Paul Gregutt, Seattle Times wine writer, offers this selection of wines for holiday entertaining.
When planning your holiday entertaining, the addition of wine to the table is sure to liven up any occasion. Matching wine to food need not be a chore or a challenge. Ignore the complex formulas and books on the subject; they offer too much information and over-complicate matters.
The truth is, there are very few wine and food matches that can go horribly wrong. What is most important is to have enough wine, to have a varied assortment of wine and to stay within your wine budget.
Before getting down to specific choices, do some pre-party planning. How many guests are you expecting? As much as possible, try to determine who among them will want wine. I generally plan to open a bottle of wine for every two wine-drinking adults; more if there are serious imbibers among the guests.
Purchase the wine at least a day or two in advance, so it’s not a last-minute dash-and-grab. Have a pitcher of drinking water for every bottle of wine consumed. And mix up your choices. It’s much more fun to serve six different wines than six bottles of the same wine, and it also ensures that every guest will have at least one or two choices that they know and like.
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As a general guideline, you will want a bottle or two of bubbly to start things off. The best values are Spanish cavas, Italian spumantes and our own Domaine Ste. Michelle sparkling wines. For $10 or $12 you can find refreshing examples done in the Champagne style (that is, fermented in the bottle). Choose wines that are sealed with a wire cage and labeled brut (brut nature is too dry for most palates, and extra dry is actually sweet).
The appetizer part of your meal is often when you’ll have cured meats, salted nuts and ripe cheeses out for grazing. Sparkling wines work well with such foods, as do crisp white wines such as sauvignon blanc and pinot gris or grigio. Avoid heavily oaked chardonnays — save them for the main course if you plan to serve them at all.
Here are some thoughts on what to serve with a variety of main-course entrees. As important as the central protein may be, even more important is the preparation. Is it spicy or herbal or fruity? Is there a rich cream and butter sauce, or something as simple as au jus? Think about the flavors of the food and let your own instincts help to guide you as far as a specific wine selection. And don’t hesitate to consult your wine seller for suggestions.
Unless you are absolutely certain that all your guests like red wines or white wines exclusively (not likely), I’d suggest you serve both, no matter the entree. It’s more important to please your guests than to follow some rule about red wine with beef, or whatever. And purchasing a variety of wines will almost certainly lead you to some new discoveries and wine/food matchups that you never would have imagined. At a recent dinner party for six, a Mexican-style bean stew paired perfectly with a K Vintners viognier, which I poured because several guests admitted they preferred white wines.
Some general guidelines
Seafood: Crisp, sometimes salty, mineral-infused white wines from Portugal, Spain and Sicily are a great choice for shellfish and lighter seafood. Try the Vionta 2010 Albariño ($15-$16 from Odom). Lightly spritzy, lively and fresh. For something a little richer, look for Serras de Azeitão 2010 Vinho Branco Selecção do Enólogo ($8 from Grape Expectations). This Portuguese white mixes grapefruit and white peach, with a smooth texture and crisp finish.
Poultry: Here’s where I’d pull out a buttery chardonnay. Gordon Brothers make a terrific one — dark gold, almost oily in texture, and loaded with buttered popcorn flavor ($10). Sonoma’s Rodney Strong chardonnay offers more sophisticated texture and structure for a few dollars more ($13). For a light, elegant style, turn to France and grab a bottle of Joseph Drouhin’s 2009 Laforet Chardonnay ($11 from Noble). It’s crisp and nicely styled with green-apple and almond highlights.
Pork: Pork roasts, chops or tenderloin can be just as versatile as poultry, and both white and red wines will fit most dishes. Try Bergevin Lane’s 2010 Calico White ($16), a silky blend of chardonnay, viognier, roussanne and marsanne; or Kontos Cellars 2010 LeeVeLooLee Gossamer White ($22), another intriguing blend of chardonnay, viognier, semillon and grenache blanc. For a red wine grab a 2009 Cru Beaujolais — you can find them still and they are drinking beautifully. Another surefire palate pleaser is Saviah Cellars 2009 The Jack ($18), a merlot-based red blend, loaded with strawberries and plums.
Beef: Beef is cabernet country, and Washington vintners offer many excellent cabernet-based red blends. Try the Five Vineyards cab from Arbor Crest ($18), the winery’s Four Vineyards merlot ($16), or the O• S 2007 Red ($18). For something extra special, I’d reach for the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2008 Cold Creek Vineyard cabernet sauvignon ($28). Year in and year out, this vineyard’s fruit is among the most ageworthy, perfectly structured cabernet in the state.
Lamb: Lamb and syrah may be as ideal and foolproof a match as I’ve ever seen. The syrahs from Washington are loaded with flavors of dried herb, cured meats and tangy berries. Some especially good values are Gordon Brothers 2007 Syrah ($17), Robert Ramsay’s 2007 Syrah ($20) and Bergevin Lane’s 2008 She-Devil Syrah ($22).
Side dishes? Don’t worry about them! The pumpkin squash, broccoli and beet salad will have to fend for themselves while you enjoy your excellent selection of fine wines.