As the holidays approach, I begin thinking about interesting and new vinous delights to share with friends and family for all the different celebrations and culinary diversity that marks this festive time of year. And I tend to look for a range of choice rather than perfection in a single pairing.
Thanksgiving traditionally kicks off the holiday season and is perhaps the most difficult in terms of wine pairings. Given all the flavors, textures and spices coupled with the typical buffet-style service, you really don’t know what will show up on any given plate.
So I throw out any expectations of the “perfect” pairing and offer an array of tasty wines exhibiting a variety of flavor, aromatic and textural elements. While enjoying an assortment of hors d’oeuvres I’ll open a sparkler along with a couple of aromatic whites (e.g., roussanne, verdelho, chenin blanc, riesling), a dry rosé or two and a few reds (e.g., Chianti or sangiovese, Côtes du Rhône, malbec).
A few time-honored choices at our Thanksgiving table are a dry to off-dry gewürztraminer or grenache blanc for a white and mourvèdre, merlot or Beaujolais Villages for a lighter red. These wines not only pair well with turkey but harmonize a variety of sides. My key to all the wines chosen is lower alcohol and tannin with higher acidity and inviting fruit on the palate.
Each family’s history and custom greatly influence the Hanukkah dinner but in general it is a much easier holiday with a slow-cooked chicken soup to start and then on to a traditional brisket, potato latkes and a modest vegetable dish.
Here you can rely on some of the more familiar choices of a sauvignon blanc or a lighter chardonnay (watch out for oak) for the soup and then syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and perhaps a zinfandel to enhance the main course.
Hanukkah parties are not necessarily geared to elaborate pairings but wine can definitely complement the festivities as it has been an integral part of Jewish celebrations for thousands of years.
Christmas is a joyous holiday and not confined only to the dinner itself. During the day with so many treats on display, I like to stick with the sparklers, dry rosés and simpler whites such as pinto grigio, vinho verde or moscato. A few light reds to consider are Chinon (cabernet franc from the Loire Valley) or a lightly chilled Beaujolais Nouveau or Dolcetto.
The Christmas ham is a bit tricky with its salty flavors, so I like the two seemingly opposite choices of chardonnay (with balanced oak and alcohol), which tames the saltiness and pinot noir to accentuate the savory nature of the dish. Both will also complement many of the Christmas meal side dishes served.
New Year’s Day is another day- and evening-long affair with plenty of football, lively conversation and a constant flow of often unrelated culinary delights. Don’t get too serious here either! Like Thanksgiving, I tend to put out a broad array of wines of various styles and origins for everyone to enjoy. A sampling of lighter wines becomes the order of the day as all kinds of interesting bites appear and disappear throughout the afternoon with bolder wines arriving on the scene for dinner and into the evening hours.
I’ve always said that although there are no ironclad rules for food and wine pairing, some combinations just go better with one another than others. But the upcoming holiday season is really no time to pursue those idyllic matches — diversity rules and the more choices the better. Happy holidays!
My Oct. 30 column “The many styles of Port” drew several comments on our readers’ appreciation of Port and the acknowledgement of the changes occurring in this historic region.
Paul — I just attended Wine Spectator’s NY Wine Experience and tasted through their 2015 Top Ten Wines of the year. Three of the top five were from Portugal and two of them were dry table wines from the Douro. New discoveries have always been the highlight of my 50-plus-years journey in wine. A region worth exploring!
Joe — My brother once brought from London a bottle of Vintage Port from the 1920s. It was one of the best bottles of wine I have ever had the pleasure to drink.