As the Holiday Season approaches and we prepare for the various festivities involving food and wine selections, I look forward to pairing my fave local and international foods with the classic and traditional wines of Europe, as well as incorporating new wine discoveries from the Old World. We are so fortunate here in the Bay Area to have access to great seasonal fresh produce and seafood, as well as a huge selection of wonderful meats sourced frequently from artisan and organic producers.
Many of you will be hunting down a fresh Dungeness Crab or two as we are now in that season. Seafood cioppino is a wonderful San Francisco tradition that always is on my radar, especially during the Holidays. The plethora of local mollusks available at our local seafood markets inspire one to savor a crisp mineral driven glass of white wine. Here are some outstanding wine pairing choices for these and other bounty of the sea options.
– If you are serving it with drawn butter or maybe a little traditional cocktail sauce, try these dynamic yet subtle and elegant whites.
Roux Pere et Fils Bourgogne Chardonnay – Mildly oaked, creamy and featuring medium acidity and weight, with a nice dose of lemon zest on the finish, it melds nicely with the butter sauce but doesn’t overpower the subtle texture of the crab. It will also nicely round out a traditional turkey dinner.
Miani Ribolla Gialla Pettarin – Ribolla Gialla is an eclectic, unique white varietal hailing from northern Italy’s Friuli region, and there is no better example of its uniqueness than Miani’s exceptional work over the past quarter-century. Rich and dense yet light on its feet, this wine is a potpourri of flavor and texture, offering up hints of stonefruit and chamomile steered along to a delectable honeyed finish.
Tissot Arbois Rouge – For those who must have red wine with their crab, this blend of native Jura varietals Trousseau and Poulsard augmented by Pinot Noir is perfect. Herbaceous and pleasantly earthy on the nose, with lovely red fruit notes weaving through a complex, layered yet mildly weighted palate, this will really set off the texture of the crab. This will also be great with seafood cioppino.
Source: Jordan Winery
Dungeness with spicy Southeast Asian herbed vinaigrette
It is not necessary to have a wine that is off-dry or sweeter, but it sure helps offset the spice component of Asian-influenced flavors and their accompanying heat. Try these racy, classic and embracing wines.
A.J. Adam Riesling Dhroner Hofberg Kabinett – The brilliance of Germany’s Mosel wines is on full display here, with a luscious combination of stony minerality and intense concentration of orchard fruit and stonefruit notes. Kabinett is by German standards typically on the drier side of off-dry, giving this just enough sweetness to cut through spice and savory texture.
Domaine Riefle Pinot Gris Steinert Grand Cru – Rich and racy, framed by tense acidity but generous with dollops of tropical fruit and stonefruit on the mid-palate, it streams to a plush finish highlighted by quince and fig. Alsatian wines are so versatile with food that you don’t have to limit this pairing to anything spicy – this gem will also be awesome with traditional turkey with stuffing and trimmings, as well as holiday clove-spiced ham.
Oysters on the Half Shell
There is no bad time of year for this treat, but the Holidays seem to bring out a special craving for these and other shellfish. When it comes to oysters, however, there is no contest in wine pairings (other than crisp cold beer). It is Muscadet, period! Grown and crafted in the shadows of the world’s most prolific oyster beds in northwestern France’s Loire Valley, it is a perfect, timeless match of shellfish and wine. Here are two to try.
Bonnet-Huteau Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Les Dabinieres - Organically produced, straight-to-the-point zingy Muscadet, if you love oysters, this will make you run to the seafood market and grab a dozen or bushel. Classic acidity and underlying stoniness, with plenty of lustre on the finish.
Luneau-Papin Pierre de la Grange Sevre et Maine – As is the case with all of PLP’s wines, it is a little elevated and showy as far as Muscadet is concerned, but still true to form and function. Apple and lemon scented with accompanying aromas of flowers, it is juicy and forceful on the palate, with beautiful flourish of citrus, mineral and saline on the finish.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Since most cioppino recipes call for a tomato base, I tend to recommend Italian or French reds with decent acidity. However, there are those who like their whites with this dish. There isn’t a right or a wrong here, but definitely choose a wine with relatively prominent acidity. Here are some suggestions.
Broccardo Barbera d’Alba La Martina – There is nothing quite like seamless Piemontese Barbera rounding out a nice meal, and this one does it in exquisite fashion and style. Great initial aromas of dark fruit, saddle leather and forest floor hint at tension and intensity, while the palate is svelte without being languid. Perfect for any tomato sauce-based dish and a natural with cioppino.
Cantina del Pino Barbaresco Ovello – No red wine variety in the world loves to be with food more so than Nebbiolo, and while Barolo gets most of the glamor in the realm of Nebbiolo in Piemonte, Italian wine lovers often prefer the wines of this neighboring DOCG in their gastronomic pursuits. Lovely red fruit notes mixed with aromas of underbrush, violets, rose petals and fresh herbs then give way to a palate rich with nuance and spice. Also, this wine is heavenly with traditional turkey and other Holiday poultry dishes. Grilled or roasted duck breast, anyone?
Source: Pasture Prime
The Big Bird and Ham
Turkey and its various trimmings and side dishes are still the preference of many for Holiday dinners. Conveniently, there are numerous wines which can complement the bird and its accoutrements, here are some of my favorites over the years.
Lopez de Heredia Rioja Vina Bosconia – The most rustic and reserved wine in this iconic Rioja producer’s remarkable stable of tempranillo-based wines, it can easily in some vintages be its most exotic and food happy/friendly. The initial aromatic hints at this exotic quality, featuring pomegranate, blood orange, coconut and spicebox. The palate deftly weaves its way through notes of dried fruit, cured meats and brown spice, and it meanders and lingers before focusing tightly with balanced acidity. This wine will also pair wonderfully with traditional Holiday hams, or if you are inclined to go Iberian in your celebration, it will absolutely set off paella and jamon serrano/charcuterie.
Abbots & Delaunay Alto Stratus – This luscious old vine Carignan from southern France’s Languedoc region has a little something for every palate, replete with chunky dark fruit for those so inclined, but also expressive in its savory and mineral-driven mid-palate and finish. If you are leaning toward a more adventurous meat experience (venison, wild game, etc) in your Holiday festivities, this wants to be invited to the party, and it will also be splendid with traditional ham or turkey.
Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage – Many years ago, the accomplishments of this producer permanently attached the “overachiever” moniker to this syrah-centric region of the Northern Rhone Valley. Cracked pepper, anise, violets and raspberry compote speak of the syrah goodness to come. On the palate, one is treated to intense mineral and earth tones, evoking the quality of its syrah brethren in Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Cornas, but at a little over half the price. Go wild and pair this with anything, I dare you!
Domaine Chevalier Crozes-Hermitage Blanc Les Pends - Red wine gets most of the attention in this part of the Rhone Valley, and that is really a shame, as the Rhone annually crafts some of the most sublime, elegant and cutting-edge whites anywhere to be found on this planet. This is 100% Marsanne, and while its plump mid-palate hints at decadence, there is texture, balance and acidity running through its core. Flowery, mildly fruity, and striking in its distinction. Don’t hesitate to have it with ham or turkey, or duck.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In his third decade in the wine industry, Jim has enjoyed a career which has seen him involved in many facets of the industry, including wholesale importation and distribution, retail wine management and purchasing, consulting, communication and recently a foray into on-premise wine bar activity. Currently, he is focusing on writing, with an emphasis on chronicling the up-and-coming wine regions of Europe, while continuing to advance the cause of the classic Old World wine traditions of the European locales he has been passionate about for nearly a quarter century. Jim is currently sharing his wine expertise and insights as WIne Steward at Draeger's Market Black Hawk in Danville, CA.
Highlights of his wine adventures include stints as a wine manager at Woodland Hills Wine Company in Los Angeles, Wine Buyer and Newsletter Editor for The Spanish Table in San Francisco, Wine Club and Events Coordinator for Wine on Piedmont in Oakland, CA and owner/operator of the Cascade Wine Co. in Yakima, WA.