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In Holiday Guide

Choosing the right wine for the holidays doesn't need to be difficult.

Uncorking holiday feast wine advice


You've got enough to think about when planning your holiday dinner, right? Now you've got to think about the wine, too?!

No worries, because OnMilwaukee.com has consulted some local oenophiles, sommeliers and wine experts to help you make easy, informed, good wine selections for the holidays.

"When it comes to Christmas and the main focus is ham I recommend to serve it either with Gewurztraminer, or another soft white such as a dry Riesling or Viognier varietals," says Erica van Heerden, who has a wine blog at ericaschoice.com.

"A good option for red wines is a quality French Burgundy -- which is pricey -- or a soft Pinot Noir. Washington State Pinot will serve quite well indeed. A very nice alternative to the more familiar white varieties mentioned above is Chenin Blanc. South African Chenin Blanc has fruity characters that will serve very nicely with ham."

Van Heerden suggests going white with turkey, but says there are some reds adapted to the bird, too.

"If turkey is the meat of choice then I also recommend a soft white such as a Pinot Gris from Alsace France or a German Riesling. As a red alternative, Burgundy/Pinot Noir always is a prime choice, but additionally, a spicy balanced red Zinfandel works as alternative red, as well.

Certified Advance Sommelier Toni Johnson -- co-owner of Professional Wine Consultants -- meanwhile, looks more toward Italy for her red suggestions.

"Christmas dinners are rarely big steak events so staying away from wines with high tannins is very important," says Johnson, who is currently on the waiting list to take the Master Sommelier exam in Texas.

"Especially if you are making ham. Ham is very salty and salt makes tannins taste very bitter so Dolcetto and Barbera are great choices. Just make sure to ask you favorite wine store employee to pick a Barbera with lighter tannins."

Johnson recommends Barberas and Dolcettos from Cogno, Vietti and Sandrone.

She notes that red wines with high acid, lower tannins and brighter fruit are perfect for higher fat meals, like the ones we enjoy at holiday feasts.

"A higher acid wine will clean your palate making every bite tastier. Brighter fruit because most holiday preparations have some intrinsic sweetness to them," she adds.

"Yams with marshmallows, stuffing with dried fruit, ham with brown sugar, even turkey can be perceived as being succulent. Reds with brighter fruit are perceived to have sweetness when they are indeed dry."

Johnson says that some reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, could overpower the flavors on your plate.

When it comes to whites, Johnson suggests a good quality German Riesling, to start.

"If the wines are to dry they will fight with the elements of the food," she cautions. "You really want to compliment wine to food as opposed to contrast. Other good choices are Vouvray, Viognier and Albarino all in an off dry style."

Wine educator and author and sommelier Jaclyn Stuart says that wine choices for a large and varied meal can be difficult, because there are so many flavors on the table. She also suggests that you consider something that will please the largest group of guests at your celebration.

This means you need to answer some questions.

"Do you have a particular dish that you want to be sure to highlight? If you are known for your incredible sweet potato casserole, you may want to play that up even further by pairing a wine specifically to that dish," says Stuart.

"Do you want to just stick to one or two crowd-pleasing wines? There are some middle-of-the-road wines that will play nicely with most foods. Sangiovese or Pinot Noir are good food reds and dry Riesling, un-oaked Chardonnay or Albarino are good white options. These wines may not perfectly match any one item on the holiday table, but they won't likely overpower any dishes or drastically clash with anything."

If you want to further spotlight the main course, Stuart (whose wine tips are in the Story Highlights sidebar at right) counsels, pick a wine that compliments that, above all others.

"If you cook prime rib, you may want to pour a heavier red," she says. "If you choose to do turkey, try a heavier white or a lighter red -- though turkey is pretty neutral. If you do fish, make sure you have some light and crisp white wines selected. For ham, look for light and fruity reds that will play up the pork's natural -- and glazed -- sweetness."

In the end, you just might want to make Grandma or Auntie Em happiest. In that case, Stuart suggests you do it ...

"Keep the family happy and comfortable," she says. "If you have a relative that just has to have Syrah and nothing else, even if you don't think it will pair with anything on the table, you may want to have a bottle of Syrah available. If you have a relative like this, try to find their preferred grape."

Remember, wine is a key component of your holiday feast, so think before choosing. But, in the end, wine is about family and good times, so don't stress out about it. Pick a wine you like and your passion for it will be contagious.

Talkbacks

heatherkk | Jan. 18, 2011 at 2:33 a.m. (report)

"or a soft Pinot Noir. Washington State Pinot will serve quite well indeed. "...did she mean Oregon state perhaps? They do grow Pinot Noir in WA but very, very little. Not a great climate for something that delicate. You can buy decent OR Pinot Noir at a wide range of pricepoints and it is readily available locally.

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