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What are you drinking?

Winemakers suggest their favorite wines for the holiday table

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If there’s one thing I love discovering, it’s what our local winemakers are drinking with their holiday meals. Of course they drink their own—if I made wine as well as these vintners do I’d be drinking it, too. But I also asked them to provide tips as to which wines are on their table besides their own. Whether you buy these particular wines, or it’s the same variety produced by another winery, they’re sure to make your holiday dinners more satisfying. That’s the fun of the holidays—gathering for an extravagant meal and sharing your favorite wines, whether you pulled an aged gem from your cellar, or picked up something special from a great wine shop.

EAT, DRINK, AND GIVE THANKS! :  An unidentified family gives insight on what wine to pair with your Thanksgiving feast. - PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • EAT, DRINK, AND GIVE THANKS! : An unidentified family gives insight on what wine to pair with your Thanksgiving feast.

Jason Haas, partner and general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, prefers Rhone wines at the holiday table, naturally. Yet he surprised me with this unusual comment when asked what he’s serving his family and friends for Thanksgiving. “I plan to open the biggest bottle I have in my cellar,” Haas quipped. I laughed and then he explained: “Large format bottles are a wonderful way to collect and age wines. Yet it can be difficult to find the right time to open one. When you do open one, it starts the party.” Haas and his wife Meghan are traditionalists; they serve the classic turkey dinner but always serve ham as well. Her family favored the latter and since the Thanksgiving meal is a collaborative effort by their combined families, everyone contributes by bringing their favorite holiday dishes. The sides are mostly starchy, he admitted, but the cranberry relish is there, too.

Because they begin dining mid-to-late afternoon, they don’t drink wine until just before starting the meal with an aperitif of Champagne or sparkling wine, Delamotte Brut Champagne or Roederer Estate Brut. Interestingly, Haas says both white and red Rhone wines pair beautifully with the myriad flavors on the holiday dinner table. “With white Rhone wines you want one with a fair amount of heft, a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne is super,” Haas explained. “With reds you want them on the lighter, juicier side, Grenache, Counoise, or Carignane.”

In SLO, Chris and Adrienne Ferrara of Clesi Wines enjoy turkey dinner on Thanksgiving prepared by his Italian-born mother who lives in Exeter where the family farms citrus. “Chris’s favorite dish is tacchino ripieno,” Adrienne noted. “His mother butterflies a turkey breast and stuffs it with prunes, pancetta, ground pork, bread crumbs, Parmigiano, and nutmeg.” The resulting Italian style roulade, obviously, tastes best with Italian varieties and that’s what Clesi is all about. Chris recommends pairing it with his 2010 Dolcetto. I like his 2010 Sangiovese, too, which would pair beautifully with that delicious stuffing.

“Chris loves to open imports to share at the table, like a good, dry Prosecco to start. With the meal he likes Donnafugata Anthilia, a white blend that’s mainly Catarratto, and chooses red wines like Isola d Olena Chianti Classico, Roccolo Grassi Amarone or Valpolicella, maybe both,” said Adrienne.

In Edna Valley, Terry and Claudia Speizer of Speizer Family Farms enjoy a traditional turkey dinner. Speizer said he prefers a stuffing with dried fruit, as opposed to dressing baked separately. “We start out with Rose Champagne as an aperitif, and then I present our Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc with the dinner we share with family and friends,” Speizer noted. “Dessert is usually pie and ice cream which I always serve with Taylors vintage Port.” Another Pinot Noir specialist, Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards plans to open an aged 1990 Krug Champagne to start the festivities. With his traditional dinner, built around the latest CSA box from Talley Farms, he’s serving a magnum of the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, and if the guests finish that, he will break into his cellar for some Littori Pinot Noir. In Santa Maria, Kenneth Volk Vineyards winemaker Ken Volk said he enjoys Tablas Creek’s dry Rose because it works so well with the many different foods on the table. He likes to start holiday meals with Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, a barely sweet, off-dry style or Rose.  When it comes to his wines, he’ll serve a 2006 Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard and mature reds. “If I serve Zinfandel, I prefer a lighter, claret style with fresh fruit flavors, not the pruney style Zin,” Volk explained. “I like wines that are in a more mature state where everything has come together with the Thanksgiving meal.”

Vintners/winemakers Don and Gwen Othman are as serious about food as they are about their wines. They plan to serve their family and friends at the Thanksgiving table their first release of their 2009 Pinot Noir Precious Stone, grown in Stone Corral Vineyard adjacent to their Edna Valley tasting room. “It’s made from the top four barrels of Pinot we harvested at Stone Corral that year,” Gwen Othman explained. “It’s got this really velvety texture with beautiful, dark lingonberry character.” I tasted the wine during the SLO Harvest Celebration and it was outstanding.

Gwen admitted she doesn’t like turkey, and she instead butterflies Cornish game hens, roasts them, and makes a reduction sauce. Her dressing is different every year, but the entire holiday menu is always wine friendly. “We like to start the meal with Laetitia sparkling wine, which we always have in our cellar. Our Pinot Blanc Bien Nacido Vineyard is wonderful with seafood like crab or whatever shellfish is available. We like to change it up with whatever’s in my scope each year.” Visit the tasting rooms of these outstanding wineries to make your holiday meals sparkle.

Contact Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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