Some wine suggestions for winter meals.
By Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week November 11, 2004
With the arrival of cooler weather, entertaining moves indoors. And the fall and winter holidays add another dimension to family get-togethers. The menu changes from the lighter summer fare to richer and more robust dishes. Similarly, the wines that best match the meals for this time of year are often more complex and fuller, with a medium body and bolder flavors. Usually these are red wines, although some white wines can work as well, depending upon the food being served.
When trying to pair wines with holiday dinners, the diverse nature of the dishes can make a selection difficult. Holiday dinners usually have a wide range of flavors. The menu depends upon the season as well as family traditions. For example, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving in our house if there were no sweet potato tzimis to accompany the turkey and stuffing. And often there are several cooks, each bringing their own handiwork to serve with dinner.
This assortment of flavors makes pairing wines with the holiday menu an inexact science. “The best approach,” says Ron Brenner, the General Manager of Schneider’s of Capitol Hill in Washington DC, “is to go with some basic themes and not try for an exact match with the foods.” For festive occasions, Ron recommends “serving an inexpensive sparkling wine when the guests arrive”, such as Travis Brut 2000 or the Coppo Moscato di Asti 2003 which is a low alcohol, slightly sweeter alternative.
For the main meal, Ron prefers red wines “that are able to hold up to the flavors of the dishes.” For example, Beaujolais, which is a good choice for a fall meal. Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape and the best have bright fruit flavors, with a low alcohol content and medium body. Nouveau Beaujolais is the first wine released after the harvest and traditionally it should be consumed before the end of the year of its release. It is very fruity and fun but mostly a marketing ploy. The better Beaujolais are released a year after the grapes are harvested and the 2003s currently available are excellent. They are very flavorful and surprisingly inexpensive, with prices often below $ 15 a bottle. The best producers are Georges Duboeuf, Louis Latour and Louis Jadot, and the finest examples are designated by the villages in Beaujolais where they are made. Look for Duboeuf Broully 2003 which is bursting with berry and plum flavors as well as Duboeuf Fleurie 2003 that is softer and slightly spicy. Beaujolais works well with lamb, brisket and duck dishes as well as grilled fish.
For more robust flavors, Ron recommends wines with more depth and body such as Domaine Gauby Cotes du Roussillon Vielles-Vignes 2000, a wine made in the Languedoc region of France from Grenache, Carignan and Mourvedre grapes. A mouth filling wine with fig and cherry flavors it is a relative bargain considering its quality. Fifth Leg Margaret River 2001 is a softer red wine from Australia. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it opens beautifully in the glass revealing current and earthy notes with a smooth finish.
Shiraz (or syrah) is another good choice for winter entertaining, because of its distinctive flavors and smooth textures. From Australia try the Ross Estate Barrosa Valley Shiraz 2001 with dark plum and berry flavors accented with mild pepper and spice notes. A lighter choice is the Selena Estates Shiraz 2001 with berry and pepper flavors. Another bargain is the Elderton Shiraz Barrosa 2001 that has plush blackberry and cherry flavors and a long, smooth finish. A kosher alternative is the Hagafen Syrah Napa Valley 2000 that has black cherry and raspberry notes.
The mild flavors of roast turkey work well with Pinot Noir and a good example is the Murphy-Goode Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2002 that is soft with currant and cherry flavors. Also recommended is the Valley of the Moon Pinot Noir Carneros 2001 that has bright cherry and plum flavors with a complex finish. Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2002 is also very smooth and soft with mild fruit notes and a long finish. A real bargain considering its quality is the Ponzi Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Tavola 2002 that can be found for under $20 and is as good as wines costing many times more. The W.H. Smith Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2002 is rich and bold with deep blackberry flavors and a full finish.
Merlot drinks well with roasts, lamb and pasta dishes. My wife loves the Trumpeter Merlot 2003, made in Argentina, for the rich black cherry flavors and velvet feel. Also from the Mendoza region in Argentina is Felipe Rutini Merlot 2002 which has lovely blackberry and plum flavors. From Israel, the Mount Tabor Merlot Galilee 2002 is fresh and smooth with berry and cherry notes.