If you're anything like me, you've been planning your holiday dinner festivities for months now. Every little detail, down to the seasonings and plating, is ready to go in your head. Well, except for one. Deciding what beverage to serve with your celebratory culinary creation is the final step, the garniture that ties everything together.
- Oysters: If we're going to be classic here, both Champagne and Chablis are just that for a reason. But it's the end of a wacky 2016, and the only thing that makes sense is to throw your inhibitions to the wind and go big: Mezcal. One of my favorite drinks this year was a Mezcal Greenpoint, featuring VIDA Mezcal. It's a little smokey, a little herbal, but still bright and citrus forward enough to perfectly pair with your pre-dinner oysters. Be mindful of your portions here, because it's going to be a long week(end). Not a fan of Chartreuse? Fix yourself a VIDA Negroni instead, with more of an orange forward bitter finish but less viscous on the palate, letting the sweetness of your oysters shine through a bit more, but also showcasing the booze in warmer fashion.
- Cheeses: Of course, it depends on your cheese of choice, but I think this is an excellent opportunity to present two different options for everyone in attendance. For the soft cheese, go with a non-Champagne bubbly, done in the traditional Champenois method. Raventos i Blanc 'de Nit' fits the bill, one of the most magical sparkling wines I've had out of Spain in a long time. It's bright red fruits up front give way to damp rose petal, ripe strawberry, and a rich mousse that reminds me of pink Champagne I've had at more than double the price. For the hard cheeses, challenge your guests to an adventure in Agricole, French-style rum distilled from squeezed cane juice, rather than molasses. Rhum J.M. White Rum is, well, intense, but if sipped before one of their heartier cheeses, it provides a fun, tropical backdrop for the nuttier aspects of cheeses like Manchego.
- Caviar: If you're splurging on caviar, what's another $50 to experience the full performance art that is the classic caviar/Champagne pairing? My first experience with this was last year for my 27th birthday, and it changed me forever. Get down with one of my favorite Champagnes on the market, Charles Heisieck Brut Reserve. Yes, I love Grower Champagne too, but there's a reason why some of these houses have been as successful as they have: their stuff is good. With this holiday gift set that you see above, you'll also get two Tulip Glasses, which are the glasses Sommeliers everywhere prefer to drink their bubbles from. Heidsieck is classic, with its creamy mousse and rich texture coming through right off the bat. What gives this House its signature for me, though, is the backbone of acidity, giving the wine lift and elegance to balance out the power of fruit. Champagne and caviar...it just works.
- Brisket: As much as I love oysters, caviar, and everything else you see here, few things bring me as much holiday comfort as a tender roast of brisket. When looking for pairings, sometimes it's as much about the feeling you get with each as much as the flavor profiles or structures. For me, that's Burgundy, specifically a red Burgundy like the 2010 Olivier Leflaive Pommard. Pommard is one of three villages in the Cote de Beaune celebrating Pinot Noir (this is Chardonnay country down here) and it does so in a fashion that can be enjoyed young and without much pretense. Yes, this isn't the cheapest bottle of wine on the shelf, but brisket isn't the most expensive cut at the butcher, so we're meeting half way here. Olivier's family is steeped in tradition around these parts, specifically the village of Puligny-Montrachet just to the southwest, and it comes through in the bottle. While many Pommard in this age range tend to be a bit unapproachable, stuck between the elegant floral notes of its southern neighbor Volnay and the fruit of somewhere like Santenay, Olivier's negociant project comes through clean, focused even. There are few better deals worldwide on excellent Pinot Noir than this one right here.
- Prime Rib: The thing I love most about pairing wines with Prime Rib is that, given its decadent, rich, bold nature as a dish, I have as much or more freedom with wine as I would with anything else in the world. I can go Italy, California, Australia, Argentina, South Africa...wines from everywhere in the world will work. Even better, young wines will work. This year, go to southern Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Garonne, and drink the 2014 Chateau Haut Vigneau Pessac-Leognan. Classically, this is where you'll find wines dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and blended with Merlot (perhaps, though more prevalent on the right bank, Cabernet Franc). Grippy tannins, lush black fruits, mocha, mint, baking spices...yet not overwhelming at all. That's what makes this a perfect pairing for your beef, letting the food do the talking in between sips.
- Roasted Turkey: Don't let my aversion to turkey fool you, eating it with the right wine can completely change the experience. Every Thanksgiving, I'm tasked with finding the right wines for my friends and lately, I've gone Pinot Noir for them as opposed to Riesling. This year, I recommended the 2014 Banshee Pinot Noir and it wasn't just a hit, many of them went right back to their stores to pick it up by the case. It manages to straddle the line between classic Cali Pinot, bold fruit and rich texture, and a more restrained style with higher acidity and more of a floral component. If this is the direction of Pinot in Sonoma, count me in (I'll save you a spot on the bandwagon).
- Glazed ham: Of all the wine and food pairings in the world like foie gras with Sauternes, lamb with Bordeaux, risotto with Nebbiolo, there may not one that makes more sense to me than pork and Rioja. Here, we've got the La Antigua Clasico Rioja Reserva from 2008. Why does this so often work well? Rioja, at its best, often has a slight saline minerality to it and a texture that makes me reminisce on days spent eating jamon Iberico in Madrid. With something as salty and textured as a glazed ham, my mind goes right to a Rioja with some age, so that the wood and fruit have calmed down a bit and made way for those tertiary earth tones to come through on the palate with more clarity.
- Filet Mignon: While working as a sommelier, one of my tasks was to pair a fine bottle of wine with our nightly tasting menu, a collaboration between myself and the kitchen to find the right flavors, textures, and mood in each dish throughout the meal. For our final beef course, we were serving seared beef filet with various root vegetables, greens, and mushrooms. To celebrate the lean nature of the meat, as well as the savory components alongside it, we went Barolo. For your holiday, I encourage you to do the same with the 2010 Marziano Abbona Barolo. While it will need some time in a decanter, few wines globally are of more regal pedigree, something that will shine through once the first thirty minutes of being open have gone by. Truffles, black cherry, forest floor, shiitake mushroom, violets, rose petals...it's all here. If this is your first time drinking Nebbiolo from its most famous village, welcome to the party. If not, then you already know what you're in store for!
- Dessert: Okay, let's get the story out of the way regarding this stunning example of the most famous wine region in the world for sweet wines. The bottle? 2010 Chateau Rieussec-Carmes De Rieussec Sauternes. The story? In Sauternes, the best wines are made in years where botrytis affects the grapes in the vineyard. Botrytis, also known as the Noble Rot, is a white rot that overtakes the grape, punctures the skin, and concentrates both sugar and acidity, resulting in a grape that can vinified to a full ABV while still retaining enough sugar for sweetness and enough acidity to keep the wine mouth watering and clean. This estate, classified as a 1er Cru Classe in Sauternes, has been among the great wines in one of the world's great wine regions forever. But unfortunately, with greatness comes exclusivity. With exclusivity, comes market demand and, of course, higher prices. That is why some of the best estates in the region, and even throughout Bordeaux, release second labels as an introduction to their efforts. With the Carmes de Rieussec, you get the best value in Sauternes that I've ever seen. This wine is rich with candied lemon peel, dried apricot, ginger, and honeysuckle. Is it sweet? Yes, this is Sauternes after all, but the vintage of 2010 brought more acidity if less Noble Rot than 2011, helping give the wine impeccable balance. Here, you don't need food. You don't want food. Just drink the damn wine.