Sommelier Roundtable: Favorite Pairings for Holiday Roasts and Ham

For the festive classics of the season, 11 wine pros try everything from aged California Cabernet to an unusual Burgundy-style blend

Sommelier Roundtable: Favorite Pairings for Holiday Roasts and Ham
For roast beef, you can go with Burgundy, Brunello, Bierzo or beyond. (iStockPhoto)
Dec 13, 2019

There's still plenty of wining and dining with family and friends to look forward to this year, and if you're planning on dressing up roast beef or ham, it's sure to be a highlight of the holiday table. These are traditional dishes, but we asked 11 somms from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners if they demand classic wine pairings—or if you can spice it up a little.

Want more suggestions for holiday pairings, including tips for roast beef feasts and party sparklers? Pick up a copy of our Nov. 30 issue and check out "Sommeliers Pair the Holidays."


Wine Spectator: What would you pour with the holiday table centerpiece, roast beef?


Joo Lee, wine director at Grand Award winner Saison in San Francisco

I personally like younger, more fruitful reds with roast beef. [Jean-Paul] Jamet is one of the top producers from Côte-Rôtie, and as much body and depth as his wines have, they still drink wonderfully in their youth.


Rebecca Kirhoffer, co-owner and wine director of Award of Excellence winner Rebeccas, in Greenwich, Conn.

A great bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin or Morey-Saint-Denis would be a great choice. I fell in love with the wines from Marchand-Tawse a number of years back. Paul Marchand, a fine winemaker, and a Canadian man named [Moray] Tawse partnered up and bought a parcel in Burgundy, Domaine Maume. What those two gentleman and the land produced—simply amazing wines.


Gretchen Thomas, vice president of food and beverage innovations at Barcelona Wine Bar, with 15 Restaurant Award winners

Roast beef doesn't tend to be very fatty. It's relatively mild for beef dishes, as opposed to something like a full-fat rib eye you might always think has to go with something with full tannins. But for roast beef, where you're sort of an in-betweener? To play the Spain side of what I do, I'd recommend Mencía wines, which have a very good flavor link to the Rhône Valley. Anything from Bierzo or Ribeira Sacra—we're talking 13.5 percent alcohol, lots of blackberry and blueberry notes in the wine, a little bit of rosemary earthiness, but super-soft tannins, super-easy drinking.


Wendy Heilmann, wine director at Pebble Beach Resorts and its four Restaurant Award winners, in Pebble Beach, Calif.

The fattier the cut, the more tannins you'll want to cut through that. So look to a younger Barolo or Napa Cabernet for your ideal roast beef pairing. If it's a leaner cut, a softer red would be in order. The first wine that comes to mind is an older Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon. I was fortunate to get to try a bottle of 2009 recently, and from the moment I put my nose in the glass I knew it was going to be magical. The tannins were softened but present, the fruit was still primary but just starting to get a little dusty, and the acid level was just perfect.


Jill Gubesch, wine director at Award of Excellence winner Frontera Grill/Topolobampo in Chicago

Grenache-based blends such as the Famille Perrin Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards can hold up to the richness of the roast beef and work with many of the dried herbs and spices used in the prep. [As far as] aged or younger vintage: Either or both! I think it’s fun to show two different vintages of the same wine or wine style. Even if your group isn’t necessarily wine-savvy, it’s not lost on anyone.


Cedric Nicaise, wine director at Grand Award winner Eleven Madison Park in New York

With roast beef, an older Rioja would be great. I love Imperial from Cune, the older the better. These wines seem to be ageless.


Rafael Sanchez, beverage director at Grand Award winner Addison in San Diego

An aged Bordeaux would be my preference. Something like a 2007 Mouton-Rothschild or a 1982 Château Poujeaux. The latter is actually quite affordable, even with its vintage.


Carrie Lyn Strong, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Casa Lever in New York

Back-vintage Brunello di Montalcino, like Altesino, Lisini or Il Paradiso di Manfredi. Old World styles of Brunello pair perfectly with this traditional beast.


Jake Lewis, beverage director of the New York–based Momofuku Group, with seven Restaurant Award winners

When we start getting into roast beef, I like to start bringing out the big guns. It's such a show to do roast beef, and the wine should be able to share the stage. Aged California Cabernet all the way. Corison Kronos Vineyard from about 10 years ago or so would be my move. It's not old enough that the tannins and fruit have faded too much to stand up to the beef, and the fruit is still popping while starting to show some secondary characteristics.


Wine Spectator: What would you pour with that other classic holiday staple, ham?


Ryan Bailey, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner NoMad Los Angeles

Gros Ventre High Country Red 2018 from El Dorado would be ideal for ham. Winemaker Chris Pittenger took inspiration from the classic Burgundy style of Passe-Tout-Grains, blending 55 percent Pinot Noir and 45 percent Gamay to create a wine that is incredibly food-friendly. Ham is savory but kind of sweet at the same time, so a wine that is very versatile is key.


Elizabeth Kelso, beverage director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Craft Los Angeles

I am currently traveling in Germany and have been enjoying German Pinot Noirs immensely with the pork-heavy cuisine here. They tend to express a red and black bramble fruit character that combats richness, and have a smoky, earthy aspect that is a natural fit for ham.


Carrie Lyn Strong, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Casa Lever in New York

Bergström Sigrid Chardonnay from Willamette Valley in Oregon expresses beautiful flavors of green apple and Anjou pear with a light creaminess and a crisp, crackly mineral finish, the perfect pairing for this salty, fatty porcine goodness.


Jill Gubesch, wine director at Award of Excellence winner Frontera Grill/Topolobampo in Chicago

Cru Beaujolais, to balance the saltiness. Our family serves the ham with a tomato gravy, so it works great with Fleurie such as the Anne-Sophie Dubois Les Cocottes Fleurie.


Rafael Sanchez, beverage director at Grand Award winner Addison in San Diego

A younger Pinot Noir from the New World. I love the Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate 2015. Juicy, ripe fruit with great acidity goes well with pork of any kind.


Wendy Heilmann, wine director at Pebble Beach Resorts and its four Restaurant Award winners, in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Ham can be so salty that you need something light and lifted to cleanse the palate. I’d look to rosé (which I do a lot), or a lighter red wine like Beaujolais.


Joo Lee, wine director at Grand Award winner Saison in San Francisco

I know some people might disagree with me on this, but I really do prefer to have white wine with ham. Holiday hams have some sweetness to them, which can really strip away the fruit that red wine has to offer on the palate. Whites that have seen some oak, that are richer and fruitier, can really make an impression with holiday hams. Grange des Pères Blanc and Trévallon Blanc are some of my favorite richer-style white wines outside of Burgundy that are often overlooked. These wines can complement not only holiday ham but pork, poultry and other meats that wouldn’t mind spending some time with white or red. If you can find these wines with age, get them. They can be a real delight.


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