Wine pairings for a spring feast


A plethora of food-and-wine ideas for the spring holidays.

Tara writes As a lapsed Catholic married to a Jew, I might be going to hell but I have the most excellent holiday meals. Springtime in our house means pastel-dyed eggs as well as Streit’s matzo; a Passover seder one night and roast ham another. My long love affair with all things Greek means that there is always an Orthodox Easter celebration, too, with leg of lamb and spring-onion pies, lemon-spritzed potatoes and mastikha-scented braided breads cradling red eggs.


I’ve found over time that the best way to handle the surplus of flavours (not to mention guests) is simply to open a lot of bottles of wine and let people find their own perfect pairings. But for those who prefer a slightly more controlled experience, Tam and I have come up with some ideas, with wine suggestions pulled from our database of 226,000+ wine reviews and 14,300+ articles. Enjoy!


gettyimages-135583502-kleftiko lamb

– leg of, classic Greek kleftiko, marinated in a fragrant blend of garlic, lemon, oregano and lashings of olive oil and then slow cooked in parchment until silky: a Xinomavro-based red wine from Naoussa, Amyndeon or Rapsani in northern Greece or, for something less predictable but shockingly good, an intense, minerals-and-lemons Greek Assyrtiko.

– shoulder, braised with black olives: peppery, dark-fruited Rhône Syrah or red Bandol Mourvèdre; if you’ve got white-wine or rosé drinkers at the table, a young Bordeaux blanc proved to be an illogical but surprisingly good pairing, as did a Bardolino Chiaretto, both providing a fresh ping and lift to the darker, more earth-led flavours of the food.


– ground, za’atar-spiked and sumac-spiced, as in the triangle-shaped Lebanese turnovers called fatayer: chewy, chalky herb-scented rosés or lively, baked-earth-and-anise Cinsault-based reds of Lebanon – which, by the way, also go perfectly well with vegetarian versions filled with spinach or salty, creamy-crumbly cheese.


– brown-sugar glazed: while the salty pink sweetness of glazed ham takes us straight to off-dry German Kabinett (or feinherb) Riesling, don’t underestimate the red-berried explosion of a juicy, young, unoaked Grenache from somewhere warm (Barossa, perhaps, or Roussillon) or Valpolicella.


– country ham and biscuits: if you serve yours straight up, a dry, fruity, robust rosé, perhaps Navarra rosado, will do the trick. If you like yours with mustard sauce (sweet or sharp), apricot butter or a drizzle of honey, then you’re looking for an Alsace Grand Cru Pinot Gris, preferably one that is not quite bone dry. A fleshy Oregon Pinot might tick the box for the red-wine drinker.

– ham steak/gammon with white beans and greens: soft, fruity red like cru Beaujolais or Chinon will balance the salty creaminess and mirror the soft iron bitters of the greens. Hard, sparkling cider will bring a welcome sweetness, the apple notes highlighting the ham and the bubbles creating structure. A crisp sherry, however, whether manzanilla, fino or palo cortado, will post the smartest riposte – salt and tang and herby, white-bean-skin savouriness right back at ya!


– brisket with onions: a big dish begging for a hearty red such as Zinfandel, Priorat or an Australian Shiraz. However, you might also want to try pairing it to the power of a yeasty, rich Blanc de Noirs vintage champagne (think how well beer goes with brisket …).


– short ribs: also calling for a bold red but something laced with a little bit of smoke and herbs, and maybe some crunchy liquorice minerality, such as a Minervois red or a Mendoza Malbec. If the rub is on the sweet side, a rich Napa Cabernet might work better. Aged, oxidative-style white Rioja is also incredibly good with beef short ribs (think of the white wines of López de Heredia or Marqués de Murrieta, for example).

– herb-crusted tenderloin: traditionalists will reach for bordeaux or other Cabernet/Merlot blends, but a more interesting choice, in terms of bringing bright red-berried fruit as well as a lick of fresh herbs to complement and complete the meat, would be top-class Chianti or even a Tasmanian Pinot. White-wine drinkers should look to oaked Sauvignon Blanc (Lismore comes to mind).


– hard-boiled, curried Kerala style: Viognier and Gewurztraminer (especially if from New Zealand) have the curves and spices to carry off curried eggs, and skin-contact whites and orange wines will make interesting alternatives. Tam also likes the cherry-cola sweetness of a red Lambrusco, a little bite coming from the gentle bubbles.


– frittata or strata: Jura Chardonnay would be an excellent choice, although perhaps choose a vin jaune Savagnin over the Chardonnay, unless it’s in the form of a sparkling Crémant de Limoux, which will bring its signature high-altitude clarity and elegance to sharpen up the pillowy comfort of these eggy dishes. For a red-wine choice, head straight back to the Jura mountains, for a bottle of pale-red or deep-pink Poulsard.

– pizza chena: this classic Italian Easter pie, stuffed with eggs and cheese and Italian hams and sausages, begs for a cheeky glass of the cranberry-popping Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Sicily, although you could just as happily swap that out for a Petite Arvine from the Valais, Switzerland, or Valle d’Aosta just over the Italian border. And because sparkling wine goes so well with eggs, the other option has to be Franciacorta.

– matzo brei: Tara says coffee. Tam says Bloody Mary – assuming it’s a savoury matzo brei, of course. The sweet version lends itself to Moscato d’Asti.

Spring greens

Asparagus: Grüner Veltliner is an easy choice, but when Tam played around over the weekend with some simply steamed asparagus, she was surprised at how delicious the pairing was with a very lightly oaked Sémillon/Sauvignon from Bordeaux and with an unoaked English Pinot Blanc from Essex. The other very, very good pairing was Chiaretto.


Ramps aka wild leeks: once again, the best pairing was the Bordeaux Blanc (notable in both cases was that the 100% Sauvignon Blanc on the table, a Menetou-Salon, was not great with either the asparagus or the wild leeks). Assyrtiko also proved to be a good partner, but the most surprising pairing was a very young, fresh ruby-red Bardolino.

Spring peas: tossed with a bit of melted butter, a Muscadet with extended lees ageing is delicate enough not to overpower the peas yet has enough richness to cope with the butter. Another ideal white for any delicate spring greens is Silvaner, especially from Franken.

On the sweet side

Easter sweet treats, apart from the ubiquitous chocolate eggs (pair with black coffee, or a robust whisky) tend to be egg-enriched breads such as tsoureki from Greece or spiced cakes, rolls and buns studded with dried fruit such as Simnel cake, hot cross buns or columba di pasqua from Italy. If you’re not accompanying your slice with a cup of fragrant tea, you might want to reach for a glass of vin santo or an equally spicy but more piercingly fresh Bual madeira. Our choice, however, would be a glass of tense, dry, nutty, focused and ravishingly complex Rancio Sec from Roussillon.


Image credits via Getty Images, from top to bottom: main image, Ashley Cooper, The Image Bank; red eggs and Greek bread, Jupiterimages, The Image Bank; kleftiko lamb; fayater, Sergio Amiti, Moments; glazed ham, mphillips007, E+; brisket, Manny Rodriguez, Tetra images; egg curry, Linus Strandhold, EyeEm; asparagus, Laurie Ambrose, Moment; hot cross buns, Emma Farrer, Moment