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Wine pairings for holiday meals

It’s that time of year. Days are fast dwindling in the run-up to 2019, and many of us may once again be filled with holiday anxiety. Here at Wine Wednesday we are committed to assisting readers by providing survival tips for the upcoming weeks. This week: holiday feast wine pairing made easy.

Restaurant manager and sommelier Jennifer Williamson, who coordinates the Thanksgiving dinner offered at Larks Home Kitchen and Cuisine, begins by saying, “People are very traditional when it comes to holiday menus — and for good reason. That’s what holidays are about. People bond over the same things they’ve been doing all their lives, things that bring up cherished memories. We always make sure we have a traditional turkey. Wine pairing can be a little bit tough. You have white meat, dark meat, gravy, sagey herbs and spices and usually quite a bit of salt. I recommend a lighter, brighter red. Willamette Valley pinot noir in general goes great with turkey, as does the traditional Beaujolais nouveau. Irvine & Roberts just started producing a pinot meunier that goes really nicely with that traditional turkey dinner. It’s kind of lighter, brighter, definitely has some fruit forwardness but also some nice bright acidity to keep it well matched with the rest of the meal.

“In the white range, chardonnay and riesling work well, because both have a lot of fruit and acidity. That’s what food pairing comes down to: you want to balance fat, salt and acid. Those are the flavors you’re looking for in making a nice tasty bite of food, whether it’s protein, vegetables or whatever. If you think of mashed potatoes — there’s fat, that nice creamy mouthfeel and some salt. The best mashed potatoes have a little sharpness to them too, maybe some roasted garlic, chives or buttermilk, something to give it a little tang. That’s what I think of when I think about wine pairing. If you have a high-fat food, you want a fuller bodied wine. If you have salty food you want something with a little salinity like an albariño or a coastal chardonnay. And the same with acid. You want that little squeeze of lemon with your fish, or the cranberry sauce with the turkey. You need that brightness.”

With pumpkin, pecan or apple pie, all those rich desserts with nutmeg and cinnamon, Williamson suggests a nice brandy or port. “I love the ruby-style Abacela Tempranillo Port or the Slagle Creek Late Harvest Gewürztraminer to go with all those spicy nuances.”

Drew Gibbs, Winchester Inn owner/sommelier, talks about wines to go with the Dickens Feast, a special holiday dinner at Alchemy Restaurant, with caroling between sumptuous courses. “This year we start out with a wild mushroom wellington with port wine sauce. Cowhorn viognier works really well with that. Eric Weisinger’s chardonnay is also spot on. After that we’ve got the stilton cheese and onion soup. It’s kind of hard to pair with because the stilton is so strong. You can go with a big white with a little more oak or do a little left turn with a late harvest wine like Brandborg gewürztraminer.

With the salad, especially because you start to get some of the cranberry notes and nuts, I’m thinking Goldback Rosé or Pebblestone Syrah Rosé.

The prime rib goes well with a syrah-based wine or a Bordeaux blend. Syrah choices would be Quady North Mae’s Syrah or Cowhorn Syrah 8. A great Bordeaux would be Weisinger Petit Pompadour for a big, beautiful wine, or Eliana Claret, which has so much finesse.

For dessert, chef Mike Hite will be incorporating local pears. Gibbs suggests pairing Brooks Late Harvest Riesling or gewürtz. “We need more people doing more dessert wines down here, apart from port-style that goes so well with chocolate.”

Another source of good advice is local author Tod Davies, who has two cookbooks out: “Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking with What You’ve Got” and “Jam Today Too: The Revolution Will Not Be Catered” (Exterminating Angel Press, 2009 and 2014 respectively). These are both great reads apart from being culinary tutorials. Davies addresses the wine-pairing issue with characteristic no-nonsense simplicity. With almost everything she likes “a big, beefy wine that comes up to you and says, ‘You want garlic with that?’ You want a marriage made in heaven, you have Rogue Creamery blue cheese on Mix country loaf with a Rogue Valley red like Weisinger Mescolare. Fantastic. I could eat that forever.”

Talking turkey, Davies says, “Always brine it with two heads of garlic crushed, a handful of bay leaves crushed and thyme if you have it.” She also makes short work of those pesky turkey leftovers with Turkey Sukiyaki Soup. “You take all the turkey bones and leftover vegetable cuttings and make a broth. Strain it and cook barley in it or brown rice or pasta. At the last minute add chopped turkey, chopped scallions, baby spinach and soy sauce.” The detailed recipe is in “Jam Today Too” along with a suggestion for “feast-day mornings,” Oatmeal and Whiskey. That would likely smooth out almost any case of holiday angst.

Please note that Larks and Dickens Feast holiday menus include vegetarian and fish options not mentioned above. Details on Medford and Ashland Larks holiday offerings can be found at larksrestaurant.com under “menus.” For details on the Dickens Feast, which runs on 19 nights from Nov. 30 through Dec. 24, see winchesterinn.com under “dining, restaurant events.”

What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mjdaspitwinot@gmail.com. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.

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