Musings on Wine

Holiday Wine & Food Pairing Tips

The holidays are one of the truly great gastronomic times of the year. An incredible array of amazing traditional flavour-rich foods and stunning bottles of wine opened for friends and family. If ever there was a time to ensure the wine and food were well paired, this is it!
Now some will argue that this is the time to not over think things - just pop corks and eat, drink and be merry! That point of view certainly is hard to disagree with, however, as a certified sommelier, wine and food matching is in my blood. It's automatic. The extra pleasure I get from ensuring the food and wine are both in harmony is well worth the few minutes it takes to align the right flavours and textures between the vino and the nosh.
The standard approach to wine and food pairing is to choose whether to complement flavours and textures or contrast them. In order to choose which route to go, you must ask yourself if there is anything food-wise that needs to be contrasted. If I was serving very fatty food like deep fried fish then I would likely want to contrast that fattiness with the appropriate fresh, crisp wine. If I was serving salty food such as oysters or dry-rubbed ribs, the same would apply. With the standard holiday feast of roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed/roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, peas, corn (or whatever vegetable is part of your family tradition) and the all-important gravy and cranberry sauce, you've got an awful lot going on. The key is to look at the most intense and dominant flavours and choose your wine based on these. In this feast, I'd suggest the intensity of the dark meat of the turkey and (pork, chestnut, mushroom) stuffing plus the obvious sweetness of the cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes stand out, whereas most of the other items on the table are less of a concern. None of these items is asking for a contrasting wine so I say complement baby, complement!
The basic rules of the game suggest our wine needs to be as flavourful and robust as our food, unless of course we are sacrificing the wine as a general palate cleanser and digestion aid (not a bad idea if you plan to sleep at some point after dinner). The rules also suggest our wine should have enough fruitiness and even a little residual sweetness to pair with the sweet elements of the meal. Finally, we need to keep in mind that with all the afternoon egg nog, mulled wine and late evening digestifs of brandy and malt whisky, we will want to ensure the wine we are serving isn't too high in alcohol and is generally gulpable and refreshing. After adding all this together and then choosing a wine that you actually enjoy drinking, at a price point that is reasonable, we are left with the following diverse options:
Sparkling: Try a fruity, not too dry sparkling red or rose wine like Italian Lambrusco, Australian Shiraz or our own delicious Cuvee 13 Rose.
White: Consider a richer-styled white with adequate fruit intensity and a pleasant backbone of fresh acidity such as Viognier, Gewurztraminer or our own Pinot Gris 2011.
Pink: Even though many feel that pink wines should be reserved for poolside patios and picnics, I tend to appreciate them year round. A juicy, fruity White Zinfandel, off-dry Cabernet Franc or Gamay based rose such as our Pink Palette 2012 will do the trick
Red: The majority of folks will be looking for the perfect red for this imporant meal. Stay away from tannic, overly dry wines or anything super light. Good options which will have loads of bright fresh juicy fruit and supple round mouthfeel include Italian Barbera, Dolcetto or Bardolino, California or Chilean Pinot Noir or the ever-popular Gamay Noir either from Beaujolais-Villages or a great Niagara version such as the Malivoire M series Gamay or our own cream label Gamay Noir 2012.
Any way you slice it, this is one of the finest times of the year for friends, food and family and investing a little time and effort to ensure the wine is well chosen will enhance the festivities that much more.
(Final note: be sure to always have some delicious sweet oloroso Sherry, tawny Port or Malmsey Madeira around the house for all the wonderful shortbread, rum balls, mincemeat tarts, English trifle and dark fruit cake!)

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