Friday, December 19, 2008

The Wines of Christmas

This is one of those times of year when even occasional wine drinkers scour the shelves looking for the right wine for Christmas dinner, or the right sparkling wine to bring in the New Year. Wine is also a great stocking stuffer, provided you have the sock properly secured to the mantle. In fact if I thought I’d get any wine that way, I’d put up a dozen stockings. Ah, there’s nothing like a case of wine to bring joy to a wine lover's lips.

Let’s tackle Christmas dinner first. If you are doing turkey, and many do, please see my blog, You Turkey! Finding the Right Wine for Your Bird. If you favor a Dickensian Christmas with goose instead, most of the selections for turkey will work. Just remember, the higher fat count of a goose means no wimpy wines. Another English favorite is Beef Wellington, and here you can pull out the Bordeaux Cab and Merlot, or perhaps a Napa Cab if you lean toward New World styles.

This strategy will work with other beef roasts. This is one time when the drier tannin-rich Cabernet Sauvignon grape can work its wonders as meat sauces interplay with its mouth-drying effects. The lamb roast, however, will work better with Pinot Noir. Red Burgundy works here or try a New Zealand Pinot, if your pocketbook is stretched tight this year, many New Zealand wines are very good values. If ham is your choice, it’s best to go with a smoked ham, which will pair nicely with a Sangiovese or Tempranillo.

The really big question, however, is what wine will pair with the fruit cake. For this, I’d skip the wine and go for the rum. Half on the fruit cake and half to your guests so they won‘t really notice what their eating. Fruit-based pies go well with a late harvest Riesling or Muscat Canelli. Port is a good choice for heavier desserts or chocolate, but consider late harvest Zinfandel for a match made in heaven. Many of these wines are ripe with flavors; or maybe that should be overripe, but that’s the point.

If you want visions of sugar plums dancing in your glass instead of your dreams, try Castoro Cellars 2005 Late Harvest Zinfandel. Located south of Paso Robles in California’s Central Coast area, Castoro Cellars has been my favorite winery from this area for more than twenty five years. Their Zins are always excellent so it’s no surprise their late harvest is a hit as well. Check them out at, you may still be able to get some before New Year’s Day.

Castoro Cellars also makes an outstanding Primitivo, which is the Italian clone of the Croatian grape that also found its way to California as Zinfandel. Nonetheless, both grapes produce distinctly different, but excellent wines. The Castoro 2005 Primitivo has the earthiness one would expect of an Old World-styled wine, but with the muscular strength of a Central Coast Zinfandel. You definitely don’t want to pair this with the goose, it’ll be cooked even before it goes into the oven. On the other hand it will add a new zest to a roast or Beef Wellington.

When it comes to sparklers, our own New Mexico versions are my top choice for price and value. Gruet has been producing outstanding method champenoise sparkling wines for many years, and has the medals to prove it. They also have one of the best price points. The Gruet Brut and Blanc de Noir are favorites at our house, but if you want a step up, try the Blanc de Blanc made with 100% Chardonnay grapes.

If you want to really impress your friends, try the Gilbert Gruet Grande Reserve for a wine that will compete successfully with fine French champagne. A word of caution, however, champagne and high-end domestic sparklers are most suitable for those with an appreciation for the unique flavors these wines possess. As I mentioned in my blog, Blind Wine Tasting, in a panel of more than 500 tasters of sparkling wines and champagne, a $12 Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut from Washington’s Columbia Valley was 1st of 27 sampled, while a $150 bottle of Dom Perignon Cuvee came in 17th. I only wish the Gruet wines could have been in that mix.

When you serve sparkling wine, make sure it is icebox cold, or your ceiling may sample more of the wine than your guests. Only championship sports teams are supposed to spray each other with the stuff. Special resealing corks are available, but their efficacy leaves some doubt. Some people use a spoon, inserting it handle first to save the bubbles for the next day. A recent study by Stanford University wanted to test this French folk lore and came up with interesting results. They found the best results were obtained by leaving the bottle opened in the fridge, uncorked!

I’m going to have to try that one myself this Christmas, but it will probably be with a Gruet Blanc de Noir. No way do I want to take a chance with my Gilbert Gruet Grande Reserve for that test. Salut!

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