How to Choose Perfect Holiday Wines

By: Michele Wolfson

Wine can be an essential part of a meal (or of a day for that matter), especially during the Holidays. Preparing a huge Thanksgiving feast for 15 people with 15 side dishes can leave you feeling overwhelmed, to say the least. Not to mention that Christmas and Chanukah are right around the corner, which means more cooking and gatherings that focus on food and beverage. Don't let the task of choosing wines that pair well with your dishes weigh you down like it's a chore. Ignore the books that over-complicate matters and the formulas that give out too much information that by the end of reading, your head is spinning.

The truth of the matter is that you should choose wines that have simple characteristics when it comes to pairing them with meals that have a variety of different dishes. Save the Brunello di Moltalcino for another special occasion. What matters most is to stock up on enough wine so that you don't run out while staying within a reasonable budget.

A great way to kick off the celebration is to open a bottle of bubbly, just like the Pilgrims and the Native Americans did over some maize. A suggestion would be an American sparkling wine from Washington State NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs. It can be found for around $12, so it's a bargain. This pear-scented Washington state wine has a clean finish that makes it ideal with hors d'oeuvres and main courses. Any Italian prosecco is another good choice to kick starting your holiday. Sparkling wines pair well with grazing foods such as cheese plates, toasted pumpkin seeds, and even truffle popcorn. Bottom Line: Go for the sweeter, not-too-dry sparkling wines to create a terrific pairing with salty appetizers.

What do all Thanksgiving dishes have in common? They all contain butter, and what goes well with butter? More butter! A buttery wine, like an oak flavored Chardonnay, can hold it's own during an entree and for that reason should not be served prior to the main meal. A recommendation would be Calera Central Coast Chardonnay runs for about $18. A lightly oaked California Chardonnay like this citrus-scented variety is rich enough to pair with creamy and butter-based dishes but not too full-bodied for lighter fare like the cranberry sauce. Another suggestion would be a Pinot Gris that is peachy, zesty and lush like the 2010 Acrobat Pinot Gris that sells for $17. Unlike the Chardonnay, the citrus notes in a Pinot Gris or even a Sauvignon Blanc can add a splash of acidity to perk up your palate and your dish. So if you are looking for a wine that will contrast the flavors from the meal, reach for a glass of Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc instead.

It's important to serve a variety of red and white at your Holiday table so that all of the guests are pleased. As far as I'm concerned, if there is no red wine served at a dinner party, I want out. When choosing a red wine for a festive meal, it should be something that is young, fruity, versatile and somewhat complex (these options are almost always budget-friendly, making them the perfect party beverages). Wines that are always safe and versatile are Cotes-du-Rhone and Pinot Noirs. Try serving the $13 bottle of 2010 Heron Pinot Noir that comes from the foothills of France and provides chocolate, cherry flavors. The earthiness of the Pinot and a hint of oak from barrel-aging really blends well with sweet and earthy flavors in foods like sweet potatoes, grains and lentils, and mushroom dishes. Full-bodied Merlots are also a good option to pair with Thanksgiving turkey and all the side fixings. Some might care for Syrah or Zinfandel options, but those choices can often have higher alcohol percentages, which can be overwhelming to both the food and the guests.

It's the biggest challenge to find wine to serve with dessert. Try something like a Riesling or a not-so sweet wine such as a Gewurztraminer. These are both assertive whites with flavors of lychee, grapefruit and peach.

A good Thanksgiving wine is bold and fruity enough to stand up to 'The Meal'-and doesn't cost much. When choosing wines for any holiday meal, focus on the prevalent flavors in your dishes and just go with your instincts. Most likely your friends and family will bring wines to your home, so have fun with an informal wine tasting and remember that this meal is not about stressing out and everything being perfect- it's about togetherness, relaxing, having fun, and being thankful.

Photo: isante_magazine 

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