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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Local experts offer advice for pairing wine with your holiday meals.

With the holiday season upon us, Lakers are eagerly making preparations for their traditional holiday feasts. The question that often arises is what wines are best to to accompany them? 
    This subject will be debated indefinitely because matching wine to dinner with turkey and dressing is a thorny challenge. The plethora of diverse flavors and textures presented in the meal would challenge the savviest sommelier. The heavy, gamey flavors of turkey, along with the sage and spices in the dressing and the tangy, sweet flavor of cranberry sauce, will clash with the heavy oak flavors in most California Chardonnays.  Merlot and Cabernet are just too weighty to go with these savory, rich foods. As a matter of fact, it is hard to think of any wine that pairs with cranberry sauce. Its tartness will crank up the tannins in a big red wine resulting in a mouth puckering sensation that will have your palate begging for mercy. 
    My definition of a good food and wine match states that the particular food and wine served together result in a pleasant taste when they mix in one’s mouth. Ideally, the mix tastes better than either the wine or the food would by itself.
    I recently sought the expert advice of several Smith Mountain Lake wine purveyors. Lonnie Bryant, the wine consultant at Westlake Kroger, encouraged people to think outside the box.
    “Riesling does well with spicy, salty or sweet foods,” Bryant explained. “The wine is made in many styles, from sweet to dry. Albarino, Gewurztraminer and Viognier are all worth looking at.”
    Albarino is a crisp, aromatic white wine from northern Spain that matches well with seafood. If you put oysters in your dressing, this would be worth considering. Gewurztraminer has a spicy quality that enhances the seasoned stuffing. Viognier excels in Virginia and has become the state’s signature grape. It is very aromatic and features peach and honeysuckle flavors and a full-bodied texture. Viognier pairs delightfully with roasted turkey.
    If your palate leans toward sweeter wines, a German Riesling will do nicely at your holiday dinner. The better German wines, designated Qualitatswein mit Pradikat, maintain the natural sweetness of the grapes without any added sugar. Riesling provides the perfect counterpoint to salty ham.
    Bryant also said Champagne and sparkling wines contribute to the festive atmosphere of the holidays and are food friendly. While true French Champagne is expensive, Spanish Cava and Italian Prosecco provide a frugal bubbly alternative. In the red department, Bryant suggested Pinot Noir.
    “I steer people away from heavy, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon,” he said. “Pinot Noir works because it’s lighter body and a soft finish. Rosés offer a nice balance for the meal as well.”
    Mike Gray, who co-owns Laker Beverage and Tobacco with his wife, Cindy, also offered pointers for picking the perfect wine to accompany your holiday feast.
    “I highly recommend Viognier for white or Zinfandel for red,” Gray said. “Virginia does a great job with Viognier. Barboursville makes an excellent Viognier and Horton is very good as well. Viognier is smooth and soft. It is not too sweet and not too dry.”
    Most people associate Zinfandel with sweet, pink White Zinfandel, but the grape, which has red skin, can produce excellent red wine if the winemaker allows the skins to remain in contact with the juice long enough to impart a deep red color. Gray said he’s a big fan of Three Zinfandel from Contra Costa County, Calif. The wine is 78 percent Zinfandel from old vines blended with Petite Sirah for color, and a touch of Carignane, Mataro and Alicante Bouschet.
    “The wine is fantastic,” said Gray, who sells it for $17 a bottle. “It is rich and just as smooth as it can be.”
    If you are looking for something less expensive, consider Costa Azul from Spain. This red is a blend of Tempranillo and Syrah and has a soft palate featuring notes of blackberry and strawberry. The wine is a great match for roast turkey and sells for $8.
    “It tastes more expensive than it is,” Gray said.
    Many wine drinkers enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau, a fresh and tart wine released each year just before Thanksgiving. However, from talking to retailers, I get the sense folks are not especially excited about Nouveau this year.  
    Always remember, you are the leading expert on what you like. If you have a particular wine that you like, go ahead and serve it. Most wines pair just fine with most foods, so a culinary disaster is unlikely. One of my most memorable Thanksgiving dinners featured a bottle of St. Francis Reserve Merlot, a phenomenal bottle. A lot of wine perception has to do with the mood people are in when they taste the wine. If the atmosphere is convivial and people are enjoying themselves, almost anything will taste good.

Gordon Kendall has more than 20 years of experience in the wine business and is the wine, beer and spirits columnist for The Roanoke Times. He teaches wine classes and enjoys educating people on all things related to the industry. If you have a question for him or an idea for a future column, please email editor@smithmountainlaker.com.