Holiday wine guide
|Given the wide range of traditional celebrations with family and friends, now is the time to finalize your wine selection. Photos courtesy of Google Images|
Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford
The holiday season has begun. Thanksgiving is the number one wine-drinking day in the USA. Hanukkah starts Dec. 16; Christmas, the 25th; and New Year’s Eve, the 31st.
Pairing wine with food is a key part of enjoying this season for wine lovers and foodies. Given the wide range of traditional celebrations with family and friends, now is the time to finalize your wine selection and parlay the best buys into discounts. Most wine retailers are quick to offer discounts for six or 12 bottles; if that is not their retail strategy find out why and move on … unless they have discounted their prices.
Thanksgiving showcases roast turkey, herbs, dressings, cranberry, pies and a host of traditional recipes. This meal is a sommelier’s challenge. Hanukkah can mean kosher wine pairings for beef brisket, Brussel sprouts and a wonderful doughnut dessert. Christmas dinner is smoked or baked ham, duck or prime rib and wines served with chocolate and family desserts. At New Year’s, the focus shifts to “lucky foods.” In the south, this means black-eyed peas and collards; in Spain, it is 12 grapes at midnight; in Germany, sauerkraut; and in Portugal, Spain and Hungary, roasting a pig is a first choice.
|"Thanksgiving showcases roast turkey, herbs, dressings, cranberry, pies and a host of traditional recipes. This meal is a sommelier’s challenge."|
Cod and other fish dishes are traditional in Germany and Sweden, while, in Japan, fish roe makes an appearance. Round cake desserts with special gifts baked inside are popular, too.
What to drink depends on who is coming to dinner. How do we navigate wine selections to pair with so many assorted foods and so many individual tasting challenges?
My recommendation is to select several sparkling wines as either acclamation wines to start the meal or special sparklers to bring in the New Year.
My choice for a sparkling wine is Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc 2011from Calistoga, Calif. This is made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes. Schramsberg winery is a historical winery: In 1972, President Nixon’s “Toast to Peace” with China’s Premier Zhou Enlai was with the Blanc de Blanc. Schramsberg’s sparkling wines have been served at official state functions by every U.S. presidential administration since. This is one of the great American sparkling wines and is priced at $39 or less.
Other sparkling options to consider include: Iron Horse 2010 Wedding Cuvee, $40; Mumm Napa Brut Napa Valley Prestige NV, $22; Duval-Leroy NV Champagne, $48; and Segura Viudas Heredad Brut Reserva Traditional Method Cava, $28.
Pairing wine with turkey, beef brisket, duck, prime rib or ham may be easier than you think. Pinot Noir, the all-purpose red wine, is a good choice for turkey, duck and ham and works well with prime rib. A Zinfandel not only complements turkey but also pairs nicely with pork, lamb and spicy sausages and, if the family is staying for a long weekend, hamburgers and pizza.
If steak in on the menu for New Year’s, consider these from the host of red wines available: Châteauneuf du Pape; Cabernet Sauvignon; Merlot; Syrah; and Cabernet Franc, along with Zinfandel. All are excellent choices – drink what you like!
In addition to white sparkling wines, holiday meals are well complemented with a host of white wines including Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc Sancerre. Working from the last wine, oysters and light fish benefit from a Sauvignon Blanc Sancerre from the Loire Valley. Riesling and Gewürztraminer complement duck, pork, scallops, baked ham and fruit salads. Spicy flavors with the turkey meal and late-evening Chinese food are great pairings for Gewürztraminer.
Holiday meals never are complete without a host of sweets, cakes, pies, chocolate, cheese and, on a cold night, perhaps an Irish coffee. Wines to consider are late-harvest, full-bodied sweet and semisweet wines. Port goes well with blue cheese, chocolate, dried fruit and nuts. I particularly like a white moscatel grape port. Spanish sherry goes well with soup and tapas selections with hard cheese, olives, dark chocolate and vanilla ice cream with Pedro Ximenez poured over the top.
Madeira, the ageless fortified wine from Portugal, is great with pecan and pumpkin pie, chocolate and blue cheese. Bual is a dessert wine and Malmsey is the richest, sweetest of the Madeiras. Our founding fathers used Madeira to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
‘Wines drinking well now’
Pinot noir, the red grape of Burgundy, has found a home on our west coast in Oregon and California. The Wine Enthusiast’s top wine of 2014 is a Ken Wright 2012 Abbott Claim Vineyard, Oregon Pinot Noir, $65. I am happier to recommend a host of Pinot Noirs in the $20 range: Acrobat Oregon, $20; Cooper Mountain Oregon Willamette Valley Cooper Hill, $18; and Byron 2012 Santa Maria Valley, $29.
Zinfandels drinking well now include Turley California Juvenile 2012, $20 and Dry Creek Sonoma County Heritage Vines 2012. One of my favorites is Michael David Earthquake 2012 Lodi California, $26.
Chardonnays drinking well now include: Mount Eden 2012 Wolff Vineyard Eden Valley, $20; Columbia Crest Columbia Valley Grand Estates Washington 2012, $12 (a Best Buy); JM Cellars 2012 Columbia Valley Washington, $35; Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2012 Arthur Dundee Hills, $35; and Shafer Red Shoulders Chardonnay, $45.
Gewürztraminer may include: Brandborg 2008 Gewürztraminer, Umpqua Valley, Ore., $16; Hogue 2010 Gewürztraminer, Columbia Valley, Wash., $11; Hogue 2012 Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley, Wash.; Pacific Rim 2013 Twin Vineyards Gewürztraminer, Yakima Valley, Wash., $15. There are many great wines from Alsace, France; see if your local wine merchants has any in stock.
Vintage Port, when first released is often $80 to $100. This year the Wine Spectator wine of the year is a Dow Vintage 2011, released at $82. Few were released to the Atlanta market, and they will be difficult to find, particularly at this reasonable price for port.
Shop around to see what is available, both in red and white ports. Traditionally, the white ports are in the $20 range. You have the option to select non-vintage or tawny ports, ruby ports and late-bottled vintage (LBV). My recommendation is to finish one of your holiday meals with a port with blue cheese—particularly Stilton from England; they were made to go together.
The Big Canoe Wine Group just completed a Portuguese winetasting. Madeira can be acquired in a wide range of prices, $18 to $200. It is worth it to experience one. These wines age forever and, once opened, can be closed without damage to the wine. Again, the Bual and the Malmsey are the sweetest for after-dinner enjoyment.
‘Drink what you like’
My next article will showcase Portuguese Wines.
Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.