Wine and Food Pairing for the Holidays

Dec 16, 2009

 Christmas time, Christmas time, I drink.... all my wine...

Back in Grade 9 History class, my geography teacher would sing the above little ditty. And usually it was when he was handing out tests (his version of merry fun I suppose).

Recently I was at a networking event and the master of ceremonies asked everyone to stand up, talk about who they were, what they did and what they looked forward to for the holidays. Most of them said 'drinking wine'. By the end, the MC suggested we all check ourselves into AA.

But what better way to indulge ourselves than with wine, goodies and gifts. I know, I know, the recession is haunting everyone but I figure we only live once. So this Sunday afternoon, I've decided to write about wine and food pairing for the holidays.

Christmas means cookies and pastries for me. I love cookies, it must be the Dutch blood. So basically what I have to do is always get a wine sweeter than my treats. A dry wine tastes sour with anything sugary.

But a great wine with pastries then, with cookies? I highly recommend  Pillitteri's 2008 'Fusion' ($13.00 available from the winery) a blend of Gewurztraminer and Riesling with a dash of Icewine. Just imagine apricots, mangoes and pineapple on your palate then add some Christmas cake or better yet, white chocolate macademia nut cookies. In October I discovered that Gewurztraminer (the sweeter ones) and cookies can be good friends.

For die-hard chocoholics, Port wine, a fortified wine from Portugal is ideally suite for dark chocolate. Port is a fortified wine from Portugal made and imported by British wine makers. When it was discovered that wine could survive the trip from the Iberian Pennisula to England by adding extra alcohol, the Brits jumped all over it. It was sweet, it was great with conversation and lo and behold it matched perfectly with chocolates.

I highly recommend this: pick up a bottle of  Taylor Fladgate Late Vintage Port ($16.99) and invite a group of friends over. Have them bring chocolates, various kinds – nutty, fruity, Belgium, Swiss, German, Dutch, whatever kind they like. Pour your guests about two ounces each – the wine is potent at 20% alcohol – and try the various chocolates with the port. You’ll get some great food and wine matches here. Your palette, your tongue and your senses will die of chocolate/port ecstasy. Expect mind orgasms. Not for the faint of heart. And of course, pace yourself – a port hangover can be nasty if you go too far. (It’s like waking up with a tub of heavy syrup sloshing around in your brain…and the nausea is pretty bad…trust me….)

Port also goes well with cheese - cheddar, brie (personal favourite) and stilton - as well as figs and dried fruits. 
Port and Stilton are best friends

If Port isn’t your thing or you’re too worried about suffering from sheer bliss (or a syrup brain), then grab a handful of nuts, raisins, almonds, pecans and walnuts and a glass of sherry. I know what you are thinking. Sherry is the crap your grandmother served you every Christmas for twenty years. The same bottle, the same sickly sweet taste. Forgive grandma and pick up a bottle of  Williams and Humbert Dry Sack Sherry (only $12.85 and give some to grandma, she’s probably been drinking the same gut rot for too long). This is the kind of wine that you don’t expect to match with anything. If you like cheese, try Manchego, the cheese of Spain.

The wine is lush and beautiful to absorb with notes of syrupy fig and overripe pear. Take a swig and you might think almond cake, mango and pineapple. This is the kind of wine to enjoy with Christmas cake or even a warm apple pie. Pumpkin pie as well.


What about Turkey dinner? Oh, well, that’s a tougher one. Most critics, food and wine writers have some idea but really, just go to town. Bring what you love to a Christmas dinner and drink it with friends. Turkey doesn’t really have a taste, so as long as you love the wine, drink it.

The right wine, however, can accompany the accoutrements. How does mom or dad prepare the bird? What kind of sauces? What kind of yams and potatoes. If your potatoes are buttery and gooey, then an Inniskillin  Winemaker's Series Three Vineyards Chardonnay ($18.99 - available from the winery) would be perfect, a wine with a vanilla body with touches of toasty nuts and bright butter. 

If you’re going to smother your bird in apple sauce or gravy, try a fantastic  Konzelmann Riesling ($11.95). This wine is apple and pears and just shy of being full-bodied. It won’t overpower your pallet but it might help you digest the dry portion of the bird.

A great wine with the cranberry sauce… well if the sauce is not sweet (and some tend to be sweet) I recommend the Malivoire's Ladybug Rosé ($15.95) - cherries and raspberries and a definite hit with turkey. If you want a red, I recommend a Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel ($17.95). Think stewed  and black fruit, mocha and spices.


Well, what are you drinking at New Year’s? Forget the Veuve Clicquot or Mumm’s, all that expensive stuff is just meant for the show-offs (I welcome it though because I'm not paying).

Champagne is great, it’s fine but for some it’s way too expensive and really, if you’re not used to the “bready”, “yeasty” taste of a sixty-dollar bottle, I recommend Asti or Cava.

Asti from Martini & Rossi ($13.75) is made from the muscato grape. It is a sweeter sparkling wine and not high in alcohol (only 7%). If you’re the designated driver and want to toast the New Year’s Eve without getting sauced, this is the ideal sipper. (It also pairs extremely well with sweet crepes.)

If you want a wine that is similar to champagne (Asti is not made in the traditional style of the champenoise), then pick up a bottle of Freixenet Cordon Negron ($13.95) from the Cava region in Spain. The bubbles are frothy and tickling, the acidity high and the wine will remind your palette of apples, lemon and a yeasty taste similar to traditional Champagne. But with Cava, you get quality and you can expect to save at least forty-dollars (and who really remembers who brought what to the New Year’s Party – let the show offs lose their money).Cava is great with oysters, salmon spreads and caviar. Spend your money on the expensive nibblies and save on the wine.

I can’t think of anything else accept don’t kill yourself buying gifts. Christmas is over in a day, as usual. But with the right bottle, a wine can help those good drinking memories last for years. (And no syrup hangovers, alright.)
Poor Charlie, he didn't see it coming...


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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