Get ready – they’re coming! Yes, the holidays will be here before you know it, and right behind will be all your holiday guests.
Hosting holiday gatherings can be exhilarating and stressful at the same time. Choosing the menu, preparing the shopping lists, organizing the recipe cards, decorating, strategically planning the seating arrangements, and of course, selecting the appropriate wine list to match. Red or white? Sweet or dry? Budget or extravagant? Simple or complex? The possibilities are endless.
It sometimes seems like you need to break out an Excel spreadsheet for these affairs!
Nevertheless, we do love it, because a well-organized holiday party is both fun and rewarding, so let’s get down to business and discuss some helpful party-planning hints for the upcoming holiday season.
OK, let’s assume that you have just agreed to host Thanksgiving dinner at your home this year - now all the excitement (and work) begins. Although I typically start with the wine list and work backward to the food menu, most hosts and hostesses would probably begin with the menu and work forward to the wine, so we’ll stick with tradition and go to the food menu first.
Some of my favorites and family traditions are as follows:
• Roasted turkey
• Oyster dressing
• Turkey dressing (with plenty of fresh sage)
• Fresh cranberries baked in Grand Marnier (don't forget to light it!)
• Fresh broccoli spears seasoned and topped with white wine caper sauce
• Fresh baked rye and pumpernickel bread served with red wine butter
• Pumpkin and pecan pie topped with fresh whipped heavy cream
Now for the vino! There are two camps in my family (and probably yours as well): red and white consumers. Of course, we will need to accommodate both. For the menu I have selected, these styles of wine would be wonderful matches:
•Dry Riesling from Germany, Oregon or California. A Dry Riesling will be less sweet and more acidic than a normal Riesling, making it a more food-friendly wine.
•Gewürztraminer from Oregon, California, or Alsace, France. This grape varietal has plenty of spice to match any dressing and truly brings out the herbs used in most Thanksgiving dishes.
•Chardonnay from California or Burgundy, France. I would choose an unoaked version so the fruit flavors can shine. A highly oaked wine could very well overpower the food – not a good thing on Thanksgiving.
•Pinot Noir from Oregon or Burgundy, France. The Pinot Noir grape is perfect for this time of year. It is not too tannic, so you don’t have to worry about it overpowering the turkey or other lighter-style meats you may be serving. It also has plenty of fruit flavors to bring out the herbs and spices used in many of the traditional recipes, and is just a crowd pleaser in general for almost all red wine drinkers.
•Gamay Noir from Beaujolais, France. This grape varietal is very similar to the Pinot Noir. In fact, they are grown in the same wine region in Burgundy, France. The Gamay Noir tends to be just a little more fruit-forward than the typical Pinot Noir, so if you have a few guests that like a little more fruit flavors coming through, this is a nice selection.
•Zinfandel from California. A luscious, full-bodied, dry red Zinfandel is typically one of the most fruit-forward red wines California has to offer. It has lots of spice and dark berry flavors to complement your Thanksgiving fare, and is a staple at my house during the holidays.
•Orange Muscat from California. This wine complements all kinds of desserts, or it can even be the dessert itself. It is usually less expensive than European dessert wines, and is so sweet and luscious that you can drink it with just about any sweet dessert you prepare.
•Sauternes from Bordeaux, France. This is a fabulous dessert wine made with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and occasionally the Muscadelle grape. The grapes tend to be late-harvest, providing a wonderful, sweet flavor with a more syrupy consistency. If you want to splurge, try a Sauternes, but be aware that you will pay for this treat.
From these choices, you then need to decide how many different wine selections to offer, what price ranges to choose from, and how much of each to provide at your gathering. These answers truly need to be based not only on your budget, but also on your guests’ level of wine expertise.
In my family, we have a mix of both wine connoisseurs and “special occasion” wine drinkers, so I typically try to select wines from several categories so that I can have something for everyone that meets my budget. The key is to make your family and friends feel that they are enjoying a wine you personally selected for them, and one that complements the meal you have worked so hard to prepare.
If you still have questions about your wine list, don’t hesitate to stop by your trusted local wine merchant and discuss your menu and guest list with them. Provide as many details as you can and I assure you they will be more than happy to help you plan and select your wine list. As a wine boutique owner, I know how much pleasure I get from helping folks plan the perfect holiday experience, so don’t be shy about asking for help, and above all, have a splendid Thanksgiving holiday with YOUR family and friends.
If you would like recipes for any of the dishes mentioned in this article, or need just a little more help in pairing wines with your menu, please call 816.505.WINE and ask to speak with Jennifer.