by Kiley Evans, Winemaker
Another harvest is over. All of the new wines are in barrel, and it’s time to reflect on how the vintage has taken shape and to give thanks for what Mother Nature provided.
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked this time of year is, “What wine pairs well with a special holiday meal?” and I always respond, “It depends.” Is that avoiding the question? Maybe. Maybe not.
Pairing wine with a holiday meal depends on what your meal consists of. Is it the traditional baked turkey with cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, green bean casserole, and blackberry pie? Maybe your idea of a holiday feast is a bit more avante garde—with a citrus-glazed, grilled turkey breast; sage and brown butter stuffing; roasted brussel sprouts with a balsamic drizzle; and salted caramel ice cream? Perhaps a Cajun twist with Creole mustard–marinated fried turkey, twice-baked sweet potato wedges, crawfish maque choux, and cinnamon-dusted beignets? How about a true Pacific Northwest feast with filbert-crusted salmon; ground geoduck dressing; roasted carrots, beets, and sweet onions with morel mushrooms and crumbled blue cheese; and huckleberry crumble with espresso gelato?
Okay. I’m hungry now.
Seriously, though, pairing wine with a holiday meal can be as simple or as complex as desired. One of my most memorable special occasion meals comprised three courses with two wines for each course. The first-course appetizers were accompanied by non-vintage Champagne and New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. The main course featured barrel-aged Chardonnay and Napa Valley Merlot. Dessert found favorable companions with Moscato d’Asti and Late Harvest Zinfandel. In contrast to that cascade of dirty glassware, another memorable meal featured dry Rosé, Loire Valley Muscadelle, Argentine Malbec, Cru Barolo, and Beerenauslesen Riesling in a mix-and-match, taste-as-you-like style.
Regardless of the menu, a few general rules can still guide the way to an enjoyable—and hopefully memorable—experience for you and your guests.
First of all, have at least one white and one red available. This simple combination generally covers all taste preferences. If you’re planning on three wines, make one of them slightly off-dry to semisweet. Again, the thought here is to cover everyone’s taste preferences, but this also gives the host more options for spice levels in the dishes.
Second, keep in mind that wines with higher acidities tend to pair better with a wider variety of foods. Viognier and Pinot noir tend to be higher acid wines, and that quality gives them great versatility to handle just about everything at the table except very sweet desserts.
Third, keep it light. Rich, heavy wines can drown out the nuance of the dining experience. Red and white blends tend to be lighter wines and as such typically play a supporting role well without overpowering the menu items.
Fourth, and most importantly, don’t make the food-wine pairings too much of a spotlight. The holidays are about spending time with friends and family and realizing the preciousness of our time together. The dinner table is the meeting place, and the wine is the common language.