When hosting a holiday meal, the wines you serve are just as important as the food when it comes to making a sparkling impression with guests.
From beginning to end, pairing the best wines with appetizers, the main course and dessert will not only show your guests you care enough to make the effort but will also give them an unforgettable experience this holiday season.
Start the night off with a toast of bubbly to celebrate the occasion and the New Year to come.
“Champagne is a very festive wine,” says Jennifer McLagan, an Australian-trained chef and author of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient and Bones. “It goes with anything you’re eating so when in doubt, serve Champagne.”
If you’d rather opt for a more moderately priced beverage, sparkling wine is a great alternative.
“Sparkling wine from Canada, California, Spain (called Cava) or Italy (called Prosecco and Spumante) are all lovely,” says Natalie MacLean, certified sommelier and author of Red, White and Drunk All Over and Unquenchable. “Those are all white sparkling wines but you can also get a rose bubbly, which is very festive. Float a raspberry on top and it looks lovely on the table.”
If you’d rather serve a bevy sans bubbles, Rita Stephens, product consultant for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), suggests choosing a wine with acidity.
“It will get the juices in your palette going and (you will) say to yourself ‘I can’t wait to have that meal,’” says Stephens. “It’s a great palette cleanser. I would look at a Pinot Grigio from Italy, a Riesling from anywhere or a Sauvignon Blanc. If you choose a Chardonnay, pick a full-bodied, unoaked one.”
When it comes to the main course, most people serve some type of roast bird during the holidays — be it turkey, chicken or goose. But during the holiday season, don’t settle for the white meat, white wine philosophy.
“The rules about wine and meat matching up on colour don’t apply nearly as much as they did 50 years ago,” says MacLean. “Today, because cooking and wine have changed so dramatically, we have so many more choices.”
Because turkey is a mild, often drier meat, MacLean advises to keep the wine light and juicy. “Choose a Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or Garnet and keep tannins low because tannins dry out your mouth and you already have a dry bird. You want a juicy wine that really moistens that meat.”
However, roast chicken is usually juicer than turkey so hosts can feel free to serve a drier wine.
“The classic pairing with a roast chicken is a Chardonnay,” says MacLean. “Find one with oak on it because oak has buttery notes, which makes for a gorgeous highlight with roast chicken.”
For those with a palette for red wine, silky dry reds such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc or Shiraz are best with roast chicken.
If you’re serving a gamier, racier meat such as goose or Cornish hen, hosts are wise to opt for a gamier, racier wine.
White varieties from the Rhone Valley work with these meats as well as Sauvignon Blanc. Reds such as Pinot Noir and rich Zinfandels are also perfect pairs for gamier meat.
For those just venturing into the world of wines, all of these options can be daunting, which is why
Stephens has one easy-to-follow rule when picking wine for holiday fare. “Bird and Burgundy. Remember that and you’ll never fail,” says Stephens.
Just as the meal doesn’t end before dessert, neither should your wine offerings.
“The rule of thumb with dessert and wine is make sure the wine is sweeter than your dessert,” says MacLean. “Otherwise the wine will taste bitter by comparison.”
MacLean says Canada’s renowned icewines are perfect for desserts such as fruit flan, pumpkin pie or fruit cake.
Chocolate desserts are made even more sinful with a side of raspberry wine, according to Stephens, while MacLean opts for a deeper, sweeter port.
“A little dessert wine goes a long way,” says MacLean. “You’re only pouring two ounces and you’re chilling it, but it’s such a nice way to end a holiday meal.”
Handy food and wine matcher
The Internet is a great resource to help plan your holiday meal.
Approximately 128,000 subscribers turn to Natalie MacLean’s free e-newsletter (www.nataliemaclean.com), which offers a wine and food matcher.
Simply pick the food you’re serving and a list of perfectly paired wine appears. Now all you have to do is pour, serve and enjoy.
Champagne dessert to top off the holiday meal
Preparing for the big holiday meal can be stressful. However, this recipe — one of chef and author Jennifer McLagan’s family favourites — can be prepared up to two days in advance.
And the best part — it’s made with champagne. So relax and pour yourself a little bubbly while preparing a holiday dessert sure to impress.
With Raspberry Sauce
The parfait tastes better if you allow it to soften slightly before serving it.
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup champagne
1 cup whipping cream
6 oz. fresh raspberries
1/4 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
In a large bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture becomes light and thick.
Add the champagne and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Continue beating until the mixture doubles in size and resembles lightly whipped cream — about 10 minutes.
Remove the bowl from pan and place in a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and water. Stir occasionally with a wire whisk, until cool.
Meanwhile, line an 8 1/2 x 4-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap and whip the cream just until soft peaks form. Then whisk the cream into the cooled champagne mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pan and place in the freezer overnight.
To make the sauce, place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until pureed. Pass the purée through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. You will have about 3/4 cup of sauce.
To serve, cut the parfait into slices and serve with the sauce. Serves 8 to 10.
You’ll find more wine and turkey pairing tips here from a Reuters story.
To get Natalie’s top wines for turkey and a wide variety of other dishes, subscribe to her wine reviews.