Thanksgiving Wine Guide

Thanksgiving is the holiday I try not to zoom past on the way to Christmas once Halloween is over. I've noticed that stores tend to forget about it, going directly from spooky spiders and skulls to glittery ornaments and all things Santa. It's important to take a day to spend quality time with family and friends, eat a delicious meal, and reflect over all we have to be thankful for. With all of the tragedy in the world today, it feels especially important this year.

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Pairing wine with Thanksgiving is particularly tricky because most sources agree that there is too much going on in the meal for one wine to satisfy all dishes. If you have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, your plate is filled with a wide variety of flavors -- sweet, savory, green, acid, and butter. So. Much. Butter. What's the best wine to pair with all of these flavors and dishes? See below for a guide that will hopefully point you in the right direction. If you have the budget and ability, I recommend having a variety of options on the table for the various courses. 

Reds

Our families are red wine drinkers, so I know we need to have a good bottle of red on the table. This year, I plan to pair our meal with this Seghesio Family Carignane from Weekly Tasting. It is the most food friendly wine I think I've had, and the flavors will go so well with a lot at the table. The mild tannin will not overpower any of the dishes, it's got the warm spices like cinnamon, and there's a hint of tart cherry or cranberry in there. Does that not sound like Thanksgiving in a bottle?!

If you don't have access to the Carignan, I recommend a Zinfandel or lighter Pinot Noir. Classic Thanksgiving reds right there. Zinfandel has similar quailities to the Carignan I mentioned, and Pinot Noir has that earthy, acidic quality that mirrors cranberry and will go nicely with the turkey.  

My recommendations: Gnarly Head Zinfandel for the price point and availability, or La Crema Willamette Pinot Noir.

Whites

If our family is full of red drinkers, why even have a white? Butter. Green beans. That's why. A classic Thanksgiving white is Chardonnay. I'd go for one that's oaked because that malolactic fermentation will give you the creaminess you want to go with those mashed potatoes. Don't get an oaky, butter bomb, but find one that is well balanced and you'll love it!

As for green vegetables, they are infamous for being tough to pair with. Brussel sprouts, asparagus, green beans... they're all stumpers. Some would say to just re-hydrate with that course and drink water, but if you really want something to go with the veggies, I'd mimic the flavors in a Sauvignon Blanc, or if you're feeling adventurous, a Gruner Veltliner. The whites are also where you can bring in.

My recommendations: Ramey Chardonnay for a higher price point, or for a more affordable bottle, try the Olema Chardonnay. Both are from Total Wine. For the greens, try the Starborough Sauvignon Blanc, which I believe is widely available in grocery stores, or the Winzer Krems Gruner from Total Wine.

Dessert

I HIGHLY recommend having a dessert wine for all the pie. Many people will continue drinking whatever they had a dinner, and really, it's doing a disservice to the drinker and the dessert. The key for pairing wine with dessert is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert or it will taste funky. If you don't care, then cheers to you! I've definitely done that 99% of the time. This year, I'm feeling a little celebratory and will be sure to have a 20-year Tawny Port to go with dessert. Other recommendations are Vin Santo, Canadian Ice Wine, or a late harvest Riesling.

"I can only have one bottle."

If you truly want just one bottle to go with everything, I'd choose a sparkling wine. It'll be your best bet because the bubbles will help cleanse the palate between dishes. Champagne is a great choice if your budget allows, but you can also find a good option at a lower price point. 

My recommendations: For the lowest price point, I'd try Juvé y Camps Pinot Noir Rosé Cava found at Whole Foods. For something a little more celebratory, try a bottle of Schramsberg - Blanc de Blanc or Brut Rosé would both be tasty.

I hope you all have the most wonderful holiday, and that your hearts (and bellies) will be full and happy!

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Pink Peppercorn Beurre Blanc

After that title, you may be thinking, "Wait, did I read that correctly? Is this becoming a food blog?" Answer: No, it's not. BUT when I make a recipe that is oh-so-delicious, and I happened to have a well-paired wine with it, I just have to share. This recipe was sent to me by my dad, but is courtesy of a great restaurant in Highlands, North Carolina -- Wild Thyme. If you're ever in the area, be sure to check them out!

So back to the Pink Peppercorn Beurre Blanc... what's not to like? Shallots. Butter. Pepper. All things I love, so bring it on. The recipe is super easy with the most difficult part being keeping your arm from cramping with all of the whisking. The recipe is below, but if you prefer to download and print, you can get the recipe here!

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Pink Peppercorn Beurre Blanc

  • 1 tbsp shallot, minced
  • 2 tsp pink peppercorns
  • 8 tbsp unsalted, cold butter
  • 2 tbsp dry vermouth
  • 2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • Salt
  • White pepper
  • Lemon juice, if desired (I recommend!)

Get your mise en place together! Mince the shallots. Crush the pink peppercorns using a mortar and pestle, or a ziploc bag and a mallet works just fine, too. Cut the chilled butter into tablespoon-sized pieces, and set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the shallots, vermouth, white balsamic vinegar and crushed pink peppercorns. Bring mixture barely to a simmer, and allow the mixture to be reduced by about two-thirds, stirring the mixture constantly, until it reaches a syrupy consistency.

Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, and whisk in the cold butter cubes, one piece at a time, to slowly form the emulsion. Once all of the butter has been incorporated into the peppery-vermouth mixture, season it generously with salt and white pepper. If needed, add a few dashes of lemon juice to tweak the flavor of the sauce.

Keep an eye on the completed beurre blanc while you prepare the rest of your meal, making sure to keep the sauce warm to the touch and whisking often to prevent the smooth sauce from splitting.

The sauce works well on any white, flaky fish (halibut, sea bass, snapper, etc.), but would also be great on scallops. Pair it with a medium to full body white wine that balances a creaminess with acidity (Chardonnay -- maybe even with a little bit of oak, Sémillon, Pinot Gris, etc.). What wine did we have? This white, or vinho branco, from the Dão region of Portugal found in my Spain & Portugal Weekly Tasting pack. 

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Dão is certainly more well known for its reds, but their dominant white grape is Encruzado, which is also the main grape in this Prunus wine. Encruzado was described as being similar to Viognier, and I definitely agree. It was very aromatic, which is so characteristic of Viognier. To me, the wine smelled and tasted of white peach and had a great mouth coating quality. It was buttery in texture but the apple notes and acidity kept it from feeling too heavy. This creamy texture went so well with the weight of the sauce. Weekly Tasting said it'd be a crowd pleaser, and I can certainly tell why. Easy drinking with different features that could appeal to every type of white wine drinker. Plus, it has a pretty label! Gotta love wines that are pretty AND taste good. While it's definitely different than the whites I typically go for, Prunus Vinho Branco gets three bunches in my book!

Rating:

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July 4th: What wine should I have with...?

Fourth of July is upon us... cue Martina McBride's "Independence Day"! In a few days, people all across the country will don their red-white-and-blue, enjoy time with friends and family, and be dazzled by fireworks accompanied by Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" . If you're looking to find some suggestions for what to drink with typical 4th of July fare, you've come to the right spot!

Burgers

If I was a betting woman, I'd put money on burgers being the most popular 4th of July meal. Drinking wine with burgers can be a bit tricky because it can depend on the toppings; however, most people I know generally stick to the classic toppings (think tomato, lettuce, onion, etc.). If this is the case, I think Zinfandel or Grenache would be great choices. Both of these varietals can have a juiciness and notes of earth or smoke or spice that go so well with grilled beef. If you're going a leaner route with a turkey burger, a lighter red would be a better choice. I'd choose a Californian Pinot Noir. It'll be lighter in body than the other varieties, but will still have enough heft to hold up to a grilled flavor. 

Suggestions: Gnarly Head ZinfandelJoel Gott Grenache , or The Stash Pinot Noir. Bonus that all of these are American wines as well!

Hot Dogs

Now, pairing with hot dogs is ALL about the toppings. I vary my toppings pretty frequently... sometimes I like just a classic mustard, but other times I like a Chicago or Carolina-inspired dog. So make sure you're taking note on what you're hoping to put on the dog before you purchase a bottle to drink with them.

  • For a classic dog topped with ketchup and mustard - Oregon Pinot Noir. The acid from the wine will help cut the richness of the hot dog, but the lighter red fruit flavor will not overpower. Consider La Crema Pinot Noir.
  • For a Chicago-style (relish, peppers, celery salt, etc.) or Carolina-style (coleslaw, mustard, onion) - Sauvignon Blanc. The herbaceous notes of the wine will pair well with the green flavors in the Chicago dog, and the acid will work well with the mayo in the coleslaw of the Carolina dog. Give Starborough Savignon Blanc a try.

Steak

No surprise here, but definitely drink a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a classic pairing, so there's no need to stray from the classic American wine region.

Fried Chicken

Bubbles! Another classic pairing. Champagne is the most popular recommendation as the biscuit flavor in Champagne pairs well with the fried chicken batter while the bubbles cleanse the palate. If you're looking for a lower price point than Champagne, try the Madame Liberte California Sparkling which had those biscuit notes or go with a Cava that will be light and refreshing but not too fruity.

Just want a one-size-fits-all approach?

Go sparkling... always go with sparkling wine. In my opinion, it is the most food friendly wine and pairs well with the widest variety of items. Plus, why not use bubbles to celebrate the freedom of our nation?

I hope this post helped guide you when thinking about what to pair with your menu for Tuesday. While I do think food and wine pairings can enhance a meal, the most important thing to remember is to drink what you like! Life's too short, am I right?! So pop a bottle, have fun, and be safe!

Pairing Wine with Chocolate

Today, K and I went to a class about pairing wine and chocolate with a couple of friends for my birthday and Valentine's Day. You know... two birds, one stone. It was a very interesting class! I think a lot of people believe it's easy to pair wine and chocolate, but this class taught me that it's actually surprisingly difficult.

I'll go into the details of the wine and chocolates we had, but here is a good summary we were given about pairing chocolate and wine:

  • For white chocolate... pair with Moscato d'Asti, Beaumes-de-Venise or Orange Muscat
  • For milk chocolate... Brachetto d'Acqui, Madeira, Beaumes-de-Venise or Orange muscat, tawny port, Vin santo
  • For dark chocolate.. Banyuls, LBV port, PX sherry, Oloroso sherry, ruby port, tawny port, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel

I think the most intriguing thing to take away from this list is that normal table wine doesn't really pair with chocolate. You can see big, bold reds like Cab, Syrah, and Zinfandel can be paired with dark chocolate, but otherwise, it's not really a great pairing. The reason why is you always want the wine to be as sweet or sweeter than the chocolate you're eating; otherwise the wine will taste flat. I have always eaten whatever table wine I am having with my dessert, but I have noticed that it doesn't always taste great, so this was really interesting to learn.

The chocolates we had were all from a local chocolate shop called The Secret Chocolatier. I was so excited to try them! Our selection for the tasting were:

  • Dark chocolate covered strawberry
  • Blueberry-chili dark chocolate bark
  • Brown sugar caramel
  • Lemon white chocolate truffle
  • 55% dark chocolate
  • 80% dark chocolate 

Below are the wines we had, what chocolate was paired with it, and my thoughts.

  • Bodegas Gutierrez de la Vega Casta Diva, Recondita Armonia, 2009, Alicante Spain, $29 - This is a late harvest wine from the south of Spain. The grapes get overly ripe, so there are lots of sugars in the grapes when harvested. In order keep the wine from becoming to high in alcohol, the fermentation process is stopped which results in lower alcohol content and some residual sugar in the wine. This wine had a very mixed berry jam flavor and was paired with the Chili Blueberry Bark. It was a great pairing as the sweetness of the wine balanced the heat that came with the chili. Another interesting tidbit is you do not want to pair something spicy with a high alcohol wine as it accentuates the spiciness, so this wine was a great choice.
  • Ferreira 20 Year Tawny Port, Duque de Braganca NV - Duoro Portugal, $65 - Let's just say that this tasting made me realize I am definitely not a fan of port. It's just too sweet and strong in flavor for me. Port is a fortified wine from Portugal that is typically served with (or as) dessert. This port was nutty in flavor with some hints of caramel, so we paired this one with the brown sugar caramel. I will say it tasted better after eating some of the chocolate, but port will definitely not be a regular choice of mine.
  • AR Valdespino Pedro Ximenez Sherry El Candado - Jerez, Spain, $45 - Sherry is the fortified wine of Spain. This one had the strong aroma of fig, dates, and rootbeer and was super viscous. When you swirled the glass, there was a coat of brownish yellow liquid that had very slow moving legs. To me, this wine tasted like liquid raisins which was interesting. We also paired the Blueberry-Chili bark with this wine as the extreme sweetness paired well with the spice. I would never order this wine on my own, but it was definitely interesting to see how it paired with the chocolate in this setting.
  • Marenco Brachetto d'Acqui Pineto, 2014 - Piedmont, Italy, $24 - This was by far my favorite wine and the favorite of the majority of the class. It was effervescent, so there was a slight carbonation to it. It was sweet, but not overly sweet, so it was really the perfect wine to have with dessert, in my opinion. Plus it was pink, so it is the perfect choice for Valentine's Day! This wine paired great with the chocolate covered strawberry and the lemon white chocolate truffle. The wine had a strawberry flavor which is what paired well with the chocolate covered strawberry. With the white chocolate, the wine actually seemed less sweet because of the lemon. The flavor of the wine was definitely different when paired with the two chocolates, but both were great pairings.
  • Shane Wine Co Syrah, The Unknown 2012 - Sonoma County, California, $40 - This wine was very dark and concentrated with a black fruit aroma and flavor. This wine was paired with the 55% dark chocolate and it worked well because neither were particularly sweet. I just flat out didn't like the 80% dark chocolate, so I didn't give it a try with the wines, but it would have probably paired fine.
  • Lady Hill Cabernet Franc, 2013 - Columbia Valley, Washington, $29 - I didn't take too many notes on this one because I was focusing on finishing up the bits of chocolate I had left! But this wine was similar to the Syrah in the sense that it was a dark and full bodied wine with some spice. I really enjoyed this wine by itself and it also paired well with the 55% dark chocolate. 

To summarize, typical wine that you and I drink doesn't pair well with chocolate. Big, bold, dry, full bodied wines pair best with dark chocolate, but otherwise, it's not a great combo. Pick up a bottle of sweet wine or fortified wine to pair with your chocolate. Remember that your wine should be sweeter than your chocolate. With all of this said, also keep in mind that if you like the way something or a combination tastes and it doesn't fit into these "rules", you keep on keeping on! Ultimately wine is a personal experience so drink and eat what you like!

Pairing Wine with Winter Meals

Winter is a time for hearty, flavorful, rich meals. When the colder months roll around, I instantly want to pull out my crock pot and my Pinterest board becomes full of soups and stews. I also always gravitate toward bolder and full-bodied reds because they feel warm and homey. I was curious as to what wines paired with some popular winter dishes, so I did a bit of research. Here is what I found for three of my favorite meals...

Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese

This is my go-to lunch during the cooler months, and nothing is more of a classic to me than this pairing. Sometimes I jazz it up with a fancy cheese, herbs, and a good crusty bread, but other times it's as simple as some cheddar between two slices of wheat bread. Anyway, there was definitely a consensus when it came to what wine would pair well with this meal. The vast majority of opinions I read were that a weightier white such as a Chardonnay or Chablis (which is an un-oaked Chardonnay from Burgundy, France) would pair well. The high acidity of these wines would pair well with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the saltiness of the cheese. Full-bodied whites pair well with cheeses such as cheddar, swiss, and havarti. Does your tomato soup have basil in it? Have no fear! That'll go great with Chardonnay as well. 

Beef Chili

For our household, chili is a staple during winter. It's easy to make, relatively healthy, and full of flavor. In the interest of full disclosure, I am by no means an expert at wine and food pairing. I tend to just drink what I want and go with it, so when I started to do some looking around in my books and online, I was surprised to find that no one is really in agreement on a pairing other than that beer is probably the best choice. While I totally can see how that would be, I tend to want a good wine, so I kept perusing until I found some kind of answer. The two things that was agreed upon was that the wine should have low tannin and be fruit forward because of the heat and spice of the chili. Grenache seemed to be the most popular choice, while Zinfandel was a solid second choice.

Chicken Pot Pie 

Who doesn't love chicken pot pie?! With its flaky crust, hearty vegetables, and creamy filling, it is the definition of comfort food. Most opinions I found suggested a white, especially one that is crisp and clean. With the creaminess of the pot pie, you want something balanced. A Chardonnay would be a great choice, but shy away from the big, buttery, super creamy Chardonnays. They will fight with the cream in the pot pie. Instead, I'd choose a Chablis again. They are typically fresh with a good amount of fruitiness. The minerality that is commonplace with Chablis will be a good contrast to the cream.

What is the moral of this story for me? Don't just rely on reds! Old habits will most likely die hard, but I found it very interesting that Chablis was a very popular choice for winter foods. I will have pick up a couple of bottles so I can see exactly what everyone is raving about!