A Sommelier's Tips to Holiday Wine Pairing & Gifting This Festive Season
While you may be celebrating the holiday season a little differently this year, if you love wine, chances are it is still going to be on the table. And if your table is smaller this year, a great way to share a bit of the holiday joy with someone you miss is through a bottle of wine.
Hand-picked with care, wine is one of those special gifts that allows you to truly show someone how much you know about someone. Plus, the transportive qualities of wine can wet our whistle in a way travel hasn’t been able to in 2020.
So just ahead of the holidays, and perfectly timed for all of you last minute shoppers, we sat down virtually with sommelier Jeremy Schwartz of Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Colorado. Here, Jeremy tells us how to pair wine with your holiday meals, why you should opt for new world wines for your old world loving friends, and the humble tradition of uncorking a bottle to enjoy.
So Jeremy, how can the average person choose the right wine? Because I think for many of us, we know what we like, and we generally know okay red with dark meats, white with fish and vegetables.
It starts with knowing what you like to drink, but you want to be able to expand your palate, too. So I would say the white with fish and red with meat is actually overrated — it actually depends on the sauce more. The first thing is, think about what you want to drink. When someone comes into the restaurant I ask them what they’re in the mood for. So instead of doing a ‘perfect pairing’ with a dish, think about what you really want to drink.
Besides that, basic premises are that things with fats and richness might be better with a more dry wine. Another to keep in mind is that the acid level, like how fresh something is, works better with some things than others. Spice with food — like with Thai or Chinese or Mexican for example — you want a wine with a little bit of sweetness, maybe something like a German Riesling.
You know the most common holiday dinners — turkey, ham, maybe even a lasagna. What wines go well with these?
With turkey, you can go white or red. I work at an Italian restaurant for example, and the great Barbera wine — which comes from North Western Italy, and is not very tannic and is refreshing — that always goes great. Côtes du Rhône wines are also quite flexible. White wise, Loire valley, like a Channon blanc, with a little demi sweetness.
With Ham — Barbera or Pinot Noir. You can even go off the beaten path and do something from Austria, like Blaufränkisch. If you’re doing a roast, you definitely want to get into Cabernet, Rioja, Ribero del Duero, wines that are bigger and bolder that go well with red meat.
Lasagna, this is a good one. We have a term: where it grows it goes. So we would want to go with an Italian wine, something like a Sangiovese, a Chianti or something from Montalcino, or even Vino Nobile del Montepulciano, work exceptionally well with the tomatoes in that dish.
Wine has such a tradition and heritage in other parts of the world. When I go to France, for example, I am always amazed by their knowledge and dedication to the art of wine. So, how can someone in the US, who maybe doesn’t have this wine heritage, create one for their family?
In America it is hard because we don’t have that wine and food pairing culture. But, we have a pretty diverse selection of grapes and regions here in the United States, so I encourage people to discover their local wine regions here. There are some amazing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay’s from Oregon. Napa is known for Cabernet, and upstate New York is known for their Riesling.
I would also say the first thing to do is just start. See what you’re interested in and explore that. I like to tell people to pick a region and say, ‘‘We’re going to base a meal off of this tonight.’ So say you want to go to Tuscany next summer, make a dish based from there.
If you go to Florence for example, you’re definitely going to eat a Bistecca alla Fiorentina — it’s a big steak, maybe with some mushrooms on the side, or some beans with sage. I would pair that with a Tuscan wine, like a Brunello, for example, or a Chianti Classico Reserva. Use your meals to explore and build your knowledge and own sense of culture around wine.
On that note of wine heritage, I think also there’s a misconception that old world wine is better or fancier, especially with gift giving. Can you tell me why people should give these new world wine’s a shot as gifts?
I think you should absolutely not rule out new world wines. There are great producers and great wines everywhere. I think the most important thing, if you’re giving a gift, is knowing what that person’s palette is and what they’re used to. You can really impress someone by choosing a new world wine that builds off their typical palette.
In the new world it’s typically warmer, riper, bigger, bolder. So if they like something leaner and more old world in style, maybe introduce them to great Pinot Noir from Oregon. There’s Domaine Drouhin, who is a French family based in Burgundy, and they make fantastic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Beaune. But, they also have an estate in Oregon that is new world but with a restrained sensibility.
I think a lot of people also think that if they throw more money at a gifted bottle of wine, they can get a better bottle. But is that actually true?
Theoretically, yes, more expensive wines should be better. But that’s not always the case. And even when I shop for the restaurant, I’m looking at all price points. There are great wines you can buy for $20, but also great wines that are hundreds. Price doesn’t have to be the issue.
For example, certain areas are more expensive than others. Great red burgundy and white burgundy is getting higher and higher. Brunello is expensive because you have to age it for five years at least.
But really, if you’re excited about a wine and can talk about it and why you chose it for them, chances are the person you’re giving it to is going to be excited, too. When you come back to that person with a story of why you chose it for them — whether that’s their palate, travels or travel plans — that’s going to make them feel good.
So tell me, why do you think wine is one of the best gifts for the holidays?
Who doesn’t love getting a great bottle of wine? And then being able to enjoy it — whether it’s alone or with a meal. The big thing with wine is sharing. Being able to enjoy it with a loved one or with your guests this time of year. Even socially distanced you can share a glass of wine!
I also think wine is amazing because it can take you vicariously on a journey to wherever that wine is from. It can also get someone interested in visiting a place — you know, if someone loves that new world Napa you got them, that could really spark their interest in visiting that place. Wine is a way to take a journey without leaving your home.
And we think that sentiment resonates more than ever this year. We hope this has helped you plan your own celebrations as well as give a better gift to your loved ones. From our family at Kelly Klee to yours, we wish you a very happy holiday season!
Jeremy Schwartz, is based in Boulder, Colorado, where he is Sommelier at Frasca Food and Wine. He offers private cellar consultancy and can help you curate your cellar or assist you with your next dinner party or event. He can be reached at 720-563-1902 or via email at Jeremy.firstname.lastname@example.org.