It’s already time to start thinking about the holidays. They come up so fast every year!
And when you start to think about the holidays, you start to think about big family dinners. While Americans might not be as traditional as we were in the past when it comes to what food we serve, one tradition remains — there is still generally wine at the table.
Picking out your wine for dinner is an absolutely crucial part of planning the meal. My best comparison to help you understand the importance of finding the right pairing is this: picture eating a chocolate chip cookie and washing it down with water instead of milk. That can be the difference between how a bad wine can make food taste and how a good wine can make food taste.
Some of the classic meals during the holidays feature turkey or ham, cranberries, pumpkin, squash, potatoes, tons of butter, Jello, fruit pies, greens and more. This kind of leaves you all over the place.
So, I’ll share a few pointers.
1. The best place to start is to decide what will not work with your meal.
I would begin by weaning out the powerful wines that could overpower the main part of the meal, namely the turkey or ham. Such varietals would include cabernet, petit verdot, malbec, zinfandel, syrah, young bordeaux and red wines from most of Australia.
That right there should have narrowed your selection quite a bit.
2. You should also plan to have a red and a white, as some guests are very particular about not drinking one or the other.
3. I then like to take into consideration the other foods that will be offered and see how they play into the equation. Let’s break down some components.
Cranberries are very good pairings for California pinot noirs and a lot of white wines. Potatoes, meanwhile, are white all the way. A nice, butter-oaked Napa chardonnay always hits the spot on mashed or baked.
There are too many different kinds of greens and squash out there to completely break down the best wine pairings, but we can concentrate on a few. Spinach, arugula and other meatier greens can hold up with some powerful wines depending on the dressing, but pinots are always a safe bet as they are very food friendly and usually don’t overpower the greens. Depending on what type of dressing you serve, most whites work out great as well, as long as they are not too fruit forward or sweet like riesling, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio.
From all of this, I can determine that I want a light red wine and a nice, rich, smooth white wine that can hold up to all of the different types of rich food that is on the table.
Now, here are some suggestions of those types of wines:
• Pinot noir or burgundies: These wines offer a good fruity taste that is light enough to handle white meats like pork and turkey. Oregon pinots offer a little more old world-type flavors (soil) that go nicely with root vegetables.
• Grenache: Depending on the region or maker, this wine is lovely with white meat choices because it can be light enough to dance with the protein. It carries tons of wonderful fruit flavors that, of course, go well with a lot of the fruits served during the holidays.
• Chardonnays: You could go either way. I like more of the traditional, less-oaked chardonnays, but I actually think you are better off with a heavily-oaked chardonnay. When there is a lot of butter and fat being served for dinner, this is a match made in heaven.
• Roussanne/marsanne blend: The richness in this blend really holds up to the fat being used in dishes for the holidays, but it also gives you a touch of fruit funk that really nails the root vegetables as well as the greens. kc