By: George Balling
Fast approaching are the two holidays when we gather with friends and family for big yummy meals, enjoying each other’s company and most likely a glass of wine or two. The meals we all celebrate with this time of year are rooted in tradition, and while we might change seasoning or side dishes most of what we have is similar year to year. That makes the notion of pairing wine a little easier but for many of us still presents a challenge. Here are some of the basics that will help direct you to the best varietals to go with the Holidays.
In the Western US we are just entering the Dungeness crab season. In recent years restrictions by the federal government on Dungeness fisheries from Alaska south to the San Francisco Bay Area has made crab a bit tougher to come by, we enter each November hopeful though that this year we will be able to get our hands on these sweet somewhat smaller crabs. The natural pairing with shellfish including crab, shrimp and oysters is Chardonnay. Whether you prefer rich California style Chard or the more restrained French style the buttery oakiness really shines with shellfish especially crab. If you prefer red you need something delicate enough not to mask the sweet subtle flavors of really great crab and shellfish. Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or an unoaked Cotes du Rhone are your best bets.
While we are on the subject of Pinot Noir it is the natural pairing with all poultry, duck, chicken and especially turkey. The bright fruit and subtle earthiness bring out the best in your turkey and the mild savory gaminess of turkey really enhances all aspects of Pinot Noir, it is the go-to combination. Similarly vintage Beaujolais will do wonderfully with Thanksgiving turkey. We are not fans of nouveau Beaujolais, while we understand the tradition it is just a bit too much like “Kool-Aid” for us. The vintage bottlings though are stunning.
The great thing about both Pinot Noir and Beaujolais is they have enough acid to cut down on the richness of Thanksgiving dinner. Another approach though is to embrace all of that richness and take it right over the top by pairing the meal with Zinfandel. All of the generous jammy fruit of a good Zin really contributes to the sweet savory combination that is so great in this most traditionally American meal.
Let’s not forget about dessert at either Thanksgiving or Christmas. After a big meal though we crave something a bit lighter, and in order for the wine to “show up” with a sweet dessert it has to be sweeter than the dessert. This is where a Moscato really works well. They are typically low alcohol and sweet with just the slightest effervescence, or you can go with a true dessert wine like Sauterne or Vin Santo.
Many families fix a prime rib, filet mignon roast or other rich beef dish at Christmas. This is when it is time to move away from the Pinot Noir and head toward the rich and substantial Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet, Merlot or Cabernet Franc. These thick-skinned varietals are grown in many wine regions around the globe and with their ample tannins, rich fruit and sophisticated flavors do well with red meat.
Come New Year’s Eve it is all about caviar, oysters and other rich and decadent appetizers. It is the holidays after all and while there is always a call for Champagne and other sparkling this time of year, it is also one of those wines that can be enjoyed year-round. It works so well with caviar and other rich snacks though because the light biscuit aromas and bright citrus notes of really good sparkling wine balance each other so well. We have heard so many times over the years that some of us don’t like Champagne and other sparkling wines because they are too sweet or give us a headache. This is a category where spending a bit more will likely change your outlook on the category.
Whatever your celebratory meal is this time of year we will help you find the wine to go with it, all while we keep an eye on your budgetary goals. It is what we have been doing for 14 years now, and it is one of the most fun times of year to work with wine consumers to pair up the perfect bottle or bottles of wine.