When I began working in the wine industry, which includes those of us in the media, I immediately took an interest in wine and food pairing. No surprise given my previous 12-year background in the restaurant industry.
Yet to this day, no matter what my choices are for pairing wines with extravagant holiday meals, I aways find a surprising new favorite that’s quite versatile with all of the decadent rich foods we all consume over the holiday season.
For instance, with the traditional turkey dinner I tend to lean to slightly sweeter wines, like riesling, gewürztraminer, cremant bubblies. But the wines I call sweeter are not dessert wines. I also insist on an elegant pinot noir with the meal. Honestly, I prefer having a glass of white and glass of red during the meal for more contrast with the varied menu.
Now many wine writers want to convince you that zinfandel is more American and therefore best suited for the traditional turkey dinner during this season. However, I do not agree since many of our Central Coast zins are too high in alcohol to pair well with the contrasting savory and sweet flavors of the holiday meal. Admittedly, I know that fans of big wines (read alcoholic) will think I’m nuts. But I still prefer lighter, more delicate wines with traditional holiday meals.
That said, I once preferred a French cremant bubbly (which means it’s French but not from the Champagne appellation). I also love a perfectly balanced riesling from Germany or California with a great contrast between light residual sugar and brilliant acidity that pairs perfectly with every part of the savory and sweet dishes in the holiday meal.
So let’s get down to basics, where do you go to find the ideal wines for your holiday parties. Living here in wine paradise, I’m glad there are almost too many excellent choices. I recommend that you support your favorite wineries, then you simply can’t go wrong. But I’m more than glad to suggest some great wines I can promise will not disappoint you or your guests.
I called on winemakers, whom I recommend regularly, to ask which wines were on their holiday table, like pioneer winemaker Lane Tanner with Lumen Wines. She started at Zaca Mesa in its early years, and I’ve known Tanner since I relocated here in 1996. I appreciate her love of a traditional holiday dinner. I asked her what she’s pouring this year, and she delivered a good value tip.
“A friend gave me a bottle of Trader Joe’s Reserve Brut Rose sparkling wine, which was awesome. It’s really fruity but totally dry, and it’s only $10. I’m going to buy a case of it,” she noted, and it’s a great choice for toasting your guests.
She prefers a selection of wines at the table, too: “I’ll be opening my Lumen pinot gris, it’s so much more interesting than chardonnay. It’s not super acidic but crisp enough to be intriguing. Our pinot noirs from Gary’s vineyard and a new one from Julia’s vineyard are perfect, too.”
Lumen’s tasting rooms in Santa Barbara and Los Alamos are open Tuesday through Sunday, learn more at www. Lumenwines .com.
In Avila Beach winemaker Mike Sinor of Sinor-LaVallee, formerly with Bryon Wines, said: “Our white label Bassi vineyard pinot noir is our go-to wine for the traditional dinner. But our 2018 “Ancestrale pet nat” (sparkling wine) is a good choice for most foods.”
His tasting room opens daily, check them out at www. Sinorlavallee .com. I have long been an aficionado of his wines.
Longtime winemaker Larry Schaffer, who spent some of his early years in Santa Barbara County at Fess Parker Wines, left to start his own brand, Tercero in Los Olivos. With his focus on Rhone wines, I knew he would add an interesting perspective.
“My 2018 Aberration, a blend of cinsault, grenache, and carignane, would be great with the traditional meal. It’s like a French Beaujolais as it’s very fruit forward, it’s bright and fresh and works with a variety of foods. It’s a perfect sipper for those not too into wine, but geeky enough for those who are.”
He recommends serving the Aberration slightly chilled. He also recommended grenache, to which I agreed, because it’s like pinot noir, quite versatile with a wide variety of foods.
“I prefer lower alcohol wines with foods. The heavier the alcohol in the wine, the more it’s going to compete with the food,” he said.
But he also advocates having a good white wine on the table, like his roussanne.
“It acts more like a red wine, and I believe it shows best at somewhere between cellar and room temperature. It’s also a wine that benefits greatly from air, either with a decant or enjoyed slowly over a long meal.”
Sounds perfect for the long holiday meal we all love so much. All of these wineries are closed on major holidays, so do plan ahead.