It’s never too early to make our holiday entertainment plans. It won’t be long before the season is upon us as we are deluged by the many ads for Christmas lay-aways and other special offers.
The season once began with a Thanksgiving celebration and concluded on New Year’s Day with a football “fiesta” of the four big (Sugar, Cotton, Rose and Orange) Bowl games. But that’s all changed over the years with an earlier start shortly after Halloween when the frantic sales begin. The frenzy continues past Thanksgiving through December and into January with all the holidays and an overwhelming schedule of football playoffs and championships. Then on to February for Super Bowl, one of the biggest “foodie” celebrations of all.
It’s not just Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s anymore. So why not start your vinous planning now for all the holiday, family and sports festivities that will soon be coming our way?
While each holiday and gathering has its own theme and tradition, they all share a broad selection of culinary diversity that challenges the conventional pairing of wine and food. And given all the flavors, textures and spices we are serving at these many events, coupled with the typical buffet-style service, you really don’t know what will show up on any given plate. So I have learned to throw out the “ritual” of complementing each dish with the perfect (whatever that means) wine pairing and just enjoy the multiplicity of choice available today.
At this time of year, I have fun searching my cellar and local wine shops for interesting choices to serve as a range of wines for everyone to enjoy. But my decisions are not random, and each is geared to multiple taste pairing preferences.
My key to all the preferred wines is lower alcohol and tannin with higher acidity and inviting fruit on the palate. In general, I look to sparklers, dry rosés (lightly chilled), aromatic as well as steely whites along with lighter reds as I have found they pair better with all the culinary treats comprising our holiday menus.
Turkey and ham are regulars for the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables, but take a look at all the side dishes from cranberry sauce, gravies, various iterations of stuffing and seasonal veggies that appear on the same plate. It’s not necessarily the time to reach for our favorite cabernet or chardonnay that better suit more traditional meals.
Why not give a few aromatic whites such as roussanne, verdelho, chenin blanc, gewürztraminer and Southern Rhone-style blends a chance? And for a some lighter reds, you can look to a lightly chilled Dolcetto or Beaujolais Village. For a bit more depth but not overwhelming intensity, try a Chianti (sangiovese), lighter-styled pinot noir, Côtes du Rhône, malbec or charbono. These wines come from a variety of growing areas but each will pair nicely with all the flavors, aromatics and textures on the plate.
Hanukkah is another holiday where tradition reigns. Here, you can rely on some of the more familiar choices of a sauvignon blanc or a lighter chardonnay (watch out for oak) for the soup and then syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and perhaps a zinfandel to enhance the main course of brisket or roast chicken accompanied by those delectable potato latkes.
Hanukkah parties are not all about elaborate pairings but wine can definitely complement the festivities as it has been an integral part of Jewish celebrations for thousands of years.
In our house, Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s from morning to night seem like non-stop football spectaculars, and Super Bowl Sunday is much the same. There is a never-ending stream of snacks, small bites, dips, cheeses and meats continually emanating from the kitchen landing on the bar and tables around the den.
I can’t keep up with the dishes, so I just keep the wines coming. Any of the choices already mentioned fit nicely and adding to those try a dry or off-dry riesling, albariño, torrantés, grenache blanc and garganega (Soave Classico) for interesting whites.
For some, other easy-to-enjoy reds look to tempranillo, granache, petite sirah or mourvèdre (aka mataro or monastrell) to help elevate the spirit of the game.
Wine is all about discovering something new that excites your senses and opens a door to even more enjoyment.
So take advantage of this holiday season to explore countless opportunities while uncovering new treasures for all the special times you will be spending with family and friends.
Allen Balik has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 35 years. Each year, he and his wife, Barbara, produce the Evening Of The Culinary Winemasters event at Warner Bros. Studios, a benefit for Cystic Fibrosis. He regularly appears on CRN Digital Talk Radio's What's Cookin' and What's Cookin' on Wine programs.