As the cool autumn breeze blows in another holiday season, it’s time to pair food and wine.
Whether you are keeping socially distant or have the blessing of living with and being surrounded by family, it’s time to start thinking about a menu, and with that—at least for me—comes the excitement of pairing wine with food.
This is a particularly special time for me, because although I’m used to serving delicious wine with food on a regular basis, it is rare that I get to sit, eat, drink, and enjoy these kinds of group meals (if you’re in the industry, you know what I am talking about). I have always worked in very busy restaurants for the holidays, so “surviving the holidays” was truly a feat. But the moments that I would manage to see family and create long lasting memories always made it well worth the struggle. Typically in a restaurant setting, even if you aren’t open on Thanksgiving or Christmas, whatever you serve leading up to those holidays is festive and holiday-inspired. Holiday tasting menus with wines paired for each course is always popular around this time of year. I love to eat that way, but when I’m with family, it’s less about the pairings and more about family style eating, so my selections are based on a few choice bottles that I know will please the crowd.
In November we see Beaujolais popping up in all our wine shops in anticipation of Beaujolais Nouveau, a celebration long lived in France that takes place on the third Thursday of November. The occasion marks the release of a new Beaujolais wine, made from Gamay grapes and fermented for just a few months before being put on sale. People pour into bars and restaurants to celebrate the drop of this wine and the beginning of a new season. Whether you like this wine or not, the sheer outpouring of tradition is impossible to ignore. The Gamay grape doesn’t get recognition as a serious age worthy wine, perhaps because of all the fanfare upon the release of the Nouveau, but Cru Beaujolais is quite serious. These wines are produced in ten “crus”—villages/areas around the foothills of the Beaujolais mountains—and you can find great values hidden here. The region offers a wide range of soil types that include granite, clay, schist, limestone, pink granite, plus a variety of altitudes that give each Cru its own identity. Gamay boasts light body and tannin, and depending on the Cru, it can age up to fifteen plus years. I became enamored by this category when I was a buyer and had all ten Cru Beaujolais on my wine list in many different formats. For me, this was hidden treasure in the wide variety of French wine. The gang of 5 most reputable Beaujolais producers are: Lapierre, Foillard, Thévenet, Breton, Metras. But one magical producer that sits under the radar is Nicole Chanrion, brought in by Kermit Lynch. She makes an age worthy Côte-de-Brouilly, that, for years, any time I have put it on a wine list, it has sold out in a week’s time. It’s a very small production wine that she farms by hand. I have always admired her for the purity she captures and the balance of power that lies in each bottle.
Finding wines that are less celebrated is a fun challenge. I typically bring Alsatian whites to Thanksgiving. They are underutilized in most settings, because generally people go for Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc—after all, that’s the bulk of what you find in retail stores outside of cities. But my go-to over the years has been Julien Meyer, a Biodynamic winery in Alsace that makes a wide array of wines. I especially love their Gewürztraminer, a full body white wine that is highly aromatic but dry on the finish. I have found it to be a crowd pleaser and a perfect pairing for turkey and stuffing with lots of gravy. But it also encapsulates one of my favorite things about the holidays—the beauty of sharing and bringing something to the table that is unexpected. So find your own way with Holiday pairings, and if you need to consult the professionals, I recommend The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, a series of interviews with a wide range of wine and restaurant professionals. During this pandemic, when just popping into a restaurant to ask your favorite Sommelier’s advice may not be possible, you can consult this book not only for Thanksgiving, but for enriching any special meal you would like to create at home.
Wines From Our Tasting:
Dirler-Cadé Sylvaner 2018 Alsace, France Vieille Vignes:
This winery has been converted to biodynamic farming since 1998, and close to half of the vineyard holdings are grand cru sites. The Sylvaner is planted on marly sandstone soils at an altitude of up to 320 meters. These vines were planted in 1969 and 1972, and they are Vieille Vignes (Old vines). They boast less fruit but more concentration. The grapes are all hand harvested and fermented in old wooden casks with ambient yeast. In my opinion they are “helping” Mother Nature along in supporting the natural environment. The color is golden yellow, and the nose tells the story of nature: fennel, lemon, beeswax, slate, white flowers, and melon rind. On the palate the texture comes alive with a roundness that coats the mouth. This wine has medium intensity and has a balance of acidity, and for me, it has always been a treat to pair it with food.
Marie and Vincent Tricot Pinot Noir, ‘Les 3 Bonhommes MC’ Rouge Auvergne, France 2018:
Vincent was born in the Loire valley of France and left to attend Oenology school in Beaujolais. He apprenticed in Brouilly with Patrick Cotton. At this time he met Marcel Lapierre, and fell in line with his non-interventional style of winemaking. In 2002, he and his family moved to Auvergne, where they work the land with respect for nature. They grow Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and they produce wine without any additional sulfur.
Les 3 Bonhommes Pinot Noir is grown on volcanic and limestone soils, farmed with organic and biodynamic principles, and all hand harvested. The fermentation takes place in a fiberglass container with indigenous yeast—no fining, no filtration, and no additional SO2. This wine is pure and from the earth. To the sight it appears cloudy with a brick garnet color. On the nose, I smelled toasty barnyard and kirsch cherry, figs with an earthy moss quality, the forest floor and grape stems. On the palate it was very linear, driven by minerals, with hints of violets and cinnamon. This is a light bodied red wine with 13 % alcohol that would be a great enhancement to any meal.
If you would like to buy these two wines please contact Shiraz Noor at Acker Wines. LBV Social Club members get a discount through our partnership!
Claire Paparazzo is an LBV Social Club member who also leads some of the Club's wine tastings. This is her reflection on the tasting that took place on November 18th, 2020. Find her on Instagram at @clairepaparazzo and @wineifyouwantto.
First photo via Our Food Stories
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