Holiday wines

What: Every year about this time wine drinkers start to worry about what they will serve with their holiday meals.

We all know the right pairing can make a meal memorable so it’s worth putting in some time to get it right. A meal with beef is easy–just pick up a hearty red such as a Bordeaux or a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Turkey and ham can be tricky, especially when you think about the side dishes that go with them. A big red can overpower the main dish, and many whites won’t be able to stand up to the meat.

When I was young and our holiday menu usually included turkey, dumplings and sauerkraut, I remember the adults drank beer. Any wine was sweet Mogan David, and later cold duck.

We have more choices in wine now, and I’d like to offer some solutions to the holiday pairing dilemma. As always, the final choice depends on your tastes.

One can’t-miss choice is Champagne or sparkling wine. These wines go with just about any food, from turkey to ham to spicy ethnic dishes to desserts. Real Champagne is especially festive. Two of my favorites are Champagne Aubry and Moet & Chandon Imperial. Both are reasonably priced (around $30) and have enough sparkle and crisp acidity to brighten up any occasion.

Biltmore sparkling wines are among the best wines they make. I always like the pink variety, which I think is a blanc de noir. But their blanc de blancs Methode Campenoise Brut 2007 also is outstanding. It’s made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes from California’s Russian River Valley in the traditional Champagne style. That means the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It ages 18-24 months before it is sold. It smells like fresh baked bread and has a floral taste with some lemon and yeast.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi has two sparklers that sell for about $10 each, Brut Sparkling and Extra Dry Sparkling. The Brut Sparkling starts with citrus aromas followed by flavors of green apple and lemon cream.

The Extra Dry is a bit sweeter, with aromas of Golden Delicious apples and pear. Bright acidity balances the slightly sweet flavor, much like a lemon tart.

If you serve turkey and want a white wine, two good choices are Riesling and Gewurtztraminer, especially those from Germany. I particularly like a Riesling from the Alsace region of France. You might also like a Grüner Veltliner from Austria.

Biltmore also offers a special Christmas wine each year, called Christmas at Biltmore. It’s a little sweeter than many whites and would pair well with cranberry relish or pie. It has flavors of apricot, strawberry and lime.

Sometimes you want a red and a white because no one wine (except a sparkling wine) will match all the side dishes such as sweet potatoes, cranberries or pumpkin pie. In that case I would look for a lighter red, such as a Beaujolais, or possibly a Grenache from Spain. A nice rose sometimes fills the bill well.

For ham, Pinot Noir is the traditional choice, although I also like Zinfandel. Ham isn’t a great food for wine, so I would look for an inexpensive Pinot from California, or even Oregon if you can find one at a low price point. Rose also works well with ham.

A holiday meal also is a great time to break out the dessert wine, such as Port, a late harvest Riesling or an icewine. Port is a red wine fortified with brandy, so it has some extra kick, but it is perfect finish to a big meal. Some California wineries are making nice Zinfandel ports. A late harvest Riesling has a lot of extra sugar, adding to the sweetness. Icewine usually comes from Europe or Canada. It is made from grapes that freeze on the vine, resulting in more concentrated sugar levels.

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