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IN THE SPIRIT: HOW TO PAIR WINES W/ YOUR HOLIDAY MENU. BY BRIAN MCCLURE

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Maybe it’s because I am constantly pairing food and wine, but in my experience, I have come to the conclusion that pairing wine with food is not really that hard to do with a little basic knowledge and awareness about what you’re eating and drinking. First of all, you should remember that the WINE is the compliment in this pairing, not the other way around. I take the old world approach that wine is indeed food, and as such, it is always consumed WITH food as one of the several, perhaps many, ingredients on the plate. I view wine as another flavor and texture component that should bring focus to the main aspect of the dish. The wine should NOT take center stage, and indeed if you try to do this, you will only spoil the dish, or the wine, entirely.

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So, if you have one of those really special “unicorn” wines you’ve been sitting on and waiting to try with your oenophile friends or your collectors’ forum, then you’re best off drinking that wine in a situation where the wine itself can be the star of the show and shine on its own. That means before or after dinner with nothing else on the table except for some bread, water and maybe cheese, if you’re drinking a red with bold tannins that might shred your gums. Otherwise, you’re really looking to enhance the dish so that the whole culinary creation is indeed greater than the sum of its individual parts consumed separately. This is just as you would do with the spices or salt or other ingredients you used in the creation of the meal in the first place, and that’s how you have to look at the wine in this instance.

In the case of holiday dishes, then, I consider the fact that the meals are usually heavier, with many varied foods in play, but with flavors themselves that are often more medium in intensity. For instance, turkey, ham, or even roasted lamb, have weight on the palate, but are not as intense in flavors as a grilled dry-aged, bone-in strip steak. Hence, you need wines that are more medium-flavored and flexible across a range of foods, but that have good body and “mouthfeel.” Arguably, this can be considered the most important factor, because if you can balance the weight and intensity of the wine with that of the food, you’re pretty much on solid ground. So, for a meal with roasted poultry, like turkey or even duck, as the main dish, I like to serve both a white AND a red, both of which with good, plush body—referring to the viscosity or “chewiness” of the wine—but also both of which show more medium-intense flavors. For white wine, many would put a good chardonnay such as a French White Burgundy or a Carneros, California Chardonnay in this category, and indeed, both wines would be very good matches. Still, for something a bit more original, also consider a white like a Pinot Gris from Alsace, France or Oregon. These wines will often show great weight and roundness in the mouth, matching heavier foods, but will also feature some brilliant acidity that will seem palate-cleansing after eat bite.

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Try the Pinot Gris from St. Innocent, Vitae Springs Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon. And for a red, again look for good body, but also soft tannins for a meal like this. Many would reach for a Pinot Noir here, and rightly so, but again, play around a bit and try a Zinfandel instead. This grape has gotten a bad reputation over the past few decades for being lackluster, but many are coming to realize the complexity and potential of Zin when grown in good vineyards. A good example would be ANY Zin made by Ridge, such as the Benito Dusi Ranch out of Paso Robles. These Zins are balanced, plush in body, but soft in tannins and with the bit of spice to go along with the red-fruited flavor profile, they are a sure bet for your holiday table.

– Brian McClure, Director of Food & Beverage at The Greenbrier. LBSPY #72, December 2015.

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