Menu—check. Guest list—check. All you have left to worry about is what noteworthy vintage to uncork at your feast. Pairing wines can seem like a daunting task, but with Zupan’s Sommelier, Amber Kinjerski, on hand, choosing the perfect bottle for your holiday fare is a piece of cake.
For Thanksgiving, with turkey as the main entrée, there a couple of routes you can take to achieve a great food and wine pairing. If you want to go the traditional route, serve a German Riesling. A 2000 Jos. Christoffel Jr., Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett is a fantastic choice for a Riesling that has some age on it. It’s a classic match that is sublime with turkey. The sweetness of a Riesling complements the sweetness in the meat and isn’t overbearing or heavy. Remember, turkey is poultry; lighter wines pair better with it. Plus, we generally eat enough heavy food on Thanksgiving—there’s no need to add heavy wine to the mix.
Alternately, for red wine lovers, you can serve a Pinot Noir with turkey as well. Pinot is neither heavy nor tannic, but has enough body to pair well with meats. For the locally inclined, Amber recommends an Oregon favorite: A 2008 Ken Wright Cellars, Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir. The 2008 vintage is shaping up to be a great one—generously fruity, supple and full bodied—that pairs extremely well with any dish featuring cranberries.
Getting further into the holiday party season, and a more diverse menu, Amber also pulled a few sure-fire winners from the Zupan’s Cellar to serve at your table or bring to a party.
For the carnivores, try a 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Le Vieux Donjon. The 2007 vintages from the Rhône are the best we’ve seen in the last 25-30 years, with fruit notes that are generous, dark and gripping. This wine will cut through the fat and gristle of any of the heavier meats (beef or lamb), and has enough body and texture to stand up to even the juiciest cuts!
For seafood lovers and vegetarian diners, a White Burgundy is an excellent choice. It goes with nearly everything. Like Chardonnay, White Burgundys are Blanc de Blancs wines (made with 100% Chardonnay grapes), but are an enchanting counterpart to traditional California Chardonnay. White Burgundys have less oak on them and more floral characteristics, making them a beautiful complement to white fish or salmon. Amber’s favorite is a 2006 “Les Bassets” Domaine Laurent Cognard, Montagny 1er Cru.
When it comes time for dessert, Amber is thrilled over the grower’s Champagnes she’s ordered for the 2009 party season. Grower’s Champagnes are small batch, artisan Champagnes sourced from their namesake region in France. The growers raise their own grapes, neither buying from nor selling to other growers. They personally attend to the entire wine making process themselves, which results in very unique and special wines. These Champagnes are all organic and often bio-dynamic.
Two of the best are the L. Aubry, Brut NV—offering a clean finish and high citrus fruit notes—and the Pierre Gimonnet, Cuis 1er Brut NV with hints of buttery brioche and an opulent, rich texture. Champagne is best with light, fruity desserts (torts, sorbets, etc.) rather than rich sweets such as cake or pumpkin pie (see below for Amber’s advice on picking a wine to pair with richer desserts).
Amber also has some excellent general tips for choosing which wines to serve at, or bring to, holiday meals:
- Always consider the weight of the food compared to the weight of the wine. The lighter the fare, the lighter the wine—and vice versa. For instance, if Dungeness Crab Cakes are the entrée, avoid pouring a bold wine such as a Cabernet. It will overpower the dish—you want to strike a balance.
- If you’re bringing wine to a party, don’t hesitate to ask your host/hostess what they are serving. This way you can be sure to choose a wine that will compliment the meal rather than distract from it.
- If you use a good deal of herbs in your cooking, Rhône wines—especially from the 2007 vintage—are the way to go. They have an inherent herbaceousness that naturally creates a stellar pairing.
- Port is fantastic for rich, holiday desserts. The darker flavor profiles (such as pumpkin, dark chocolate and spice) work well with Port’s caramel and molasses traits.
- Feel free to ask for assistance from Zupan’s wine stewards. They look forward to helping you choose a fabulous wine for every occasion and budget.