What to serve with that holiday ham… a pinot noir or cabernet franc? Or perhaps a white?

Wine pairing can seem daunting, it’s true. But when you get right down to it, it’s relatively straightforward. You just need a few rules of thumb to follow as far as which types of grapes bring out the best in which types of food.

For example, generally speaking, you want to match intense flavors with intense wines; sweet foods with sweet wines; and use off-dry wines to tame heat (spice). The main goal is to complement, not overwhelm—to contrast and accentuate flavors.

We consulted the experts to create this mini-guide:

Wine pairing made simple


Juicy red meat (and lamb and pork chops) requires something with a backbone—in other words, a substantive cabernet sauvignon red from California with nice tannins. Also ideal is a French Bordeaux or a Bordeaux blend.


Try a crisp riesling white to offset the sometimes dry main event. Another option is a light pinot noir red with juicy berry flavors.


If you’re cooking something nicely salty, such as poultry or Asian noodles, a dry sparkling white is the way to go. Try a dry Champagne or Spanish cava. 


If you’re serving a fatty fish, such as salmon, or rich seafood a la prawns, consider a Chilean, Californian, or Australian (oaked) Chardonnay. This buttery white also goes well with cream sauces, scallops, chicken, and veal. 


Anything with mushrooms, truffles, say, a roasted beet salad and such, go nicely with a light-bodied red, such as pinot noir. An Oregon or Washington state label, or central California coast, is optimal.


Seafood salad with a lemon vinaigrette? Garlic-crusted pork? Cilantro-spiked fish tacos? Choose a grassy sauvignon blanc. But for a light seafood entrée, go with a more delicate white—French chablis or Italian pinot grigio.


Rich and gooey lasagna or mac ‘n cheese marries well with a dry rosé. Try French or Spanish.


If it’s BBQ wings you’re making or jerk chicken, select an Argentine Malbec red, shiraz from Australia or Côtes-du-Rhône from France to stand up to the spice.


Asian cuisine (Chinese, Thai) and Indian curry dishes taste fabulous with an off-dry Riesling or German Gewürztraminer that can temper the heat; also pork and smoked meats, including ham.

Euro/Old World

In general, match a Euro dish with a Euro wine—so, a Tuscan entrée (pappardelle pasta) with a Tuscan wine (chianti).

Fruit dessert

Cobbler or pie? To play up the fruit, pair it with a semi-sweet sparkling Moscato or Champagne.

And now, to answer our initial question… did you already guess it? A traditional maple-glazed baked ham goes best with a Gewürztraminer, the pros say. Happy feasting!