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John JuergensWine for the Holidays


With the holiday season upon us, this is the time of the year when a lot of folks will try a glass or two of wine with their holiday meals. This is a great opportunity to try different wine and food combinations since the broad range of foods and spices that come across our plates and our palates presents an almost unlimited variety of wonderfully synergistic pairings of food and wine. But there are also a few caveats to consider as the cornucopia spills across your dining table.

Starting with food categories that correspond roughly to the many potential courses of a meal, I believe one of the best wines for to go with salad dishes based on green leafy things is Sauvignon Blanc. This wine usually has a nice balance of natural acidity and fruit flavors that holds up to and complements a wide selection of dressings. It tends to get muddled, however, if the salad essentials are inundated with too much of a creamy style dressing. One of my favorite dressings is the Good Seasonings Italian made with canola oil and vinegar. Most Sauvignon Blanc wines mesh very well with this combination. If you just have to have your Ranch dressing, ease up a bit on the quantity or move to a California Chardonnay.

As documented by Norman Rockwell, one nearly universal feature of American holiday feasts is a large plate covered with at least a dollop of every item on the table. This confluence of flavors and textures is the supreme test of the versatility of a wine. The typical Southern table serves up both ham and turkey, several starchy vegetables, one or two green offerings, one of which might be in a cream base casserole, sage dressing, and sweet/tart cranberries. If your table happens to include some variety of a Jello salad, it is best to go ahead and eat that without a wine accompaniment. Although it is possible to find a passable wine to go with this, why bother? Better treats are to come with dessert.

Given this melange of flavors, is there such a thing as a universal wine that can compliment all the possibilities Southern creativity can produce in a single meal? I doubt it. We are more likely to find the grand unifying field theory in Physics first. Sure, we can inundate this kind of feast with something alcoholic and fruity to wash things down, but that only adds to the existing conundrum in front of us. I suggest we can and should do better by the best efforts of the cook.

Even though it might seem extravagant, I suggest you invest in at least two different wines if you are going to serve wine at all, one white and one red. A couple of safe bets for white wines at very reasonable prices are either a Chenin Blanc or a Sauvignon Blanc. The Chenin Blanc is a bit sweeter than the Sauvignon Blanc, which is a little more tart or crisp. A Johannisberg Riesling or Chardonnay can fill in here as well. For those who just can't deal with red wines, any of these will see you nicely all the way through the meal.

For those who enjoy red wines I suggest a Pinot Noir, which is a perfect companion to ham and will go well with turkey. French Beaujolais Village will also work well here, although you might get a bit of a twang from either wine if you use it to wash down your sweet potatoes. Here's a major caveat: Even though Merlot currently is the hottest trend in red wines and maybe one of your favorites, leave it in the wine rack when you are having turkey. There is something in Merlot wines and/or turkey that results in a very unpleasant metallic taste when combined. If you really want to have a big red wine such as this I suggest a red Zinfandel (not white or pink), which I consider to be one of the most versatile wines currently on the market.

Finishing out the meal-- if you aren't already stuffed beyond your rated capacity-- are wines that can truly add an exclamation point to your meal by enhancing a nice dessert. One of the most remarkable combinations is a muscat canelli wine with pumpkin or sweet potato pie. This is one of those combinations that produces a completely unique taste experience that can only be described by that technical wine and food term, "YUM!" Port is an alternative that can caused a wonderful explosion of flavors when combined with chocolate, but it doesn't go well with sweet potato and pumpkin pie. It also might be a bit too heavy after a huge meal.

With all this said, here are some wine suggestions I am likely to have with my holiday meals: A Kendall Jackson Sauvignon Blanc and/or Louis Jadot Vouvray; Chenin Blanc by Beringer or Dry Creek; Pinot Noir by Napa Ridge or Indigo Hills; Rabbit Ridge red Zinfandel or Cal de Sol "Big House Red". To go with my pumpkin pie my favorites are muscat canelli wines by Bonny Doon or Robert Mondavi. All of these kinds of wines are available in Oxford and most are well under $15.

I intentionally did not mention White Zinfandel and the white German wines. For me these tend to be too sweet and cover up the food flavors rather than blending with and accentuating them. But I'm not going to tell you not to drink them if they are your favorites. I believe almost any wine with a meal is better than one without since it will enhance the overall dining experience and sense of well-being, which is what the holidays are all about.

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