Chow Town

Here’s a look at wines to make your holidays an international affair

Updated: 2013-12-18T01:04:02Z

By DAVE ECKERT

When last we spoke, from a food and wine pairing standpoint anyway, I was doling out some suggestions for holiday food and wine pairing with regards to sparkling wines, roses, and lighter-styled white wines.

I’m sure you made it through the Thanksgiving bird and the Turkey Tetrazzini and other leftovers that followed. I hope I helped, perhaps even steering you to wines you may not otherwise have tried. At the very least, I hope I didn’t get you to purchase something you really didn’t like.

Today, my goal is to help guide you through the maze of food items you will encounter at the myriad of holiday events you’ll be attending, and most importantly, through that all important big Christmas feast.

I realize everyone does something different for the holidays. Some do turkey again. Others love ham. There’s always beef with a variety of cuts and roasts, and, I’ve even been treated to a crown pork roast at a Christmas dinner. It’s all good, and I mean that both literally and figuratively.

For us, the food and wine pairing starts in earnest on Christmas Eve when my wife prepares a slightly upscale version of a classic Irish stew. We use lamb chops instead of lamb stew meat. It doesn’t change the flavor much, so it really doesn’t impact my wine picks, but it sure makes the dish a real treat.

On Christmas, we do a pretty standard beef tenderloin, though the preparation is certainly enhanced, and the wine matching difficulty raised, with the garlic, cream, shallot sauce my bride prepares for the meat. It’s lovely, but the addition of garlic and cream, not to mention a mild onion aspect the shallot brings, makes the dish much more complex and the wine choice a little tougher.

As with the last column, my intention is to brush the picture with broad strokes, so rather than make specific selections for specific dishes, let’s cover a few more wine categories, with some suggestions within each.

Today, I’ve decided to go all international. Next time, I’ll offer up a red, white, and blue holiday wine pairing with all American wines. Go with either, neither, or mix and match; as I said, it’s all good.

Fuller-bodied white wine

Chardonnay is still by far the most popular white wine variety for wine drinkers in the United States. And, nearly every country in the world produces Chardonnay, including France, of course, which put them on the map, continues to make the best, most complex, age-worthy, and priciest Chards in the world.

However, even fantastic White Burgundies, like Chassagne or Puligny-Montrachets, just aren’t my cup of tea with holiday fare. So, let me go elsewhere, just down the road, in fact, to France’s Rhone Valley.

Wines from the Northern Rhone are either 100 percent Viognier from appellations such as Condrieu or Chateau Grillet, or a combination of Rousanne and Marsanne from Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph. They’re excellent with the cheeses, white meats and side dishes served up on and around Christmas.

Likewise, Chateauneuf du Papes and Cotes du Rhones from the Southern Rhone, which contain a hodgepodge of grapes, but primarily feature Marsanne and Rousanne, provide excellent flexibility and a real affinity for holiday cuisine.

The Northern Rhone wines tend to be bigger, more viscous, and pricier. From the South, you can score well-made Cote-du Rhones from producers like M. Chapoutier, Jaboulet, Perrin and others for less than $15. They might not have all the bells and whistles of their Northern brethren, but they’re some of my best “go-to” wines over the holidays and beyond.

Lighter-bodied red wine

This is an easy category for me as I believe there is one grape and one region that is the absolute best for pairing around the holidays. The grape is Gamay and the region Beaujolais. Gamay is made elsewhere in small amounts, but Beaujolais is its home and where it reaches its vinous zenith. That said, much of what comes out of Beaujolais, win- wise, is often thin, simple and uninteresting.

What are interesting, and also incredible values, are the Beaujolais from the “Cru Villages,” places like Morgon, Moulin-au-Vent and Fleurie. These are the crème de la crème of Beaujolais, offering much more depth of flavor and complexity than bottlings labeled Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages.

Morgon has been one of my favorite places to source holiday wine through the years. Its wines are usually bigger, bolder and can age longer than other Beaujolais, even Cru Beaujolais. Although richer, Morgons remain very well-balanced with plenty of fruit. Bottom line is they are wines that are delicate enough to pair with turkey or ham, and big enough to stand up to beef, or in our case, a lovely Irish lamb stew.

Louis Jadot and Georges Duboeuf are dependable producers offering consistency and value from year to year. Plus, their wines are widely distributed, so easy to find.

Fuller-bodied red wine

I could go on all day here since this is by far my favorite category of wine, with or without cuisine. So, to ensure I don’t overwhelm you with choices, I decided to go to six countries, three Old World and three New World, and give you a single pick from each. It’s likely still more than you need or want to know, but indulge me. First, three Old World picks from France, Italy, and Spain.

France: I believe I enjoy the wines of France over the holidays more than wine from any other country. There are just so many styles, weights, flavors, and aromas, and because the climate isn’t as hot as most New World producers, the wines are less alcoholic, which means generally better balanced.

It’s almost unfair to just give you one selection, but I made the rules, so here goes: Domaine du Grand MontMirail Gigondas Veilles Vignes. It’s a mouthful to say, and a mouthful to drink. From the Southern Rhone, Gigondas producers blend numerous grapes, but primarily Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, to create silky smooth wines that seem to slide down my throat a little too easily. Medium-bodied with a touch of both earth and spice, this beauty is a great accompaniment to any holiday table. I predict there will be nothing left in the bottle at the end of the meal.

Italy: Italy produces some of my favorite wines: Barolos and Barberescos from Piedmonte, Brunello di Montalcinos and Super Tuscans from Tuscany and so many others.

They are not, however, the wines I usually turn to over the holidays as their inherently high acidity can make them problematic partners for holiday fare. I recently had the chance to try a wine that both wowed and impressed with its depth of flavors and aromas and its flexibility with cuisine.

Try the Pianirossi Sidus, a blend of Sangiovese and Montapulciano from the hills just outside the beautiful ancient city of Montepulciano. This wine has it all: balance, finesse, fruit, and earth, all in a bottle you can buy for less than $20. Imported by the St. Louis-based Tavolo Vigneto, and available here in Kansas City, the Pianirossi Sidus is worth seeking out.

Spain: I could have gone with any of a number of the “usual suspects” from famous regions like Rioja, Ribera del Duero, or Priorat that would have filled the holiday bill admirably. Instead, I’ll turn to Rioja, and a classis Rioja producer, Campo Viejo, for a non-traditional Rioja wine-a Garnacha. This is a new wine from Campo Viejo, whose offerings I’ve enjoyed quite a bit through the years. Garnacha, or Grenache, has been in Spain for a long time, and producers do a nice job with it. This wine is a little lighter than many of the Garnachas I’ve tasted, but it’s got enough stuffing to do battle with the big boys, and enough delicacy not to overwhelm. What’s more, for less than $15, the Campo Viejo Garnacha is as easy on the wallet as it is on the palette.

Australia: In this country known for its peppery, sometimes over-the-top, Shiraz, I turn to an excellent and long-time Shiraz producer for a beautiful Shiraz blend. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Rosemount’s GSM, a lip-smacking blend of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedre. Patterned after the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which often feature similar blend, Rosemount’s GSM brings its own personality to the table. It’s big, but not too big, ripe, but not overly extracted, and tannic, but not to the point that the tannin overwhelms the fruit. Rosemount’s GSM is a crowd-pleaser, especially if you’ve got a crowd that likes fruitier, New World offerings.

Argentina: From the land of Malbec, I offer you a reserva with a little less power and a little more grace, a wine that will leave you wanting more. Check out the Nieto Sentiner Reserva Malbec. Sourced from estate vineyards in the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza, the Nieto Reserva Malbec exemplifies the best of Mendoza Malbec. The vineyard from which the grapes are sourced, sits at 3,400 feet, which gives the grapes a purity of fruit, and the wine a core of well-defined flavors and aromas. Nieto’s Reserva Malbec is smooth enough to drink on its own, but it’s really built for food, and would make a lovely compliment to any holiday table.

Chile: Last, but not least, from the New World side of the wine world, one of my favorite wines from a terrific producer-the Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenere from the heart of Chile.

I’m a longtime fan of Auerillio Montes, a nice guy and a great winemaker, not a bad combination. Montes, who also makes wines in Argentina, Paso Robles and the Napa Valley, has a deft touch. His wines are always balanced with tons of fruit and plenty of varietal character. This combination of the classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Chile’s signature Carmenere brings out the best in both varieties. Chocolate, cigar box and coffee flavors emerge against a backdrop of vanilla and butterscotch. It’s amazing to me they can offer a wine of this quality and complexity for a sub $20 price tag. Sign me up

So, there you have it, a personal, but certainly not perfect, list of wines, grape varieties, regions, and countries for your holiday pleasure. I’ll be back next time with an entirely Yankee Doodle list. Until then, cheers.

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.

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