Food and wine pairing ideas for the holiday season


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Some of you may want to serve one or two wines for the entire meal, from appetizer to dessert, while others may prefer a different wine for each course. I will share my recommendations for the simple and elegant as well as for the intense oenophiles.

The holiday season is upon us and everyone is undoubtedly thinking about their menus. Whether you opt for a traditional meal or a uniquely elaborate meal, everyone wants an enjoyable dining experience. If you’re like me, wine is as important at the table as food. The right wine will enhance the flavors as well as the party.

Some of you may want to serve one or two wines for the entire meal, from appetizer to dessert, while others may prefer a different wine for each course. I will share my recommendations for the simple and elegant as well as for the intense oenophiles.

Some delicious aperitif pairings include soft cheeses like Camembert or Brie with a dry sparkling wine like Champagne or a crisp, unoaked Chardonnay. The contrast of flavors will provide a great mouthfeel. As a starter, stuffed mushrooms accompanied by a fine Pinot Noir or a Gamay from Beaujolais, harmoniously blending the aromas of the undergrowth.

Going into the main course, you can pair your wine with meat or protein instead of trying to please all the side dishes. A familiar choice like turkey will pair beautifully with pinot noir from Oregon or Burgundy, France. Additionally, a Gamay, woody Chardonnay, or Viognier will also work without undermining the accompanying dishes. However, if you want to go a little bolder, given the flavors of the rich sauce and mashed potatoes, serve the meal with a Bordeaux-style wine or Merlot. For a tenderloin of beef or roast leg of lamb, you’ll want to stick to the bigger Bordeaux reds or opt for a Cabernet Sauvignon or Argentinian Malbec; the lamb also likes a grassy Syrah/Shiraz. Also, if your main course is a holiday ham, try something like Zinfandel or a Chenin Blanc de Vouvray, the sweet and salty meat begs for a fruity wine.

Vegetarian main dishes like Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with Cranberry Apple Chutney or Sweet Potato Mushroom Pie would be happy with a nice Pinot Noir, Gamay, Sangiovese, Chardonnay Boisé, Chenin Blanc de Vouvray or Viognier.

Finally comes the dessert. For the perfect pairing, make sure the wine is just a little sweeter than the dessert. For example, a classic pumpkin pie with a Porto Tawny or an apple pie with a Marsala would be delicious. However, sticking with late-harvest wines like Sauternes or Riesling will bring you a tasty and happy pairing. If you prefer a classic red wine with your pie, opt for a red Zinfandel. Also, chocolate mousse and cheesecake pair best with pinot noir, merlot, or California riesling.

When pairing foods with wine, keep in mind your cooking method and whether you’re using a sauce. For example, a fried turkey can withstand a heartier wine than a roasted or grilled turkey. Also, the richer the sauce or gravy, the more strength you can pair with your wine. There are many options and experimenting is the best way to find out what your palate likes. My best advice is to remember to match the intensity of food and wine so you don’t overwhelm or diminish either. And, to all the guests who don’t host the occasion, you’re almost always safe with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir. My favorites come from Burgundy, France.

East Valley resident Darla S. Hoffmann is a Certified Sommelier and Certified Wine Specialist. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her at aboutwineinaz.com.

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