Believe it or not, “The Holidays” are upon us. If you’ve been to Target lately, and I know you have, you may have noticed that the Christmahanakwanzika stuff is already up (if you’re unsure of that term, Google it).
In fact, last week they came to install the holiday lights on my house. No, I haven’t had the audacity to turn them on. Yet. And although I’m like, really, November? I am pretty jazzed about the upcoming holiday food situation: Turkey, ham, lamb, prime rib, shrimp, lobster, lasagna, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, lefse, cookies, pastries and pies for daaaaaaaaaaaaays.
And if that wasn’t enough to get you to bust out your copy of “Elf” or “Christmas Vacation,” just wait another week. By the time this article comes out, we’ll officially have two weeks before Thanksgiving waddles its way into our bellies, and Christmas is only about four weeks away after that. So buckle your Santa belt.
Food and wine pairing, especially around the holidays, can feel very daunting. Even if you’re the one doing all the cooking, choosing a wine can still be tricky. Usually there’s a hodgepodge of flavors on the table and everyone has different tastes. Shhhhhhh, don’t worry. I gotcha.
This little tryptophanic treat is probably one of the most popular holiday foods. I mean, traditionally The White House even pardons a turkey every year, sparing it from the clutches of Thanksgiving gluttony. I did say traditionally, right?
There are so many ways you can go with turkey, but I like to keep it really simple and offer up two.
The first is an extremely underrated German white varietal called Gewurztraminer. And really, I think people don’t buy it because when they walk into a bottle shop they don’t want to look like a dope because they can’t pronounce it. So let’s all say it together: gah-vuhrts-trah-meen-er. Or gewurz (gah-vuhrts) is cool too, but don’t tell the Germans I said it was ok.
If you think moscato is too sweet and maybe riesling isn’t sweet enough, gerwurz is going to be your jam. It’s a still (meaning not sparkling) white wine and when served properly chilled (49-55 degrees) it’s heaven next to a fat slice of turkey.
You can usually find it nestled in with the rieslings or in the German or import section of your local liquor store.
If slightly sweet white wine is not your thing, you might consider a pinot noir. Remember pinot is a thin-skinned grape and generally from a cooler climate, so it’s going to be much more delicate than a cab or merlot, which pairs up perfectly with the mild flavor of turkey.
Stock up on these now: Sun Garden Gewurztraminer ($12.99), Kate Arnold Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($20.99).
There are a lot of different styles of ham, which should influence your wine choices, but my assumption is that holiday hams are generally of the smoky, salty persuasion (possibly with a little glaze on top), so I’m going to talk about wines that fit that flavor profile.
I feel like sweet wines have become a rather polarizing topic, and people either love them or hate them. Very serious (and snobby) wine drinkers tend to roll their eyes at the slightest mention, and not-so-cultured wine drinkers don’t seem to drink anything but. I’m a diplomat when it comes to wine, and I drink it all. Personally I think if you’re only drinking one varietal or style, you’re seriously missing out.
With that said, there’s a sparkling sweet red wine that lovers of a very specific Italian restaurant chain (rhymes with Schmolive Flarden) have been lapping up recently. Sometimes it’s called Brachetto, sometimes Lambrusco, sometimes (incorrectly) Italian Champagne, but basically it’s a slightly sweet, sparkling (or frizzante, in Italian) red wine.
And it goes great with ham.
The sweetness works well if there’s any sort of glaze on the ham and if not, it makes a great compliment to the saltiness of the meat. There’s a little-known wine out there called Baci Dolci, which literally means sweet kiss in Italian. Serve it slightly chilled and I promise it will have you rethinking your distaste for sweet wines.
If sweet really isn’t on your radar, may I suggest something a little off-dry with a kick-butt crispness to it? Think a dry Riesling from Germany that’s stainless steel-fermented for maximum crispness. Rieslings can vary from pretty sweet to super dry, but find something in the middle.
My picks: Baci Dolci “Sweet Kiss” ($11.99), Clear Night Riesling ($10.99).
Actually, this one is pretty simple. There are fancy folks out there who make lobster, oysters, shrimp and other shellfish during the holidays. I secretly hate/envy these people, mostly because I want to eat shellfish all day every day and due to our geographic, ahem, let’s call them challenges, this is not always possible or affordable.
Know this: Lobster + Champagne is ALWAYS a good idea. Oysters + Champagne is ALWAYS a good idea. And I mean legit Champagne, from Champagne, France. Not that other sparkling wines aren’t delish, but it is MY favorite thing to drink ever ever ever.
If you can’t spring for Champagne, go for a nice crisp, slightly oaky chardonnay. The richness of the chardonnay pairs exquisitely with the fattiness of shellfish, and I recommend eating as slowly as you can for maximum enjoyment.
Fun fact: Most Champagnes use chardonnay grapes, so you’re on the right track. And if chard isn’t up your alley, go with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. One of the coolest things I learned about wines was this: If it GROWS together, it GOES together. And since New Zealand is pretty much RIGHT ON THE OCEAN, you should assume it will taste amazing with seafood.
If I were picking the wines: Pacificana Chardonnay ($11.99), Hay Maker New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($9.99).
As a kid, my dad always did a prime rib on Christmas Eve, so it’s one of my favorite things to make during the holidays. And for this I like to splurge on a pricey Napa or Sonoma Cabernet. Prime rib has just enough fat in it to need the tannins from a Cab to help cut through it, and since California wines are much more fruit-forward than European wines, the big fruits really stand up to the slow cooked meat.
Did I mention pricey here? Because after all, it’s Christmas and you’re probably not getting a Lexus, a Louis Vuitton bag or diamond earrings, so #treatyoself.
Here’s what Megan would get: 2012 Knights Bridge To Kalon Cabernet ($139.00), 2012 Huge Bear Sonoma Cabernet ($55.00), Sean Minor “Nicole Marie” Napa Valley Red Blend ($19.99).
If you’re still confused and have no idea what to serve here’s a bonus pro tip: When in doubt, bring sparkling wine. What do I mean by that? Wine with bubbles. So yes, Champagne ($$$), prosecco, cava, sekt, cremant, franciacorta or plain old American sparkling wine.
They are usually fairly cost-friendly (with the exception of Champagne), pair well with almost anything and people are usually surprised at how tasty and unexpected they are. And they’re great with pie.
Have a happy holiday season and remember this: Thanksgiving leftovers on a sandwich make for a life-changing treat and wear something stretchy. Cheers!
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