Easter is one of the many annual occasions when our family gets together around the table to share and celebrate. It’s one of my favorites because it is a day of reflection joined with the welcomed excitement of spring, not to mention the well-thought out menu followed by something chocolate. But if your menu is like our family’s, it is not straightforward with just a ham as the main course. In our family, we enjoy a buffet ranging from deviled eggs to banana pudding, and that’s a lot to ask from a single wine.
Rather than focusing on the main entree for these feasts, it’s best finding wines known to play well with all types of foods. The key is food friendly wines capable of standing up to a range of flavors and textures.
For red wine lovers, bigger is not better when it comes to friendly food pairing at the Easter table. Save the high alcohol, tannic wines for the barbecue next week. Wines with high tannin will overpower most foods, so a more fruit forward, lighter bodied wine is a better choice. Think barbera, merlot, pinot noir, gamay and fruity ripe blends.
- 2014 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Village, France (about $14 retail)
- 2012 Chateau Blaignan Bordeaux, France (about $21 retail)
If you are joining me on Easter you are guaranteed to find dry rose wines gracing my table. Whether it be brunch, lunch or dinner, I can’t emphasize enough how well they match with almost every food imaginable. The key to the perfect rose for food pairing is ensuring it’s a dry style and not sweet.
- 2015 La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux Rose, France (about $14 retail)
- 2014 Hogwash Rose, California (about $18 retail)
Sparkling is another reliable wine able to complement practically any food, from appetizers and entrees to desserts. I use sparkling wines to mix for mimosas at a brunch and as the single wine for buffet service. It’s also wonderful for Easter menus because it always brings a celebratory feel to the occasion, so even if you just begin the meal with a glass for a family toast it’s a special touch.
- NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain (about $13 retail)
- NV Gloria Ferrer Brut Sparkling Wine, California (about $32 retail)
Ham at Easter dinner is a common tradition the world over, and the American table is no exception. However, ham tends to be a tricky match for wine. Cooks in many parts of the world, particularly those who have been curing ham and making wine for centuries, have mastered this task. Prosciutto, jamon and presunto — with their straightforward smoky, salty flavors — are not frequently mismatched at Easter tables in Italy, Spain and Portugal.
It’s primarily at the American table that things get complicated. When you add ingredients such as honey and cloves, or serve a ham with a brown sugar-pineapple glaze, the once salty ham becomes a salty-sweet canvas of conflicting flavors. The wrong wine pairing will result in competing flavors and aromas that can accentuate bitterness and tannins found in wine.
Look for light red wine without overpowering tannins and white wine without searing acidity. A few of the best matches are merlot, pinot noir, rose, Riesling, gruner veltliner, Beaujolais and Chablis.
- 2010 Cline Cool Climate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, California (about $15 retail)
- 2009 Oriel Or tolan Falkenstein Gruner Veltliner, Austria (about $25 retail)
- 2010 Hogue Cellars Genesis Riesling, Washington (about $14 retail)
- 2010 Georges Duboeuf Chateau de Vierres Beaujolais Villages, France (about $15 retail)
- 2009 Bell Wine Cellars Yountville Merlot, California (about $36 retail)
- 2009 Jean Marc Brocard Monte de Tonnerre Chablis, France (about $44 retail)
- NV Delamotte Brut Rose Champagne, France (about $99 retail)
- 2009 Presqu’ile Vineyards Pinot Noir, California (about $64 retail)
Easter celebration menus and gatherings can range from casual brunches and buffets to sit-down meals and “just desserts” egg hunts. Regardless of the setting, there’s a wine to fit almost any celebration.
Brunch: Champagne, rose, pinot grigio, Riesling, chardonnay
The charm of brunch lies in its leisurely approach in bridging the festive day activities from breakfast to well past lunch. Consider wines with the same style as your menu. If you are serving quiche and fruit then Champagne or light white wine would be ideal, but carved ham will require a more full-bodied white or rose.
- 2009 Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling, Oregon (about $13 retail)
- NV Iron Horse Classic Brut, California (about $44 retail)
Seated lunch or dinner: pinot noir, merlot, tempranillo, beaujolais, gruner veltliner, chenin blanc, pinot gris
In most homes the traditional Easter ham generally commands the attention of the main course. Light reds without overpowering tannins or whites without searing acidity are natural pairings with hams covered in sweet, spice and salt.
- 2009 Mirassou Winery Pinot Noir, California (about $12 retail)
- 2009 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner, Austria (about $21 retail)
Buffet: rose, merlot, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, Riesling
The buffet still offers the least stress and easiest way to serve guests. And you must admit, there’s something about the table laden with dishes that always creates a feeling of celebration. Serve a wine with the ability to stand up to the assortment of textures and tastes.
- 2009 Yalumba Y Series Merlot, Australia (about $14 retail)
- 2010 Turkey Flat Rose, Australia (about $24 retail)
Easter Egg Hunts and Chocolate: Moscato d’Asti, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, port
Of course even chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks have a wine pairing. But for those looking for a more refined chocolate match, keep in mind lighter chocolates pair best with light-bodied wines while full-bodied wines are best with robust darker chocolates. For example, the delicate Moscato d’Asti competes perfectly with the mellow butter flavors in many white chocolates, while cabernet sauvignon blends into perfection with full-bodied dark chocolate.
- 2009 Monte Maria Moscato d’Asti, Italy (about $12 retail)
- 2009 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $45 retail)
The Easter dinner is an annual feast rivaled only by Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most foods gracing the celebration vary from home to home but likely offer an array of tastes and textures. A traditional Easter menu often centers on either a savory baked ham or a succulent leg of lamb.
Ham is usually prepared with a sweet glaze, balancing the saltiness of the cured meat. These competing salt and sugar tastes can easily accentuate bitterness and tannins found in some wines. Choose red wines without over-powering tannins and white wines without searing acidity. A few to consider are merlot, pinot noir, tempranillo, Riesling, gruner veltliner, chenin blanc or chardonnay.
- 2008 Clean Slate Riesling, Germany (about $13 retail)
- 2008 Lindemans Bin 77 Semillon Chardonnay, Australia (about $10 retail)
- 2007 Marques de Riscal Tempranillo, Spain (about $13 retail)
- 2007 Concannon Pinot Noir, California (about $12 retail)
- 2008 Spann Vineyards Chardonnay-Viognier, California (about $20 retail)
- 2007 Gloria Ferrer Etesian Pinot Noir, California (about $19 retail)
Lamb offers its own challenges. Simple, lightly seasoned preparations pair easily with pinot noir and its light-bodied style.
But lamb recipes involving heavy spices or sauces can create a rich, robust and earthy taste.
The richer dish pairs well with a wine of good tannin structure. Consider serving a malbec, shiraz, syrah or merlot.
- 2007 Finca Los Prados Malbec, Argentina (about $9 retail)
- 2008 Jacob’s Creek Shiraz, Australia (about $12 retail)
- 2007 181 Merlot, California (about $13 retail)
- 2007 Don Manuel Villafane Malbec, Argentina (about $21 retail)
- 2007 Peter Lehmann Shiraz, Australia (about $18 retail)
The most common main dishes gracing American tables for Easter are ham or lamb. There are many explanations as to why these meats are often the centerpieces of the menu. One historian credits ham simply for good timing and convenience. Traditionally, hogs were slaughtered in the fall, then cured and smoked. The process took five to six months, and the hams were ready just in time for Easter.
Another explanation is that the pig was considered a symbol of luck in pre-Christian Europe.
Lamb’s popularity is more symbolic of the holiday. According to the Encyclopedia of Religion edited by Mircea Eliade:
“Among Easter foods the most significant is the Easter lamb, which is in many places the main dish of the Easter Sunday meal. Corresponding to the Passover lamb and to Christ, the Lamb of God, this dish has become a central symbol of Easter.”
Regardless of which meat you’ll be serving, there will most likely be an array of flavors competing for grandeur. Consider the following wine matches for your Easter celebration.
To serve with ham:
- 2006 Hayman & Hill Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, California (about $14, retail)
- 2006 Sonoma Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, California (about $28 retail)
To serve with lamb:
- 2007 Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia (about $12 retail)
- 2007 Keenan Carneros Merlot, California (about $35 retail)
To serve with a buffet or a wide variety of dishes:
- 2007 Clean Slate Riesling, Germany (about $12 retail)
- 2006 Pierre Sparr Alsace One, France (about $19 retail)
Sparking wine to serve with morning brunch:
- NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs, Washington (about $15 retail)
- NV Domaine Carneros Brut, California (about $36 retail)
To serve at an afternoon egg hunt:
- 2007 Castello Banfi Centine Rose, Italy (about $13 retail)
- 2007 Banfi Rosa Regale, Italy (about $24 retail)