And so it begins, with the passing of the bird at Thanksgiving, the advent of the holiday season. Already a volunteer for Salvation Army was ringing the bell outside the grocery, and Bing Crosby blared from the speakers as I sifted through dented apples. My calendar is slowly filling with bonfires, festivals and parties of good cheer.
This is my absolute favorite time of the year.
But as I get older, it’s less about the presents and Santa Claus… it’s more about friends, family…and food. More provocative is the knowledge that people everywhere share this same sentimental ritual. Whether Jewish or Christian, Chinese or Chilean, old or young, people around the globe pause this season to share a meal, wine and time together.
Food and wine are so central to culture. During a time of such universal celebration, it’s difficult to focus solely on American traditions, particularly given that globalization has never been so extensive. Having a shop so close to a university, this becomes even clearer just how many people are away from ‘home’ for the holidays. Not only that, America truly is a melting pot of cultures. There are many people that adhere to their ‘motherland’ rituals around the holiday. Therefore, instead of merely pairing the roast beef and turkey with wine this season, we’re going to step outside and look to traditional fare consumed ‘round the world for bottled inspiration.
In Denmark, they begin the meal with rice pudding followed by a roasted goose stuffed with prunes and apples, sides of brown potatoes and red cabbage. Germans, too, love a chubby goose on the table. A good match here respects the gaminess of geese and pierces through the oh-so-succulent fat that makes it so yummy. So keeping in mind something medium bodied, with a quirky attitude and generous acidity, go Chinon with the 08 Baudry ($18), Burgundy with the 05 Audoin Marsannay Cuvee de Demoiselles ($34), new world Pinot with the full fruited yet earthy tones of JK Carriere’s 08 Provocateur ($23), the painstakingly traditional 02 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia ($38) that proves vintage is irrelevant when the winemaker kicks ass, or the more modestly priced 08 Chateau d’Oupia Minervois ($12) which expresses both savory spice and floral notes, a sensational combination to give this goose a gastronomical glow.
Italians begin their 2-day feast with seafood on the eve of Christmas and regional pastas and appetizers on the actual day. You can experiment with reds—typically those with very little weight and tannin—however, with seafood, have fun with bubbles and obscure Italian whites. For the former, consider Emilia Romagna born Lambrusco Bianca with the fresh zippy Lini 1910 ($17). You can’t go wrong with a well made Cava like the lean 05 Juve y Camps Brut Nature ($18), equally dry Finca Labajos Brut Nature ($13) or the 07 Gramona Gran Cuvee ($21) if you like a creamier, rich style. But if you wanna go big, go Champagne. Particularly the more linear styles of Vilmart and Cie ($75), Gaston Chiquet ($47), and Marc Herbart Rose ($45), though the quirky, mineral-kissed, slightly oxidized notes of Aubry ($37) would leave a tasty impression as well with a variety of fruit de mer.
If you want to try out some funky regional whites from Italy, start with the floral, herbal youthfulness of the 07 Sergio Mottura Orvieto ($18) or the equally floral but more honeyed 07 Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino ($24), which also boasts tropical notes of papaya. Many wine connoisseurs believe that
Verdicchio is the most complex grape in the country, and a fine example of such would be high acid, food friendly 08 Le Vaglie ($23). Finally for something a little nutty with soft citrus tones, reach for either the 08 Bastianich Friulano ($18) or 09 Picollo Gavi ($14).
As for the Christmas Day feast, go for just good, solid reds from the northern regions of Tuscany, Piemonte and the Veneto. If hosting a party, stay with some of the lesser expensive options. One of my new favorites is the fruity, smooth yet still distinctly Italian 08 Ca’ del Sarto Barbera d’Alba ($10).
Others that don’t break the bank are the 07 Mazzi Valpolicella (dusty and rustic with notes of pie cherries and licorice) and the 08 Roagna Dolcetto d’Alba (sweet yet surprisingly tart cherry with rockin’ acid)—both$18. Taking it up a notch, some lovely, well-structured reds are found in the 06 Villa Cafaggion Chianti Classico Riserva ($26), the contemplative 04 Fanetti Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($28) and the Nebbiolos from northern Piedmonte in the 06 Proprieta Sperino ($37) and Valtellina in the 06 Triacca ($28). As opposed to Langhe, where most Nebbiolo is found, these are a little more elegant, restrained and beaming with higher floral tones and pie spice. If what you desire is splurging for the big day, consider such reputable, cellar-worthy producers as Cigliuci, Moccagata, Cavalotta, Brovia, Giacosa, Conterno, Montevertine, Paolo Bea, and Borgogno. Several of which you can find at Little’s. Of these, most are under $60. All of these wines mentioned can be tracked down and special ordered and shipped to the Italian wine lover on your list.
The Brazilians come together over pork loin (lovely with Riesling). The Japanese oven-roasted chicken. The Peruvians oven-roasted turkey. Both made more interesting with Alsacian whites and Beaujolais. And the French, of course, settle for nothing second best as they slurp back oysters and gelatinous Foie Gras. The former is sensational with Sancerre, like the 08 Crochet Croix du Roy ($34), or a mineral loaded Muscadet like the 08 Chauviniere Thebaud (Champagne without bubbles at $21). The latter, fatty foie is ethereal with Sauternes—like Raymond Lafon—though a demi-sec Vouvray would work as well.
If you celebrate Hanukah, try a beef brisket bathed in red wine. A perfect complement to this would be a fruit forward Syrah from California, like the 08 Barrel 27 ($19), or one from down under, such as the 08 Eagle Vale Shiraz ($20) from Margaret River. For yet another option, maybe give Spain a chance with the 06 Pesquera from Ribera del Duero ($34).
Of course, coming from all corners of the earth, Americans have come to make other meats part of their festive meal. From pheasant and venison to oxen and duck. Pheasant will typically pair similarly to the goose. With braised red ox cheeks, reach for that Bordeaux you’ve been waiting to find an occasion to sip. With venison, cozy up to a big ol’ Cabernet from Cali. And for the duck, don’t settle for anything other than a fine Syrah from the northern Rhone in France or a Chateauneuf du Pape from the South.
Finally, welcome the New Year by honoring the current one with a memorable feast. If going with classic prime rib, have a soft, Merlot-based Bordeaux from St. Emilion, like the 03 Galius ($23) or the 98 or 00 Bellevue (both about $40). For a step outside the box, try a Cab/Merlot blend from New Zealand in the 01 Hans ($27). If having a fondue party, what better than wines from the region where this tasty dish was born—the Savoie of France. Whether the crisp whites of Apremont and Montmelian or the red grapes like Mondeuse and Pinot Noir, all find their place when paired with the regional cheeses from this Alpine corner of the world. Breakfast after bars at 3 am? Yes, you can pair it! How better than bubbles. Any bubbles! Especially forgiving with a wide variety of morning food if you transform it into a Bellini or Kir Royale.
Finally, if you want to twist the traditional ‘surf’ portion of the night, as I will, try making a Lobster and Saffron risotto. I am imagining a white Burgundy or Rhone Grenache Blanc (Oh, Fonsalette, I love you—why do you have to be $70!) to snuggle nicely with this earthy, decadent dish.
Cooking up something else? I’d love to hear about it and help you make some memorable pairings this holiday season.