drinkers or even teetotalers feel like wine is a must-have. So you've got dishes that don't lend themselves to easy pairings along with people who could, in all honesty, care less about wine. I say let the wine geeks bring what they want and let everyone else realize that they don't have to drink or care about wine just because they feel like they should.

    Also, I think wine/holiday pairings emphasize too much that wine is for special occasions and a luxury, furthering its mystification and pseudo-sophistication. Wine should be an everyday beverage and wine writing should emphasize that. Let's write more about which wines work well for Tuesday night hot dogs and less about what magical (non-existent?) wine can be drunk with poultry, ham, cranberries, potatoes, mac and cheese and god knows what else all on the same plate.

    • 1WineDude

      All very true, Aaron.  Which I suppose makes it even more difficult to write about the subject without entering the same old trite territory every time!

  • Steve Heimoff

    Once again, Dude, you have identified the two hands of this issue (and most issues have at least two hands) and schizoidally managed to irresolutely side with none of them…or was it both of them? Whatever. You have recognized that magazines and newspapers publish holiday pairing articles because (a) the public likes them, or perhaps it's (b) because publishers believe the public likes them. So the real issue is not holiday pairing articles, it is: How does a publisher know what her readers really want? This is a more difficult challenge than you might think, especially if you do not actually work for a publisher, or with senior editors (as I think is your case). Without detailed information on your readers, it's often little more than a guessing game concerning what gives them pleasure. There is thus a tendency for publications to (a) repeat themes that have been successful in the past and (b) be somewhat conservative by maintaining the same format. Holiday pairing articles illustrate both these conditions. Besides, my own guesstimate is that, however much you and I find such articles boringly repetitious, we are not the average readers of wine publications. It's likely that the average readers find more value in holiday pairing articles than we do.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Steve – it's not a failure to pick a side, it's a failure on my part to clearly communicate the side I've chosen.  But it seemed fairly clear to me when I wrote it (now, if you're commenting before reading the entire post… shame on you!!! :-).I think the articles do  serve a purpose, and as long as readers want them I will write them and take it upon myself to make them offbeat and entertaining enough that they're not recycled garbage.  As for ascertaining what readers want – well, I have the advantage on the blog of being able to ask them (almost) directly! :)

  • Karin McKercher

    Having been a newspaper editor at one point in my life, and being somewhat (ha!) the contrarian, I might suggest that we get annual holiday pairing articles because it's easier to recycle old "news" than it is to come up with something that's brilliant and new.

    Personally, I believe that, because the holidays are indeed stressful, that the best pairing is anything and in copious quantities. Champagne? Yes. Anything with pretty bubbles? Por supuesto. White? It might be a little chilly, but what the hell. Mom's driving me crazy. Yes, please. Two. One for each hand. Rosé? Duh! Did I mention I was a contrarian? Red? Preferably lots before I sit down to that ghastly dinner that Aunt Susie has "cooked" up.

    But I'm really only weighing in because I want that *?*&! soiree, and I never win anything!

  • Joe Herrig

    Building off Steve's comments, why doesn't a publication (or blog, or whatever) start collating as many reader questions and concerns about holiday pairings BEFORE said holidays and use that as a baseline to come up with wine selections. Maybe it's already been done, but asking the consumer is a surprisingly effective way to determine what he wants. That being said, surveying does cost money, and why should we spend money when we can assume we know what the customer wants? Maybe it turns out a publication needs to do holiday pairings 101, 201, 301- based on the level of expertise, geekiness, etc. of the strata of audience. That being said, I already have a Soiree, so if this is the winning comment, you can donate it to less-fortunate winos who are currently suffering with tight-nosed wines straight from the bottle. :)

  • Willybuoy

    Knowing what your audience wants and always giving it to them is, IMHO, not the answer. No matter what the topic, I am most moved, excited, challenged and motivated by writing that comes at me from a perspective I never would have considered or asked for, whether it be a unique subject, a unique take on that subject or a uniquely beautiful way of expressing a view. Don't ask me what I want, challenge me to broaden my horizon by shifting my paradigm altogether.

    For a writer to fully reach their potential, they must be connected with and committed to what they have chosen to say in any given post. So choose your objective honestly, do your best to achieve it, and hope that it is of value to your audience. If holiday wine pairing can be easily acommodated within an objective you are passionate about, then great. If not, move on. I can always go to a zillion other places to get pairings, pedestrian or otherwise, and I would hate to miss out on what might have been a great post while you chased pairings because your audience might want them.

    The pairing that can be named is not the eternal pairing.

  • Juice

    I like reading holiday wine pairing articles because it might give me a tip on a new wine that I might not have heard of previously….just like any other wine recommendation article. I may or may not use it during the holidays, but if something sounds interesting to me, it will definitely be in my cellar for future consumption. The difference is that the holiday pairing articles usually offer a few more wines that one might not review or reccomend on a regular tuesday or wednesday because its the holidays afterall and we are more likely to splurge on a bottle that we are so proud of that we will even talk to Rye (the dog) about the virtues and organoleptic qualities that this wine is supposed to have….No 100 point scale here, Rye growls at me whenever I mention WS or RP scores. Anyways holiday pairing articles are just as worthy as any other article if it concentrates on the wine and the food and offers a good commentary on them so that the readers may make an informed decison for themselves. Cheers and Happy birthday and St-Patty's day! My reccomendation for your birthday wine would be a bottle of 2001 Poggio Al Vento Col d'Orcia Riserva Brunello. Enjoy!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Juice!  I like the dog system…!  :)

  • Willybuoy


  • tom barras

    If someone needs advice for a holiday wine pairing, one wonders how that poor soul survives the balance of the drinking-year? A "Recommended wine pairings available on request" post would sort out the crowd.

  • WineguysTV

    Never assume!!! Give everyone what they want.. Wine, Articles, Blogs. Pairings…and give it to them again. Like we say at http://www.Milehighwineandspirits.com … each person that walks thru the door is different, even our best customer is different each time… We are here to please them and make the happy : )

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, WineGuys.  I'm not always a fan of being all things to all peeps, but certainly paying attention to changing needs in your audience is very important!

  • Michael

    I don't mind the wine pairing articles precisely because of the stress of the holidays. I drink a fair amount of wine during the year (more than a used to, not as much as I would like to) and I don't mind experimenting. It's not like I try to make bad or odd wine/food pairings during the year, but if the wine is good I can appreciate it, even if it doesn't go particularly well with a particular meal; I'll just use it as a learning experience. I often don't mind that challenge, including trying to describe what it is about the wine, or the food that makes it a mismatch so I can learn more about each.

    With 17 other people around the table, I'm not so much interested in experimenting, challenging myself, or challenging others. I want something that I hope most of the guests will agree is delicious and compliments the meal and the gathering. (And I want the turkey to be moist.) I am happy to receive whatever suggestions I can get. (For example, this past Thanksgiving several sources recommended 2009 cru Beaujolais. I went with it and the wines and parings were home runs.)

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Michael!

  • Franci

    I agree wine pairings are a bit stressful around the holidays!

    • 1WineDude

      Franci – I think so too! :)

  • onegreatsmile

    An article on MSNBC today highlighted "8 Questions you should ask a sommelier"
    My favorite? Ask what wines go with the food you've ordered.
    There's your answer!!!!!

    Holidays are no different, except that maybe you need to have a few extra selections for whiteys who don't drink white and visa versa. I think holiday pairing is over-rated. Just match it to the food. Wine is wine, and holidays are just an excuse to raise prices, most of the time (think Flowers on Valentine's Day, Chocolate on Easter, BBQ supplies on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and 4th of July, etc)………….. my 2 Cents.

    • onegreatsmile

      oops I meant whiteys who don't drink Red, that was a wine-related reference~~~ not a racist rant !!!

    • 1WineDude

      :)  Thanks, smile!

  • carinne

    You may have already picked a winner but still – my favorite thing to do is bring local wine. My family is from all across the country… It's amazing what we all bring to the table. We even have the "cheap seats" – and sometimes the surprise $6 bottle of wine on sale at someone's store is the biggest surprise.

    • carinne

      oh! and to answer the question – I'll read the article, but usually I do what I want anyway.

      • carinne

        one more time, happy birthday. okay done.

        • 1WineDude

          Thanks, Carinne! :)

          BTW, GREAT idea to bring something local and make the dinner a tasting event of new things; love it!

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