Holiday Wine Pairing

With Thanksgiving behind us, our minds and hearts are considering our holiday plans. For us, Christmas is a big time to start pulling out the Thomas Keller and Julia Child cookbooks and get the oven warmed up. With the masterminded plans for great cuisine comes an opportunity to polish up those Riedel glasses and dart for the cellar. But before you start dusting off those bottles or break the lock to the Eurocave, consider what might make your wine and food experience for the holidays truly memorable. I’m a big fan of pulling a bottle (or three!) of a wine you’re absolutely thrilled with… perhaps that last bottle of 1989 Lynch Bages you’ll been holding on to. So, go ahead and pull that special bottle and say, “This baby is ready to drink now!” If you’re still not sure you have just the right bottle (or you’ve already depleted the cellar), consider some of these great pairings:

BEEF TENDERLOIN – This is a classic celebratory dish for the red meat lovers out there. My suggestion to accompany something so characteristically rich is a complimentary riper style of red from the hillside vineyards of Napa Valley. Two great areas come to mind: Howell Mountain (try the O’Shaugnessy Cabernet Sauvignon) or Spring Mountain (PRIDE Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon). These bottles are rich in body, but will also give you the fruit, spicebox and balanced acidity you’ll want to compliment that beautiful cut of beef. It’s a bigger cut of meat worthy of the holiday celebration, and these wines (in the $80 range) also are special-occasion priced. If you’re looking for a bit more value, try our Howell Mountain treat of a bottle from Ladera (the 2007 is priced at just $31).

ROASTED GOOSE – When I think of roasted goose, I think of my father hovering in the kitchen and my mom anxiously awaiting every last bit of goose fat to dribble into the catch pan. This is a great holiday dish, with enormous flavor and a considerable amount of animal fat. But, hey, fat is flavor!  With a rich entrée like goose, my choice is a bottle of red Bordeaux. Consider ‘left-bank’ Bordeaux (Pauillac, St. Julian, Margaux, or St. Estephe) if you’re looking for a bit more tannic wine with muscular power, while a ‘right-bank’ style is best if you’re less of a Cab lover and have an attraction to Cab Franc and Merlot (Pomerol and St. Emilion are the reknowned appellations here). These bottles will be softer on the palate, but will cut through the fatty richness equally well with their bright acidity, big body and elegant long finish. The companion label from Pichon Lalande, the Reserve de la Comtesse, is a great choice. At $88 it’s our best 2005 off the shelf and is drinking beautifully.

ROASTED DUCK BREAST or DUCK CONFIT – I am a big fan of a nice duck entrée. It’s succulent with a slightly gamey flavor that can thrill the palate. Whether you prepare your duck breast with a beautifully crispy skin, or prefer a confit-style leg, I advise pairing it with a nice Oregon Pinot Noir or one from the Sonoma Coast. The Oregon Pinot will provide that unmistakable earthiness most of us search for in this Pacific Northwest gem of a region called the Willamette Valley. The Sonoma Coast vintners will give you a bit more fruit so, when choosing your bottle, I suggest you venture into the Burgundian styles which will provide more acidity and brightness, as opposed to simply heavy, extracted fruit bombs. My recommendations are the Hamacher Pinot Noir from Carlton, Oregon ($49) or the Littorai Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast ($44 –Ted Lemon, iconic winemaker, and winemaker of the year, SF Chronicle 2010).

TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN HAM – As the Piggly Wiggly slogan goes, I’m big on the pig.  And now that I’ve settled in the South, I’m quite satisfied with my options in this part of the country. Whether it’s a simple honey-baked spiral ham (served warm or cold), a nice Virginia ham or even a beautifully cooked pork roast, these are all great entrées for the hog lover in you. And what goes better with ham than Beaujolais? Nothing. Now before you panic, I’m not referring to ‘Nouveau Beaujolais’, but rather a good Cru Beaujolais – the difference being quality of fruit and time to bottling. The Beaujolais region is home to a great, and mostly unknown to Americans, grape – Gamay. It’s a bit heavier than Pinot, but has all the finesse of Burgundy and offers a bit more round spice and character you might find in a good bottle of Zin. Gamay is one of the last best wine secrets in this country, though it’s been on French wine lists for ages. Now the only thing to decide is what cru (that’s ‘commune’ in Burgundy, more specific to in the region of Beaujolais) to choose. Consider a great bottle of “Fleurie”, from the town of Fleurie in Beaujolais. Or a bottle of “Moulin-a-Vent” from the town of Moulin-a-Vent. Try simply our best from Fleurie – Pierre and Marie Chermette ($29), or Jean Paul Brun from Moulin-A-Vent ($25) and put your passion for great Cochon (that’s French for pig) and Gamay on the table.

It will be a very merry pairing this Christmas season!


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