Categorized | Drinks

Wines for the Big Feast

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When you’re planning your big meal this holiday season, make sure you include wines as part of your menu.

Most wouldn’t serve the same wine with beef tenderloin that they would serve with turkey. A hearty, robust California Cabernet Sauvignon would overpower the turkey; a Sauvignon Blanc that would complement the turkey might get lost in all that beef.

So, the following are a few suggestions of wines to pair with a variety of main courses. Just remember: When in doubt, a brut sparkling wine, from Spanish Cava to French Champagne to Italian Prosecco, will go with just about everything but dessert. And it certainly is festive.

Beef tenderloin: This is the dish that’s perfect for your big California Cabs and Merlots as well as a Bordeaux, a Spanish Rioja or a Chateauneuf du Pape. From Italy, a Barolo, a Barbaresco or a Brunello di Montalcino would all suffice. But there are problems:

  • If you are serving this with a complex sauce, choose a wine that is less complex.
  • If you are blackening the beef or using a spicy rub, then forget the Cab or any big red wine and stick with something lighter and fruitier, such as a young Shiraz or Sangiovese. A sparkling Shiraz with spice would be fine, but this wine does not appeal to all, so don’t spring it on people unawares.
  • If you’re roasting beef, also consider a Malbec, a hearty, rustic red wine most famously made and consumed in Argentina — where the per-capita consumption of beef is one of the highest in the world.

Lamb: Syrah or Shiraz has enough fruit and acid to work well with lamb. If you’re cooking it on a rotisserie or grill outside, put some of the smoky flavor up against a good Argentinian Malbec or a South African Pinotage, a red wine with a robust character.

Pork roast: Pork might be light in color, but it is richly flavored, especially if you’ve put a spicy rub on it. We think a fruity Cru Beaujolais or a New World Pinot Noir, from California or Oregon, would be good. A few names: Rodney Strong, McMurray Ranch, Morgan Winery, Amici, or try the very good Ponzi, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Turkey: If the turkey is blackened, we’d like it with a spicy Zinfandel. If it’s not, a Zin might still work, but lighter wines, such as a Gewürztraminer, would give you some acidic edge to cut through the fat and spice to complement the light flavor of the white meat.

Duck: Duck, simply roasted, is a perfect match for Pinot Noir. But few prepare it simply. So, follow these rules:

  • If you’re making a sweet-sticky sauce, such as orange or sweet cherry, or using a spicy rub, then go with a sweet wine. It could be a Riesling with some sweetness or it could be a Mavrodaphne Patras, a naturally sweet red from Greece. Moscato d’Asti or Muscat Canelli, with its tinge of orange flavor, is another good match.
  • If it’s spicy, think Zin again.

Goose: Goose is a fatty meat, like duck, so whatever you choose will need some heft, acidity, a little spice.  A Zinfandel that is not too heavy (ask the wineseller about this) would be a good choice, but also consider some of the white wines from the Alsace or Germany — dry or off-dry Riesling could work, too.

Shellfish: Champagne is made for lobster, whether you are serving it steamed or covered in a creamy sauce. Here again, choices must be made based on your recipe. If you are making a sweet thermidor sauce, you want an off-dry Champagne (the wine must always be sweeter than the food you serve it with). If the sauce is not sweet, then a brut Champagne or a California Chardonnay should be ideal. Sauvignon Blanc is perfect with oysters and scallops, but also consider a steely French Chablis. A Riesling with a touch of sweetness is excellent shrimp in a spicy sauce. Moving to the Old World, don’t forget the edgy Sancerre, or even a Sancerres rosé (usually made from Pinot Noir), if you’re lucky enough to put your hands on one.

Vegetarian feast: Take your tip from your main course. If it’s something earthy, like portobello mushrooms or potatoes, think Pinot Noir or French Burgundy.  If it’s lighter and sweeter, including onions or carrots, think about a German Riesling, a spicy Gewurztraminer or a sparkling wine labeled extra dry (which means it has some sweetness to it).

(Photos: Wong Mei Teng)

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