Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Five Tips for Pairing Wine with Your Holiday Feast

Holiday meals can be one of the most challenging wine pairing exercises you will ever face.  You already have enough to worry about to get a meal put together and make sure all your guests have enjoy a wonderful and festive event.  My first bit of advice is not to stress out too much over your wine pairing for this meal.  The Holiday season should be the greatest focus, rather than finding the perfect food and wine pairing.  People will more likely remember a great meal, or perhaps some off color remarks by “that” Uncle, or a new family members first holiday than if the wine you served didn’t highlight the Fruit Cocktail and Whipped Cream salad that your Aunt brought as much as the beautifully cooked Turkey or Ham you prepared.

Feed better now? I hope so, but with that being said here are a few pointers that can help you make good decisions about what to serve with your holiday meal.   My pointers are for the drinking age adults attending your soiree, so you’re on your own for quenching the thirst of any little ones (that’s right you 20 year and 11 month olds – to the kiddie table with you… juice pouches all around!!!). 

Pointer #1 – Variety
Unless your holiday meal is a small intimate affair where you know your guests tastes well, your best bet is to offer a variety to your (drinking age) guests.  You should consider the following:
Beer. For some, the best wine for a meal… is a beer.  For some, wine holds no interest (I know, hard to believe right???). For these guests who are entitled to their own opinions about wine (…I guess!), include some beer. Nothing too bitter or strong – perhaps a lager or wheat beer (Blue Moon goes great with food).  Pumpkin or spiced beers are great for the holiday spirit, but not so much when paired with your meal – save those for after the meal.
Have a Red Option and a White Option. Some will only want to drink white wine, no matter what the occasion. Sometimes it’s taste, sometimes it is a person that has a reaction to the sulfites or histamines in red wine.  Others won’t touch white wine, but love a good red wine.  In any case, it is wise to offer both a red and a white. If you are feeling generous, throw a Rosé in as well – please no White Zinfandel though – we have to be at least a bit of a wine snob!
Sparkling to Start. A nice sparkling wine is a great palate cleanser and a great way to welcome guests to your holiday feast.  Check out Spanish Cava’s for a great value priced option.   There is nothing wrong with also serving Sparkling wine with your meal, many are just too delicate to stand up to deeper flavored dishes.
Non Alcoholic. Even if you are sure your guests like to tilt a glass, there may be reasons that someone wants to forgo alcohol – including designated drivers. I like to offer Ice Tea – as it can be sweetened and lemoned to personal taste. It’s tough to guess what type of soda to get…what flavor, diet or regular, caffeine or unleaded…Coke vs. Pepsi… uggg!!!!

Pointer #2 - Stay Away from the Extremes
Your holiday meal is not the time to go too big or too delicate, as odds will not be in your favor with so many dishes.  For a red wine selection you need to keep the big Cabernet Sauvignons and Barolos safely tucked away and look for something lighter bodied and fruity. For your white wine selection, avoid your big Napa Chardonnay or your delicate vintage Champagne and stick with something more the middle of the road, that was made in stainless steel tanks, or with only a little bit of time in oak barrels.
Pointer #3 – Look at Flavor profiles
As you look at the dishes you’ll be serving, it is typically more important to look at the spices or the sauce of the dish, rather than the main component when looking to do a wine pairing.  Some examples:
Your Turkey or Ham.  A Turkey or Ham prepared simply can pair nicely with most fruity red wines or unoaked to slightly oaked whites.  Add a Cajun spice rub or marinade, and you will need to consider the level of spice with your pairing. Tannic and acidic wines do not play nicely with spicy hot dishes, so you will need to find a low tannin red, or a white with a bit of sweetness… not a sweet white, but something with some residual sugar.  If your turkey or ham is going to be smoked – a wine with a smoky characteristic would pair nicely – like a Syrah.  Also, for any dish with a smoky flavor, one of my absolute favorite pairings is with a German Riesling. The way the flavors of the wine interacts with the smoky flavor is very nice.

Sweet Potatoes – Side Dish or Dessert??? – You may serve a fairly straightforward sweet potato puree with some cream, butter, salt and pepper. In this case, you’ll need to factor in a bit of sweetness to your wine selection.  However, throw on a brown sugar glaze with mini-marshmallows (a classic!), and you’re dealing with a whole lot more sweetness, so you will need to consider serving a sweeter wine.

Veggies and Salads – For variety and to keep things healthy don’t forget the veggies and salads. However, veggies like asparagus, brussels sprouts, or bitter greens in a salad introduce some significant flavors to your meal. Also, do you go for the congealed cranberry from a can, or a nice fresh cranberry relish?  The choice can mean more sweetness or tartness to consider when wine pairing.

Pointer #4 – Consider the Familiar, and the Not So Familiar
Just because you will need to stay more middle of the road for your holiday feast wine pairing – it doesn’t mean you won’t have some options from which to choose. There are some very familiar choices, and some not so familiar choices that should all serve you quite well. Just remember – nothing too big and tannic or too acidic. Ask your local wine store helper for assistance!
The Familiar – Reds
Fruity Pinot Noir – consider Adelsheim - Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Fruity Red Zinfandel - consider Klinker Brick - Old Vine Zinfandel

The Familiar – Whites
German Riesling. Pick something with a bit of sweetness – consider Donnhoff - Estate Riesling

Sauvignon Blanc. Consider Kim Crawford - Sauvignon Blanc.

The Not So Familiar – Reds
Cotes du Rhone – consider Paul Jaboulet Aine - Cotes du Rhone Parallele 45 Rouge

Malbec – consider Kaiken - Ultra Malbec 

The Not So Familiar – Whites
Albariño – consider Bodegas Martin Codax - Albariño

Gruner Veltliner – consider Hugl Gruner Veltliner

Serving Red Meat? Add Syrah and Tempranillo – Spanish Rioja Crianza into the list of possibilities! Consider Molly Dooker Shiraz The Boxer or Ramon Bilbao Rioja Crianza

Pointer #5 – The Mixed Blessing of the Gifted Wine
You’ve decided on your menu and your wine, cooked everything to perfection, and are preparing to serve your wine selections at just the right temperature. A knock at the door, a treasured dinner guest… with a bottle of wine. This topic is the fodder for much debate… are you obligated to serve it with your meal? the gift meant for you to enjoy another time? will I fit a box of Pinot Grigio into my already full fridge??? 

There are some that will be offended if the wine is not served now, and some will consider it a gift to be enjoyed later… but often you don’t know who is who…until it is too late.  I believe that the food and wine pairing for the holiday feast is to be decided by the host – and should not be changed based on a wonderful bottle (or box) of gifted wine.  My approach is to thank the gift-bearer, and then either say I look forward to trying it later on in the day with them – after the meal is done and I am relaxing, or ask if it is OK to save it for a later occasion.   In either case you are expressing gratitude and expressing your desire to drink it… just not with your dinner.   To show appreciation just make sure and express how you want to partake in drinking the wine, not just open it and throw it on a table for everyone else to consume.
In Conclusion
No matter what, always keep in mind that a holiday feast should be primarily all about family, friends, and being with those you love as part of your celebration.   It is a great burden to be the one responsible for a holiday feast, so don’t get too stressed, just follow these simple pointers – and look to your local wine shop helper for further guidance.  Most of all – remember to take a minute and ENJOY!!!  
Happy and safe holidays to all!!!

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