Wines for Holiday Dining
© by Sheral Schowe
(Originally published in the Catalyst newspaper in Salt Lake City)

Selecting the right wines to enjoy with the endless parties, dinners, buffets and open houses during the holidays always presents somewhat of a challenge. If you have been asked to bring the wine to the festive gathering, it is for one of two reasons. Either the host knows nothing about wine and hopes you do, or the host has previously been impressed by your wine savvy and is counting on you to make the meal sing with your astute beverage selection.

Careful now, your reputation is at stake here. The worst you can do is lug a box of pink wine under each arm to the party then wonder where on the elegant table to place it. The next best thing is to bring a wide variety of wines and hope that someone enjoys one of them. Or, if you really want to create a memorable meal, start first with the food. It may be tempting to bring your favorite bottle of wine, but if you don't have the heads up on the menu, it may not create the match made in heaven aspired by the chef. For example, what if the main course is a delicate filet of sole and you bring that beautiful Bordeaux that has been saved to impress an important client, boss, or romantic interest? Kiss the deal, the raise, or the proposal off on that faux pas. The meal will be doomed from the start. What do you do? What do you do?

Let's start with the most familiar holiday meal of all. The Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Here is a meal of many complexities. There is an onslaught of ingredients prepared with loads of sweet, often too much salt, gobs of butter, and relatively neutral tasting meat. Think of what millions of Americans have done for years to make this schizophrenic meal work. Cranberry sauce. It is fruity, fresh, bright with an acid kick on the finish, and pretty on the plate as well. The wine that matches this profile to the tee is Beaujolais. Try Louis Jadot or one of the many cru Beaujolais from Georges Du Boeuf. The nouveau Beaujolais will be released on the third Thursday of November. It is a spectacular bargain, and perfect for a turkey dinner.

What about ham? Usually so salty, a fruity thirst-quenching wine is in order. Again, try a Beaujolais, or a light-styled Pinot Noir. White wines that work with ham are Chenin Blanc (same as French Vouvray) or Viognier if there is a sweet sauce, or a barrel fermented Chardonnay with tropical notes for a ham baked with pineapple.

For that delicious but always very fatty Christmas goose, or duck for that matter, remember that it is all rich dark meat. You can go with a heavier Pinot Noir from California or Burgundy. The price of Pinot Noirs seems to relate to the intensity of the wine. Usually, the lighter the price, the lighter the wine. Other great choices for goose include California (red) Zinfandel, or a Rhone Valley red. Many Italian red wines also work well with duck and goose. The key here is not the tannin, but the acid. You need enough acid in the wine to cut through the fat for a perfect food and wine experience.

Now, consider that endless sea of appetizers at an open house. Too many flavors to match, lots of interesting combinations. For any one plate of bite-size tastes, you could easily pair up to six or seven wines. Your best bet is a sparkling wine, which will showcase each of the ingredients instead of competing with or even worse, masking flavors.

In addition to these suggestions, try a Spanish sherry as an aperitif. I'm pretty generous with Amontillado-style sherry in the pinenut stuffing and the wild mushroom soup along with a wonderful beginning to a fall or winter meal.

For the finale of the evening, there is nothing better with holiday pies such as mince, apple, and pumpkin, than a glass of Madeira. Whatever you choose for your holiday glass, let's toast to a safe and peaceful holiday season and New Year.

November 2001

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