Fall has quietly, calmly and inevitably arrived, and the holidays and winter are not far behind. This is the time to relax at home or to spend time with family and friends, gathering over food and wine. Finding the right wine for your dinner or event is important but can be stress inducing.
Reluctance to try new wines is commonplace, and walking into a wine shop can be completely overwhelming given the sheer volume and variety available. So, you’re not alone if you make a beeline for the same, reliable, everyday bottle when you stop at the wine shop. I encourage you to be bold and brave, to venture out. The world of wine is truly exciting now, with winemakers breaking old rules and pioneering new ones. This allows us as consumers to experience wines, from merely quaffable to exceptional, at all price points. With all the wonderful wines being produced each year, it may nearly be impossible to try them all.
November nights are clear, cool and crisp. They are perfect for sitting outside with friends around a fire. With a cheese board and snacks on hand, selecting the right wine to offer your guest is next on the agenda. Familiar wines such as Pinot Grigio or Merlot are perfectly acceptable and will suit your needs. Sometimes though, it is good to step outside of our comfort zone. Why not experiment a little? Offer wine with wider appeal, still affordable, but less predictable. Blended wines are back in fashion and can be a marvelous choice. Blends are produced all over the world with some of the most popular coming out of California. Widely available and largely appealing, they range from very sweet to dry, from simple to quite complex. Both Apothic red and Ste. Chapelle soft white are nice introductory blends, palatable, pleasing and easy to drink.
When throwing a party, it can be good to serve a wine which sparks conversation. Dreaming Tree Crush is one possibility, as it is produced by musician Dave Matthews and stellar winemaker, Sean McKenzie. It is a fantastic wine that enlivens the conversation as well as the palate. For the serious wine drinker who’s looking for more structure and complexity in his or her wines, Zaca Mesa “Z” Cuvee is a must. There is a blend for almost every taste and occasion.
During the holidays, we look forward to parties, social events and, of course, food. We are surrounded by food and confounded by what wine to serve with it. The rule of thumb: White wine is served only with fish or chicken and red is served only with red meat. Does this still hold merit? Use this rule of thumb as a guideline only. Rules are meant to be broken. Serving red wine with a white meat can be delicious IF it is paired correctly.
Stepping outside the bounds is acceptable but consideration must be given to:
1. Weight of the food and the weight of the wine. Wine should enhance the food not overpower it. Pair light-bodied wines with lighter foods and vice versa.
2. Unless it is a very expensive bottle of wine, the star of the show (or table) is the food. That is where the spotlight belongs and the wine should highlight the star.
3. Drink what you like whether red, white, rose or sparkling. In most cases, a wine of your preferred color can be matched to what you are eating to provide you with a enhanced sensory experience.
Chardonnay is generally the go-to wine for Thanksgiving and Christmas as turkey is most often the main dish. However, an overlooked classic that is staging a comeback is Chenin Blanc, a white that is versatile, interesting and can range in flavor depths and sweetness levels.
Made in several countries, such as France (known as Vouvray), South Africa (occasionally referred to as Steen), Australia, as well as in the United States, Chenin Blanc pairs very well with turkey, pork, pumpkin, squash and a host of other holiday table staples. It is unique in character, but falls somewhere between a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc, and is a delightful accompaniment.
As mentioned earlier, finding the correct red to serve is essential when matching the wine to the food. Pinot Noir is a logical choice for the holiday table as it is lighter bodied and ranges from fruit driven to earthy. A plethora of Pinot Noir can be found in most good shops. An unexpected but equally elegant alternative is Beaujolais-Villages. It is classic, interesting and light enough to let the food shine without stealing the spotlight.
Beaujolais Nouveau has a similar name, but is 180-degrees different than Beaujolais-Villages. Although made from the same grapes in the same region of France, it is an entirely different animal, but it is appropriate for the holiday table. It is much less serious than Beaujolais-Villages. It is fun, fruity and fresh off the vines. The grapes are picked within six to eight weeks of bottling, so the wine spends no time in oak barrels which results in very little tannin. It is meant to be drunk within six months of release and is released the third Thursday each November, just in time for your soiree.
Desserts and dessert wines, so delicious and divine, deserve ample space and time, so they shall be left until another day when justice can be done them.
As this year ends and a new one begins, we gather and celebrate. This may be the only time you partake of Asti or Champagne. However, I implore you to reconsider. Add some sparkling wine to your regular repertoire. Synonymous with celebration, yet appropriate for every day, my praise and preaching for Champagne, sparkling, Asti, cava, Prosecco, etc. rings out loud. It is made in many parts of the world, known by many names, and ranges from simple to complex, fruity and sweet to yeasty and dry. It is versatile, low in alcohol and pairs well with many types of food.
My passion for the bubbles is strong. Alas, I could wax poetic for days, but this time I shall somewhat refrain. Except for this — please enjoy a glass more frequently, and try something new. Boutique bubbly is the latest trend but cava (made in Spain) has been making waves for a while. Amazing options abound, so be open to the possibilities. Gruet from New Mexico is a staple in my home. Is it surprising that sparkling wine from the desert could be so fantastic? Imbibe with brunch, an appetizer, oysters, caviar, Asian cuisine or give it a whirl with fried chicken. Please do not wait for that elusive special occasion. Every day is special.
As the nights get longer and the days get shorter, share a glass of wine with those who mean the most to you. As you do, have fun, experiment a little and step outside your comfort zone.
Here’s to cold nights, warm friends, a good drink to give them.