'The No. 1 rule is, drink what you and your guests enjoy.'
The holiday entertainment season is ramping up, making this the perfect time to think about planning those special meals — from intimate dinners to appetizers and drinks for large groups of family and friends.
“When it comes to choosing wine to pair with food, there are guidelines but few steadfast rules,” says Robert Bigelow, master sommelier and senior director, Wine Education & On-Premise Development at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. “The No. 1 rule is, drink what you and your guests enjoy. You can’t go wrong if you start there.”
Choose a holiday wine to fit your entertaining budget
The biggest myth when it comes to wine is that more expensive means better tasting. Washington state wines have a worldwide reputation for delivering an unbeatable quality-to-value ratio.
“If you were to blind taste Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley cabernet sauvignon against a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon of the same price it would be no contest,” Bigelow says. “We have superior growing conditions and the land is less expensive, so you get more bang for your buck.”
A casual brunch with quiche and salad may call for an inexpensive crisp, aromatic white wine such as sauvignon blanc. An elegant steak dinner to impress the boss or your in-laws may warrant a more expensive, rich cabernet or syrah. Whatever your entertaining needs, you’ll find a wide range of spectacular local wines available at every price point.
Pair like flavors
The best way to elevate a great dish and a great wine is to combine them, enhancing the experience of both. This happens more often when you pair two like flavors. For example, olives and vegetables marinated in an acidic vinaigrette dressing for an appetizer pairs nicely with a bright, acidic sauvignon blanc. On the other hand, the rich, buttery flavor of an oaky chardonnay would be destroyed by the acidic vinaigrette.
Thanksgiving dinner, which typically encompasses an array of sweet side dishes to go with turkey, calls for a wine with just a touch of sweetness. “Washington state riesling is a great Thanksgiving choice,” Bigelow says. “Washington rieslings contain natural crisp acidity and a hint of sweetness that won’t overpower the turkey, and also complement sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and dressing with apples and other fruit. You can serve a sweeter riesling, or even a sparkling wine, with dessert.”
Change up your wine choice with each course
A holiday meal can be somewhat of an event, taking place over an entire evening of eating, drinking, and enjoying the company of friends and family. Your choice of wine with each course can elevate the meal and be a source of conversation.
“Each course you serve can be a different experience, and the wine pairing is an essential part of that experience,” Bigelow says.
One wine myth that Bigelow dispels is that white and red shouldn’t mix. Appetizers are generally light for a multicourse meal, so it makes sense to start with a light wine. Sparkling wine is a great starter because the bubbles are known to increase one’s appetite. If you’re moving to a seafood or salad, then segue to rosé. And then red meat or pasta may call for a bolder red. Top it all off with a sweeter riesling to go with most any dessert.
“Too many people get stressed out about holiday entertaining,” Bigelow says. “The important thing to remember when it comes to choosing wines is that it’s all about raising a glass, clinking it with those you care about, and sharing a joyful experience together.”