Holiday Wine Pairings
You know, no matter where you dine out, somms (sommeliers, you know, the pin-wearing experts who open the bottle of wine you order at your table and pour you the taste so you can nod and approve?) will always be able to recommend a wine to go with your chosen dish. Literally, no matter where. But what if you’re at chick-fil-a? can a somm recommend a wine to go with my precious nuggets? For sure. But holiday food is the pinnacle of food pairing—think of all the decadent deliciousness you’ll plate up this holiday season. Yeah, I’m talking all kinds of roasted red meats, baked/mashed/scalloped potatoes, green beans, or if you’re vegan like my family, that mushroom wellington…whatever you’re indulging in this winter, it’s bound to be soul-satisfying. Shouldn’t you have a wine to match? Don’t even worry, below are a few snob-free simple wine pairings that will satisfy even the most steadfast beer drinkers in your life. Plus – what goes better with family gatherings than alcohol? Literally nothing.
Wine and food pairings can be tricky, but they don’t have to be. Think about it this way: wine usually adds acid to whatever you’re eating. Somms recommend wines that you’ll like and will get as close to perfect balance on the palate as possible. Thus, fatty, creamy foods plus wine can really create magic on the palate. Lean meats need a little more umph to achieve that perfect harmony. Also, natural acid in wine is why that one time I had a swig of merlot after eating half a pineapple was particularly gag-inducing. Don’t be like Lauren. Be like how I’m about to teach you.
There are 2 types of pairings: Congruent and Contrasting. It comes down to literally a molecular level. Congruent pairings happen when the wine and the food share compounds: for instance, according to Madeleine Puckette, aka WineFolly aka wine superwoman,
“A contrasting pairing creates balance by contrasting tastes and flavors. A congruent pairing creates balance by amplifying shared flavor compounds.”
Beef + Mushroom = congruent, Lime + coconut = contrasting. Got it? Cool. Then, think about the basic tastes: Sweet, bitter, fat, salt, acid, and spiciness. Clam chowder is mostly fat and salt. A salad is bitter with some acid. That lemon tart you’ve been saying no to all week might be more complex, sweet, with a little fat and acid. I’m here to tell you what to do when faced with fancy people with (possibly) more money than you—trust me, by the end of this article, you’ll know way more about wine than they do. Bye, stereotypes!
Appetizers + Sparkling wine
Pair your apps with bubbles. Literally. Pair anything with bubbles, actually; but sparkling wine is a good place to start because it is high in acid, packed with flavor, and a seamless partner to even the most complicated starters. In case you’re balling on a budget and can’t exactly splurge on that $90 bottle, dependably delicious regions include Alsace in France, or Sonoma in California. If you’re feeling a French refreshment, Look for “Cremant de Loire” or, Crémant d’Alsace on the label. Basically, Cremants are made with the exact same techniques that producers in the storied Champagne region use, but with grapes that are a little less expensive. This one is ideal. For folks looking to support the west coast #best coast, check out smaller producers like Gloria Ferrer. Always affordable, always delicious.
Salad/veggies + Sauvignon Blanc
My family affectionately refers to me as the salad queen. No salad is too big for this bitch, and that’s a fact. Here’s what isn’t true though: wine doesn’t pair with vegetables. I know, asparagus and artichokes are famously hard to sip wine with, but salads don’t need to follow that path. I love a hearty, seasonal salad (think sautéed beets, roasted butternut squash, butter lettuce, pomegranate seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Throw some goat cheese in if that’s up your alley.) paired with a high-acid, fruity AF Sauvignon Blanc. Don’t settle for $7 SB from the bottom shelf of your local gas station. Bad wine is BAD. But if you’re looking to not spend a fortune on some delicious white wine that will go well with the veg course of your holiday meal, pick a Sauvignon Blanc from California, preferably in my neck of the woods, Napa Valley. Here is one that I dig. Most come in around $20-30 a pop and some are complex jewels, with layers of minerality, citrus fruit, tropical notes, and sometimes floral undertones that perfectly complement earthy winter veggies or a richer vinaigrette dressing. (Hint: ask the wine shop person if it’s been aged in oak. If the answer is yes, ask that person if there’s another one that’s been aged in cement or steel. These vessels tend to preserve that snappy acid and juicy fruit flavors.)
Fish or roasted something + Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is a finicky grape that does best in foggier, cooler regions like Burgundy, France. But Burgundies cost a month’s rent (depending on where you live), so try a Pinot Noir from the Central Coast in California, the Dundee Hills in Oregon, or from Central Otago in New Zealand. The result of the cooler climate and gentle extraction during the winemaking process is a high-acid, sometimes fruity, sometimes earthy wine that is great with fattier dishes like salmon. Or, if you’re vegan, try a Pinot with cashew mac n’cheese. Don’t pretend like it’s not on your holiday menu. This is a good wine to pour with your potatoes as well, especially if they’re a little cheesy and rich. You’ll need a nice, high-acid, floral wine to balance that shit out. Pinot Saves the day!
The Main Event
For thanksgiving, I served a fabulous Mushroom Wellington and drank Cabernet Franc alongside. I’m going to do the exact same at Christmas, because it was that delicious. Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents, so a lot of die-hard Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers feel that it’s parent Cab Franc isn’t quite as complex. Well guess what, I’m here to prove you wrong! Cabernet Franc, when executed properly, is as lively and dramatic as a Real Housewives reunion. Dark flavors of blackberries, savory herbs, anise spice, and sweet tobacco make cab franc my winter go-to. A medium-bodied (think skim milk vs whole milk when talking about body in wine) and structured without being overpowering, it pairs well with richer foods you might be indulging in this season: think roasted pork, beef stew or burgers, goat cheese, ravioli with tomato sauce, roasted mushroom and roasted eggplant, to name a few. Chinon, France producers France are best known for this grape, so that’s a great place to start. South America is also making some fantastic bottlings of this black-skinned grape. If you’re thinking domestically, to keep the price down, and to overall better your life, try a Napa Franc blend like this one.
A Sweet Surprise
A good rule of thumb when dishing out sweets with wine: the wine must always be sweeter than the dish. Too sweet of a dish plus too sweet of a wine creates a cloying sensation. I get chills just thinking about it. Pecan Pie? Grab a Tawny port. I’m going to warn you right now this pairing will change your whole life. Lemon meringue pie? While late-harvest sauvignon blanc or semillons tend to run in the hundreds of dollars, this late-harvest Gewurtraminer from Anderson Valley does the job with grace. Done correctly, a late-harvest wine preserves that sweetness AND the acid from the grapes—paired with a fatty, slightly less sweet dessert, nirvana is created.
May your holiday season be merry and your wine glass always remain full!