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The Savvy Traveler

Holiday Wines


It’s that time of year again, and you have no idea which wines to pair with your turkey and stuffing, honey-glazed ham and other scrumptious treats this holiday season. Do you stick with your usual favorites, Pinot and Cab, and throw in a nice Chardonnay for contrast? Or do you try something you’ve never had before, like a Gruner Veltliner, to make a big statement?

The answer lies somewhere in between. When serving up the rich meals typical of this time of year you ought to offer a blend of whites and reds, but you also ought to seek out specific wines whose flavor profiles and weight complement these heavier foods, which are often laced with a combination of sweet, savory and spicy notes. Some of these wines are exotic-sounding and can add an exciting contrast to your otherwise traditional table – never a bad thing!

To jump start your creative process, I’d like to suggest three wines I find perfect for holiday meals. The first is a bubbly, which sets a festive tone for this special time of year, followed by a white and a red that are uniquely suited to rich meats and their sidekicks. Please excuse me if my mouth begins to water while I write this.

There’s no better way to start a meal than with Champagne, and holiday meals, with their abundance of salty and nutty starter foods, are the perfect occasions. Start things off with a bang, literally, by popping open a bottle of bubbly to pour alongside mixed nuts, cheeses, puff pastry-based appetizers and other salty and savory hors d’oeuvres.

I recommend Taittinger’s non-vintage “Prélude” Champagne, which is made from grapes sourced exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards and features a distinctive salty pretzel aroma and flavor. Backed up by pleasant notes of lemon custard, flowers and peach fuzz, this wine’s flavor profile is at once delicate and deep – classy, in other words.

Tip: Champagne, with its crisp acidity and refreshing effervescence, is as much at home at the beginning of a meal as it is throughout; it’s largely held to be the most versatile of all wines when it comes to food pairing. For the ultimate in holiday extravagance, make Champagne available to your guests throughout the meal.

Looking for a white that can pair as well with turkey and stuffing as with cranberry and sweet potatoes? Then look no further than Gewurztraminer, the “spicy” white wine with a full body that’s perfectly at home on the holiday table. Gewurz literally means “spice” in German, and wines made from the pink-skinned Gewurztraminer grape are known for tasting subtly of baking spices like cinnamon and ginger – seasonings used frequently in holiday meals.

And as one of the richest white wines, Gewurztraminer can stand up to the hearty dark meat found in turkey as well as the savory sides that go along with it, such as stuffing and creamed potatoes. Perhaps the best part yet, Gewurztraminer is loaded with heady aromas including musk, lychee fruit and rose water that make simply smelling it a treat in and of itself. Look for dry versions from France’s Alsace region, such as Bott Frères 2002 Gewurztraminer.

Cru Beaujolais
The Cru-caliber wines from France’s Beaujolais region are ideal candidates for the holiday table because of their innate versatility. Sourced from any of 10 superior regions or “crus” within the vast Beaujolais territory in eastern France, Cru Beaujolais is a medium-bodied red wine that strikes a deft balance between structure, complexity and food-friendliness.

The food friendliness comes from the Gamay grape, which makes the uncomplicated light-bodied reds we know as Beaujolais Nouveau. The added complexity comes from superior vineyard sites and better winemaking practices than those used for the entry-level Nouveau. Together, these additional elements impart a distinctive earthiness reminiscent of forest floor and dried leaves – of autumn, in other words.

The wine’s appealing dried cherry notes, along with this woodsy autumn-like character and Beaujolais reds’ renowned food friendliness, make it a great match for the entire spectrum of the holiday table. Its medium body won’t overwhelm turkey (which, after all, is a white meat) while its deeper notes allow it to stand up to pork, potatos and even roast. Watch for versions from the top three crus: Morgon, Fleury and Brouilly.

Happy celebrating!