The guest list is set, the menu is planned, and you’ve washed your best linens and dishes. Now for the wine list. A holiday meal can be made complete by choosing the right wines to pair with the foods you’re serving. But this can be a tricky thing, this wine-and-food pairing thing.
Uncle Charlie only drinks Bud Light, Great Aunt Sally only likes gewürztraminer and your second cousin on your mother’s side will try other wines, if they are white zinfandel. How to make everyone happy without losing your mind? The simple answer is, don’t.
It’s OK to let those picky drinkers bring their tried and true, but for those with a little more adventuresome palate, give them something they’ll love, even if they don’t know it just yet.
Instead of serving every course at the same time, try staggering it out and pairing a wine with each course. For the appetizer course, guests can walk around and mingle with a glass of sparkling wine. Sparkling goes great with a wide variety of foods and is a superversatile and very festive wine. Add a couple of cranberries to the bottom of a champagne flute before serving and you’ll impress your guests right from the start.
Once guests are seated, bring out the salad course. It’s fun to serve a wine that many people haven’t heard of and most have never tried before. How can you not like a wine you’ve never tried? Also, a great example for the kids’ table, right? You’ve got to try new foods (or drinks) because they might taste good.
Salads can be a tricky food to pair with wines because of the dressings. A wine with medium acidity can become very flabby when served with a zippy salad dressing because the vinegar is tarter than any of the acids that turn up naturally in wine.
How to handle this issue? First, select a wine with high acidity to fight back against that tangy dressing. Some white wines that will stand up to a wide variety of salad dressings and are a bit more off the beaten path are txakolina (traditionally lean white wine from northern Spain), muscadet (based on the snappy Melon de Bourgogne grape of the western Loire Valley in France) and Picpoul de Pinet (a white from the Languedoc region of Southern France).
Perennial Vintners on Bainbridge Island produces a delicious Melon de Bourgogne and is the only producer in Washington state to make this wine. The grapes are gown on Perennial Vintners’ 3-acre vineyard and less than 100 cases of this wine are produced each year.
One of my favorite go-to whites for enjoying with salads is grüner veltliner from Austria. The savory, green tones in salads bring out the natural celeriac and white pepper notes of a classic grüner veltliner and are a perfect match for a salad. It enhances all the farm-fresh flavors and brings brightness to the finish.
Moving on to the main course, let’s talk about your protein. Depending on your background, religion or taste buds, protein will play a big role in your holiday meal. If you’re serving turkey, that pretty much eliminates a full-bodied red wine because of the subtle turkey flavors. You’ll want to choose a red wine with softer tannins and lighter body.
If you want to stick with the surprise-and-delight wine route, try serving some of these wines alongside your turkey: gamay, primitivo, lambrusco or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. If you need a tried and true, go with a pinot noir.
If you’re more inclined to serve red meat like roast beef as your meal centerpiece, you’ll want a bigger, bolder red wine with higher tannins and more body. A good choice might be carmenere, a medium-bodied Chilean wine with herbaceous qualities similar in style to a cabernet franc; a nero d’Avola, a full-bodied Sicilian wine that is often compared to a cabernet sauvignon and syrah; or an aglianico, which is a high-tannin, bold red wine from Southern Italy that’s very savory and herbaceous.
If you’re ready to hop off the wine adventure train at this point and your guests are looking for something they are familiar with — and to be honest, by this point in the meal, everyone might be ready for a tried-and-true wine — go with a cabernet sauvignon or a sangiovese. Fletcher Bay Winery is another Bainbridge Island winery that produces some fabulous big, bold red wines. Try the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (which recently won a silver medal at the Sip Northwest Wine Awards). This cab is produced with grapes from the famed Red Mountain AVA in the Yakima Valley and is smooth and luscious, with soft tannins and a velvety finish.
For the dessert course, make Great Aunt Sally happy by serving a gewürztraminer, moscato d’Asti or muscat with the pumpkin pie. If your desserts are more chocolaty, try a port or pedro ximenez. My favorite holiday dessert isn’t a food — it’s a drink that my family has been making for years. It’s a recipe my grandmother and my mother made, and I’m now making it for my friends and family. It’s the best (and I’m not just being biased) hot buttered rum — dessert in a mug.
Brooke’s Hot Buttered Rum
- 1 pound butter, softened
- 1 box of powdered sugar (1 lb.)
- 1 box of dark brown sugar (1 lb.)
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 gallon premium vanilla ice cream, softened
- Spiced rum
Mix butter, powdered sugar, dark brown sugar, cinnamon and ground nutmeg. Once mixed, add the ice cream. Place in a freezer-safe container and store in the freezer until you’re ready to use it.
To serve, place 1 ounce of spiced rum in a mug with 2 tablespoons of the mix. Fill the mug with boiling water and top with a sprinkle of nutmeg.