I probably put more thought into food and wine pairing than most people.
By DAVE ECKERT
Heck, probably the only people who think more about food and wine parings than me are sommeliers and others who make their living in the wine industry. I would say it’s a passion of mine. My wife might say obsession, but that’s a debate for another column.
I’m not fussy or snobby when it comes to picking the wine that’s going to accompany what I’m eating. I just consider wine another food group, so I want to pay it the proper respect. Likewise with the food. I don’t care if it’s my Cajun-spiced, grilled chicken wings or my wife’s beef tenderloin in a garlic cream sauce, they both should receive the wine attention they deserve.
So, where am I going with this? Well, only to say that this is one of the most challenging wine-and-food-pairing times of the year.
First, turkey, stuffing, and all sorts of sides, from sweet to savory and everything in between. Then, all of those Holiday parties with a variety of munchies that can range from salty to cheesy to salty and cheesy. Finally, Christmas, which for us means beef on Christmas Day and lamb on Christmas Eve, but it can also mean more turkey or ham or, for some of my Italian acquaintances, pasta.
But, fear not readers, your intrepid food-and-wine-pairing guy is on the case and here to help.
Rather than make specific recommendations for specific dishes — drink this wine with your turkey, this one with your roast, et cetera — I thought it might be helpful to arrange things by categories, giving you some recommendations within each one, and allowing you to make your own choices based on your palate and pocketbook.
In this column, I thought I’d tackle sparkling wines, roses, and lighter-styled white wines. These are my “go-to” categories for wines around the holidays as these wines are usually extremely versatile with a wide variety of food, made in a wide array of styles from light to heavy, bone dry to sweet, and, best of all, won’t break the piggybank.
I only have one real thread of advice when it comes to picking a bubbly to serve around the holidays-avoid the cheap stuff.
There’s a reason they can sell sparkling wines, even some that splash the word, “Champagne,” on the label for less than $10. Actually, there are several reasons: inferior grapes, an inferior method of production, and flawed, if not downright awful, flavors and aromas.
Personally, I’d look to Italy, a Prosecco or Franciacorta, and domestically, to sparklers from Carneros at the southern end of the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valleys, or better yet, out of the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County.
Mionetto Brut Prosecco is easy to like, and at $14, easier to afford. I like Bellavista in Franciacorta. The wines are pricier than Proseccos, but considerably more complex.
Domestically, you can’t go wrong with anything from Domaine Carneros, which is owned by the famous French Champagne house, Taittinger, and when heading to Mendocino, seek out the superb sparkling efforts of Scharffenberger, bigger and bolder, or Roederer Estate, subtler and more complex.
This is my absolute favorite category of holiday wines, and a category most people disregard after summer if they paid it any mind to begin with.
Of course, I should clarify that by rose, I mean dry roses, preferably from the south of France, often with a large percentage of Grenache, and never ever cloyingly sweet.
Look for bottlings from the Costieres de Nimes in the western part of the Rhone Valley, from Tavel, in the southern Rhone, or Bandol, which can be found in the heart of Provence. Bandols and Tavels are the Rolls Royces of roses, and they are priced accordingly, most over $20 a bottle.
Costieres de Nimes provide excellent value and terrific versatility. They work with the main meal, especially the Thanksgiving turkey and are great with the snacks provided at holiday parties. My suggestion. Splurge on either a Bandol or Tavel to serve with the bird, then grab a few bottles of Costieres de Nimes. You will not regret it.
This is a tricky category because, while it houses some of my favorite wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Albarino, most of those bottles don’t fair very well with holiday food.
Many Sauvignon Blancs are took grassy or too lean to handle the myriad of flavors, textures, and levels of sweetness holiday meals often contain. Likewise with Albarinos from the north of Spain. These wines are pitch perfect with shellfish and almost any lighter seafood offering, but are lost in the sea of sweet and savory items found at holiday parties and holiday dinner tables.
Luckily, there’s a world of white wines that shine in the holiday spotlight, and none of them, in my opinion, are spelled Chardonnay. Instead, may I suggest two other white varieties that, while not as complex as the world’s beset Chards, offer excellent flavors and aromas, pair well with a large selection of holiday goodies, and can be purchased for less than $20 a bottle.
Ladies and gentlemen, pop some corks, or unscrew some caps as the case may be, of Pinot Gris and Soave.
Let’s start with Pinot Gris. You’ve the most choices and flexibility in this category, including the pick of a Pinot Gris from Alsace, which in general will be earthier, pricier, and more complex, a Pinot Gris from Oregon, which will likely have brighter fruit, yet remains well-balanced, and a Pinot Grigio from Northeast Italy, which you’ll likely find simpler, sweeter, and less expensive. Oregon Pinot Gris is the safest bet, but if you want to swing for the fences, try a Domaine Schlumberger or Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris from Alsace. They will rock that bird.
Last, but not least, is the category of Soave. These wines have taken their lumps through the years, and rightly so. The oceans of insipid Soaves that flowed out of Italy through the decades is mind-numbing. These days, however you will find some dedicated, excellent Soave producers who keep the yields in check, maximizing flavors and aromas rather than the number of bottles produced.
I recent had a Soave Classico from Rocca Sveva, which was stylish and sophisticated. At $17, it was pricier than most Soaves on the market, but well worth the extra coinage. Another go-to Soave producer is Inama. I had the good fortune to visit and film with Inama while producing Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert. I fell in love with the wines back then, and always try and grab a bottle of two when I find them now.
So, there you have it, some choices to keep the palate and pocketbook happy this holiday season. I’ll be back with more next time.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.