Food, Wine, and True Love

Wine and CharcuterieWhat do you think makes a great pairing of food and wine? 

Some people like to base a food and wine pairing on aromas, textures, or intensity.  Some like to match or contrast flavors.  Others ponder occasion, quality, and variety.  Many people prefer to keep it simple and think the best thing is to just “serve what you like!”

As with beauty, whether or not a pairing is “good” or “bad” is in the eye of the beholder. But the truth remains, food and wine transform each other, and in many cases, this transformation is predictable.  When food meets wine, you can be certain that one of the following things will happen:

The food will exaggerate a characteristic of the wine.  For instance, salty foods can turbocharge the acidity of a white wine, and matching a big red wine with a mild cheese will emphasize its fruit flavors.  Both of these matches would most likely be pleasant combinations to most people.  However, sometimes this reaction will throw a wine out of balance.

The food will diminish a characteristic of the wine.  This is especially obvious with the basic taste components of acid and sweet, which tend to cancel each other out.  Serving a wine with an acidic food, such as lemon, vinegar, or tomatoes, will make the wine taste much less acidic.  This is considered a “good” match by most, if your wine has the acidity to stand up to the food.  However, if the wine was low acid to begin with, it may taste flabby and dull.  Sweetness has the same diminishing effect – sweet foods and sweet wines make each other taste less sweet. (Try saying that five times fast.)

Cabernet and ChocolateThe flavor intensity of the food will obliterate the wine’s flavor, or vice versa.  In my classes I call this “Godzilla versus Bambi.” Think about pouring chocolate sauce on a salad.  Or serving Albariño with blackened ribeye.  Imho, this combination would render the wine flavorless; this might be a good time to “serve what you like” or crack open a beer.   

The wine will contribute new flavors to the food.  If your Trout Amandine tastes a little bland, you can give it a squeeze of lemon.  Or, you can serve it with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and add a squeeze of acidity along with the flavors of lime and dill.  If your steak is boring, you can reach for the A-1, or, better yet, pour a glass of Red Zinfandel and add the flavors of black pepper and red berries to your meal.

The wine and food will remain neutral.  In this scenario,nothing turns more acidic, or more harsh, or less sweet.  Everybody just goes their separate ways.  It’s ike going to the movies with your parents.  Better than nothing, but kind of dull.  You would have had more fun with your pals, but at least your stalker ex didn’t show up.  

The wine will provide a refreshing “jolt” to your palate and make the flavors of the food more clear, forward, or noticeable.  One of the great pleasures of wine is its acidity and its tannin, both of which make for excellent palate cleansers, allowing you to experience your food more fully.  The acidity of many wines also stimulates saliva flow (gross, I know…), which ups your ability to taste foods and experience their flavors.

The wine and food together can create an unwelcome third flavor.  I call this the “third wheel”.   I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but bad pairings do happen. Which can be helpful, in the case of unwanted guests. Break out the salty snacks… serve up a big, earthy, tannic Syrah…soon everyone’s mouth will be filled with the lovely flavors of tin can, dentist’s drill, detergent, and copper penny.  One by one, your unwelcome guests come up with clever excuses to leave.  Which is good if you hate them.  It’s really bad if you were hoping (ahem) they would stick around a while.  

Chenin Blanc BottomThe wine and food combine to create a totally welcome new flavor. This is the magic moment of  synergy! A match like this is often so individual to the flavors and textures of each dish and each wine that it can’t be predicted.  But when it does..its great! For instance, Ruby Port  and Roquefort Cheese combine to create butterscotch and vanilla flavors, or the combined forces of Prosciutto ham and dry Riesling create a dried fruit, clove, and cinnamon symphony (cue the violins).   

Confusing?  Yes indeed.  Anyway, it’s magic and can’t be reduced to a formula. It’s like true love.  You can’t explain it, but you know it when you find it.  

Then again, you can always just serve what you like.

Click here for more information on Food and Wine Pairing!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas  missjane@prodigy.net

 

Perfect Pairings: Crab Cakes and Albariño

Crab CakesIf crabcakes are on the menu, that’s what I order. I love-love-love crabcakes.  They’ve been my go-to favorite food since my college days…you know, back when we all had spare time to do things like experiment with recipes and have impromptu wine parties.

The good thing about my near-lifelong obsession with crab cakes means that I spent decades perfecting my recipe for them.  I vaguely remember the first crabcake recipe I ever made…it was in a cookbook I purchased at Moe’s Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in the early 80’s.  The author was either Craig Clairborne or Pierre Franey…one of those early “gourmet” chefs who published recipes in the New York Times (I definitely remember some connection to the NY Times). Therefore, despite many twists, turns, and changes, this recipe is somehow inspired by that first crab cake recipe, churned out on many a weekday evening for the gang of pre-med, pre-law, and women’s studies students who were my roommates and pals back in my Berkeley Days.

Bubbly Prof’s Crabcakes – Ingredients:

  • 1 pound crabmeat
  • 1 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell peppers, roasted and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (for sautéing, although they can also be baked.)

Procedure:

1.   Using a large bowl, check out the crab meat to make sure it is clean from bits of shell and other things.

2.  Add the following ingredients to the bowl, and, using your hands, mix them all together lightly: 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs, Green Onions, Red Bell Peppers, Sour Cream, Lemon Zest, Worcestershire Sauce, Chopped Dill, Dry Mustard, Salt, and Black Pepper.

3.  Crack one egg into a small bowl and whisk lightly.  Add to the crab cake mixture and, using your hands, mix well.

4.  Put the mixture, covered, into the refrigerator for about one hour.  You can skip this step, but it makes the mixture easier to handle.

5.  Shape the mixture into patties:  if using for an entree, this recipe should make 8 good size crab cakes and will feed four people.

6.  Crack the remaining egg into a flat bowl (such as a pie pan) and whisk together with 1 tablespoon milk.  Set up another flat container (a round cake pan or even a dinner plate will do) and place a portion of the remaining bread crumbs in it.  Using a somewhat standard breading procedure, dip each crab cake into the egg mixture, then roll around in the bread crumbs, patting them down so you get quite a nice coating. If you like to work ahead of time, at this point, you can place the crab cakes on a baking tray, over with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours.

7.  When you are ready to dine, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, sauté the crab cakes for 4 to 5 mintues on each side.  Be sure to monitor the heat so the crab cakes remain at a sizzle but don’t burn.  If you have two large pans, you can cook all the cakes at one time – otherwise cook them in batches and keep warm in the oven until they are all ready to go.  If you prefer, the crab cakes can be baked in a 350º oven for 25 minutes.  Use a large sheet pan or cookie sheet, coated with spray oil.  Give the crab cakes a quick spray with the oil to encourage a crunch, and bake until brown.  You can turn them half way through the baking to give them a crunch on both sides, or leave on one side the entire time for a different style of cake (both delicious).

8.  You can serve these crab cakes with just a squeeze of lemon and perhaps a nice bit of salad on the side.  You can also serve them with your favorite version of tartar or cocktail sauce.  I usually use the sour cream I have leftover from the recipe to make an impromptu sauce using lemon juice, lemon zest, and whatever else I find in the kitchen.  If I have extra dill, that is ideal, but on occaision, I have used capers, parsley, finely chopped pickles, and  a touch of mustard. 

The Pairing:

This dish, with is subtle tastes, salty seafood flavors, and crunchy-soft texture, would obviously pair well with a wide variety of white wines.  All you really need for a great match is a light-to-medium bodied, crisply acidic (especially if you serve the crabcakes with a squeeze of lemon or other acidic topping), fruity white wine. Unoaked Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and any number of light, Italian white wines – including, – heck, maybe even starring, Prosecco would work just fine.  I’d avoid low-acid whites such as Viognier or Gewurztraminer, and also pass on overly complex or oaky wines such as New World Chardonnay or even my beloved Champagne.

Paco and LolaAnd yet my ideal pairing is Albariño, particularly those from Rías Baixas in Spain. Albariño (or, as it is called in Portugal, Alvarinho), is thought to be native to the Iberian Peninsula, although whether it first originated in the Minho region of Portugal or the Galician corner of Spain is up for debate.  Either way, the grape stars in both regions; as a main ingredient in the delightfully light and sometimes spritzy Vinho Verde of Portugal as well as the new superstar white wine of the Rías Baixas region in Spain.

Albariño based wines have all the basic components for an ideal pairing with a seafood dish such as crab cakes:  crisp in acidity, refreshing on the palate, medium-bodied, and moderate alcohol. The wines are highly aromatic, leading with fruity and floral aromas that often include white peach, apricot, melon, pineapple, mango, honeysuckle, orange blossom, lemongrass and green apple – to mention a few. 

But Albariño has other qualities that made it my first choice for crab cakes.  For one, the grape is widely grown on the Atlantic Coast, and on my last trip to Spain, I seem to recall relaxing in a café in the old section of Pontevedre, dining on crab cakes and sipping Albariño.  (As a matter of fact, I took the train from Santiago de Compostela to Pontevedre for this express purpose – luckily Shields T. did not mind.) But more to the point, Albariño tends to have that fleeting, mineral-like aroma of “clean seashore” or “salt air” that I often notice but can hardly describe. Jancis Robinson and Company, in their book Wine Grapes, describes this aspect of Albariño as “a marine note.” 

While not quite sold on any one of them, I have used the following terms to describe this aspect of a wine: Wet Sand, Slate, Oyster Shell, Salinity, Gunpowder, and Steel; perhaps I should just call it “The Beach.”  However you describe it, this aspect of Albariño makes it both one of my favorite wines, and my top choice for crabcakes.  Give it a try!

Perfect Pairings: Wine with Holiday Ham

Easter HamIf your next big, crazy holiday gathering is going to feature a big, juicy holiday ham, the centerpiece of your meal will probably be glazed with maple or pierced with cloves. On the side, you are likely to find the standard line-up of holiday buffet dishes, including scalloped potatoes, sweet potatoes, brandied peaches, and green beans.

Your first wine pairing guideline is to keep your wine choices centered around white wines, rosés, or lighter styles of red, so as not to clash with the inevitable sweetness on your plate and to avoid overpowering the entrée.  As usual with holiday feasts, the array of side dishes offer up a wide variety of tastes and flavors, so our challenge is to find a wine that doesn’t wrestle with the rest of the meal.  Follow these rules to a great holiday match!

Rule #1 – Keep it Light to Medium Bodied – A meal based on ham will need a light to medium bodied wine in order to not overpower the main course in terms of both weight and flavors.  For best results choose a sparkling wine, a white wine, or a rosé.  If you just must have a red wine, keep to the lighter styles; Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are great choices, but this is not the time to whip out the Earthquake Zinfandel (however much I love it)!

Rule #2 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Fruity Flavors – A dinner based on ham will most likely contain a side dish based on peaches, raisins, or sweet potatoes.  While it is very hard to predict flavor-based reactions in wine and food pairings (as opposed to taste-based, which can be predicted quite accurately), fruity flavors in food will often make your wine seem less fruity.  In order to avoid a fruit-on-fruit wrestling match and ending up with insipid-tasting wine, make sure the wine has fruity flavors to begin with.

easter ham with bourbon peachesRule #3 – A Wine with a Touch of Sweetness will be a great match, especially if your Ham is Honey-Baked or Brown Sugar-Glazed.  This is important:  sweetness in food makes wine taste less sweet and more acidic.  So…if your ham is coated with a sugary or sweet glaze, this rule cannot be ignored!  Don’t worry about having sweet wines on the dinner table ….the sweetness in the food will make the wine taste dry.  Trust me on this one!  Besides, don’t forget that your open-door policy on holidays most likely means that your guests have a broad range of preferences in wine, and this is one case where the Moscato drinkers and the sweet wine lovers may just have an edge.  Hey, a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui never hurt anybody!

Rule #4 – Choose a Wine with Moderate Amounts of Alcohol – This is a good rule on many levels.  For one, ham usually contains a good deal of salty flavors.  And, the sad fact of the matter is that salty flavors can clash with the taste of alcohol, as well as with high tannin wines, which is the reason behind the moratorium on heavy reds. And don’t forget that high alcohol wines can lead to drunken holiday family feuds, at least in my recent experience.

Rule #5 – If You Like Spicy Foods, Match Spice for Spice – If you like spicy flavors in your holiday ham, you can build a flavor bridge by pairing your dinner with a wine with natural spice flavors.  As mentioned earlier, the result of flavor pairings are hard to predict, but generally spicy flavors in food and wine enhance each other. For a spicy feast, try a Riesling, a Gewürztraminer, or a Rosé made from Sangiovese.

Bubbly Professor Wine Suggestions For Holiday Ham

  • Riesling from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State…for the wine adventurer, try finding a single winery that offers wines in varying levels of sweetness.  Tasting them along with the meal will make for an interesting feast!
  • Vouvray, either sparkling or still, or any other Chenin Blanc-based wine from the Loire.
  • Easter BubblyRosé…just about any Rosé would be lovely, and this might be a time where Rosé d’Anjou with its slight hint of sweetness will absolutely shine.  A rosé made from Sangiovese, which to me always seems to have a charming little hint of baking spice in the flavor would also work.  If you have a rich uncle, tell him to bring Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, and save a bottle for me!
  • Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon – this is an under-appreciated wine if ever there was one.  For less than $20.00 a bottle, grab a bottle of Adelsheim Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  For a bit more dough, try just about any Pinot Gris from Alsace – I guarantee you will love it!
  • Gewürztraminer…my favorite “love it or hate it” wine will really shine with the flavors of a holiday ham feast.  Germany and Alsace make terrific dry varieties, and some of the versions from California have a slight hint of sweetness.
  • Rosé Champagne might just be the perfect choice.  Go for broke and load up the table with Laurent Perrier Brut Rosé, or buy Cristalino Cava Brut Rosé by the case (at around $6.00 a delicious bottle you can afford it.)   Or, buy the Cava for your guests and keep a secret stash of Laurent Perrier in the bedroom mini-fridge just for you and your bestie.
  • Prosecco is a good choice, but then it just about always is!
  • For the wine adventurous…try a Cabernet-Franc based red wine from the Loire, such as Chinon and Bourgueil.
  • Red Burgundy, Cru Beaujolais or Oregon Pinot Noir.  You just can’t go wrong with these food-loving wines.
  • Barbera d’Asti, Dolcetto d’Alba, or a nice Chianti. Sure to please the lovers of earthy red wines.
  • For the sweet wine aficionados in the crowd, grab a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui.  These sweeties will work for the whole meal from spiced cashews to pecan pie!

easter eggsRemember to relax and enjoy the holidays, and don’t stress over the wine choices.  Choose something you love and something that your guests will be comfortable with, whether they be wine newbies or wine adventurers!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Grenache

grenacheThe Soundbyte:  Grenache (technically, in this case, Grenache Noir) is the world’s second most-planted red grape variety and most what I like to call the most popular “wing man” in the world.  What I mean is that while Grenache is capable of starring in varietal wines, it just might be the world’s most popular partner in a red grape blend.

Grenache is the most widely planted red grape in Spain, where it often gets blended with Tempranillo, Cinsault and a host of other grapes.  Grenache is one of the three amigos (Grenache-Syrah- Mourvèdre) of the “Southern Rhône Blend” and plays a part in some of the more complex blends to be found in the Rhône as well.   Grenache is also made into dessert and fortified wines, and makes a world-class rosé. 

Typical Attributes of a Grenache Based Wine:

  • A typical Grenache varietal could be described as soft on the palate, relatively high in alcohol and with aromas of spice and berries. These types of wines should be consumed young.
  • The texture of Grenache has been described as “rustic” or “fleshy”.
  • The grape tends to be thin-skinned and low in both color and tannin, however, these factors can vary depending on vineyard conditions and winemaking; some Grenache packs a powerful tannic punch.
  • In addition to varietals, Grenache is used in fortified wines, dessert wines, and delightful rosés; but its most common incarnation is as the backbone of hearty red blends.  

Typical Aromas of a Grenache Based Wine:

grenache grapesFruity:  Blackberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Currant, Cherry, Raisin, Plum

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Menthol, Licorice

Earthy:  Wet Earth, Leather, Forest Floor, Bramble, Tobacco, Smoke, Leather

Floral:  Roses, Dried Rose Petals, Violet

Oak-Derived:  Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa, Vanilla, Sweet Wood

Where The Best Grenache is Grown:

  • In France’s Rhône Valley, especially the Southern Rhône, where it is the super star grape of Châteauneuf-du-Pape , Gigondas, and Rasteau; and the “G” in the “G-S-M” blends of the Côtes-du-Rhône.
  • The grape is made into delightful rosés throughout the Southern Rhône, including Lirac and, most famously, in the 100% rosé AOC of Tavel.
  • Also in France, Grenache is grown in Provence, Rouissillon, Languedoc, Minervois, Fitou, and Corbières; and is made into fortified wines in Banyuls and Maury.
  • In Spain, where it is the most widely planted red grape in the country, the grape is called “Garnacha”.  Garnacha is main variety in Pirorat and Campo de Borja; and plays a major role in the wines of Rioja, Navarra,  Somontano, Catalonia, Cariñena, and La Mancha.
  • Australia, where it makes some awesome varietals, including my favorite, d’Arenberg’s McLaren Vale “The Custodian” Grenache. (Australia also produces “Bitch Grenache” which probably outsells all the rest in terms of volume, but oh well.)  
  • California, where it has historically been grown in San Joaquin Valley and other warm areas, but is now produced other regions such as Santa Barbera and Paso Robles. Washington State is also getting into Grenache.
  • Several regions throughout the south of Italy, particularly Sardinia, where it stars in the wine known as Cannonau di Sardegna.

grenache foodFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses 

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces
  • Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Fennel, Roasted Bell Peppers
  • Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers, Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sangiovese

Sangiovese ChiantiThe Soundbyte:  Sangiovese literally means “blood of Jove” (Sanguis Jovis), “Jove” being the Roman god Jupiter.  It is widely accepted that the grape was well-known to the winemakers of Ancient Rome, and it is suspected that the grape was known in Tuscany as far back as the time of the Etruscans. The grape is still is widely grown throughout Central Italy, from Romagna to Lazio, and throughout Italy down to Campania and Sicily.

Outside of Italy Sangiovese is mainly known as the main grape of Chianti, in all its forms, but Italian wine lovers know that it also stars in Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, and Sangiovese di Romagna, among many others.   

While often used in a blend, Sangiovese is increasingly seen as a stand-along varietal.  In addition, it is now being used in blends with “international varieties” such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  You may know these wines as “Super Tuscans”, whose style is now being imitated in other parts of the world. 

 In a country growing hundreds (if not thousands) of different grapes, Sangiovese reigns as the number one grape varietal in Italy, where it accounts for 10% of the entire wine grape crop.

Sangiovese Grapes Typical Attributes of a Sangiovese Based Wine:

  • The flavor profile is complex, with earthy aromas often overtaking the aromas of fruit, spice, flowers, and oak.
  • Sangiovese has a moderate to high level of natural acidity.
  • Medium to full-bodied, with descriptors ranging from supple and elegant to assertive and robust.
  • The finish tends towards bitterness.  I often describe it as “bitter cherry”.
  • Medium tannin due to the grape’s natural “thin skin.”  This is often assuaged with oak contact.
  • This “thin skin” and natural low-level of anthocyanins can make Sangiovese-based wines seem light in color.  It tends to show an orange meniscus, even in younger wines.
  • Sangiovese is a “lighter” style red wine, and its approachability has made it a consumer favorite.  Sangiovese makes a wonderful, spicy rosé, and stars in many an Italian rosato.

Typical Aromas of a Sangiovese Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Plum, Cherry, Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Blueberry, Mulberry, Orange Peel
  • Spicy:  Tea, Clove,  Cinnamon, Thyme, Anise
  • Floral:  Violet, Dried Flowers
  • Wood-derived:  Cedar, Oak, Vanilla, Sweet Wood, Smoke, Toast, Tar  
  • Earthy:  Wet Leaves, Wet Dirt, Forest, Tobacco, Tea, “Dusty”, Herbal

Where The Best Sangiovese is Grown:

  • Italy, its native home, where it is the #1 wine grape varietal. 
  • Sangiovese BrunelloIt especially thrives in Tuscany, where it forms the base of the wines of Chianti and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, as well as many others, and is sometimes part of the blend, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, in the wines known as “Super Tuscans”.
  • Outside of Tuscany, it is found throughout Italy: In Umbria (Montefalco Sagrantino and Torgiano Rosso Riserva), in Le Marche (Conero and Rosso Piceno), as well as the wines of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Valpolicella, and as far south as Campania and Sicily.  At least fourteen Sangiovese clones exist, including Brunello and Prugnolo Gentile.
  • Italian immigrants brought Sangiovese to California.  The earliest recorded Sangiovese vineyard in California is the Seghesio Family’s Chianti Station Vineyard, planted near Geyserville in 1910.
  • Sangiovese never really took off in California until the “Super Tuscan” movement of the 1980’s.  Since then, Sangiovese has been gaining popularity in the United States and is now grown in Napa, Sonoma, and The Sierra Foothills.
  • Flat Creek Estate in Marble Falls, Texas created a Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend they call a “Super Texan” in 2005. The wine immediately commanded world wine attention when it won the coveted Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition that year.  The “Super Texan” style of wine seems a natural fit for Texas terrior and has now been duplicated by adventurous winemakers all over Texas.
  • Oregon, Washington State, Virginia, and The Niagara Peninsula now have Sangiovese plantings, as do Australia, Argentina, Romania, Corsica, South Africa, and Chile.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Beef, Lamb, Pork, Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Hard Cheeses


sangiovese steakFood Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods, Fresh Herbs

Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces

Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Fennel, Roasted Bell Peppers

Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers

Pecans, Walnuts

Pasta Dishes, Risotto Dishes

Proscuitto, Pancetta, Bacon

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas….


Perfect Pairings: Wine with Holiday Ham

I know, we just made it through Thanksgiving, but Christmas and all those other big winter holidays are just around the corner! Hurry up! Get that living room cleaned up and start on your next grocery list!  And don’t forget a list for the wine shop.  Have no fear, over the next few days The Bubbly Professor will have some tips for your next holiday feast, whether it centers on glazed ham, beef tenderloin, or rack of lamb.  We’ll even consider the vegetarians who roam freely amongst the meat-laden festivities. Click here for suggestions on wines to pair with roast turkey.  Keep reading to pair wine with holiday ham.

If your next big, crazy holiday gathering is going to feature a big, juicy holiday ham, the centerpiece of your meal will probably be glazed with maple or pierced with cloves. On the side, you are likely to find the standard line-up of holiday buffet dishes, including scalloped potatoes, sweet potatoes, brandied peaches, and green beans.

Your first wine pairing guideline is to keep your wine choices centered around white wines, rosés, or lighter styles of red, so as not to clash with the inevitable sweetness on your plate and to avoid overpowering the entrée.  As usual with holiday feasts, the array of side dishes offer up a wide variety of tastes and flavors, so our challenge is to find a wine that doesn’t wrestle with the rest of the meal.  Follow these rules to a great holiday match!

Rule #1 – Keep it Light to Medium Bodied – A meal based on ham will need a light to medium bodied wine in order to not overpower the main course in terms of both weight and flavors.  For best results choose a sparkling wine, a white wine, or a rosé.  If you just must have a red wine, keep to the lighter styles; Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are great choices, but this is not the time to whip out the Earthquake Zinfandel (however much I love it)!

Rule #2 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Fruity Flavors – A dinner based on ham will most likely contain a side dish based on peaches, raisins, or sweet potatoes.  While it is very hard to predict flavor-based reactions in wine and food pairings (as opposed to taste-based, which can be predicted quite accurately), fruity flavors in food will often make your wine seem less fruity.  In order to avoid a fruit-on-fruit wrestling match and ending up with insipid-tasting wine, make sure the wine has fruity flavors to begin with.

Rule #3 – A Wine with a Touch of Sweetness will be a great match, especially if your Ham is Honey-Baked or Brown Sugar-Glazed.  This is important:  sweetness in food makes wine taste less sweet and more acidic.  So…if your ham is coated with a sugary or sweet glaze, this rule cannot be ignored!  Don’t worry about having sweet wines on the dinner table ….the sweetness in the food will make the wine taste dry.  Trust me on this one!  Besides, don’t forget that your open-door policy on holidays most likely means that your guests have a broad range of preferences in wine, and this is one case where the Moscato drinkers and the sweet wine lovers may just have an edge.  Hey, a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui never hurt anybody!

Rule #4 – Choose a Wine with Moderate Amounts of Alcohol – This is a good rule on many levels.  For one, ham usually contains a good deal of salty flavors.  And, the sad fact of the matter is that salty flavors can clash with the taste of alcohol, as well as with high tannin wines, which is the reason behind the moratorium on heavy reds. And don’t forget that high alcohol wines can lead to drunken holiday family feuds, at least in my recent experience.

Rule #5 – If You Like Spicy Foods, Match Spice for Spice – If you like spicy flavors in your holiday ham, you can build a flavor bridge by pairing your dinner with a wine with natural spice flavors.  As mentioned earlier, the result of flavor pairings are hard to predict, but generally spicy flavors in food and wine enhance each other. For a spicy feast, try a Riesling, a Gewürztraminer, or a Rosé made from Sangiovese.

Bubbly Professor Wine Suggestions For Holiday Ham

  • Riesling from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State…for the wine adventurer, try finding a single winery that offers wines in varying levels of sweetness.  Tasting them along with the meal will make for an interesting feast!
  • Vouvray, either sparkling or still, or any other Chenin Blanc-based wine from the Loire.
  • Rosé…just about any Rosé would be lovely, and this might be a time where Rosé d’Anjou with its slight hint of sweetness will absolutely shine.  A rosé made from Sangiovese, which to me always seems to have a charming little hint of baking spice in the flavor would also work.  If you have a rich uncle, tell him to bring Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, and save a bottle for me!
  • Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon – this is an under-appreciated wine if ever there was one.  For less than $20.00 a bottle, grab a bottle of Adelsheim Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  For a bit more dough, try just about any Pinot Gris from Alsace – I guarantee you will love it!
  • Gewürztraminer…my favorite “love it or hate it” wine will really shine with the flavors of a holiday ham feast.  Germany and Alsace make terrific dry varieties, and some of the versions from California have a slight hint of sweetness.
  • Rosé Champagne might just be the perfect choice.  Go for broke and load up the table with Laurent Perrier Brut Rosé, or buy Cristalino Cava Brut Rosé by the case (at around $6.00 a delicious bottle you can afford it.)   Or, buy the Cava for your guests and keep a secret stash of Laurent Perrier in the bedroom mini-fridge just for you and your bestie.
  • Prosecco is a good choice, but then it just about always is!
  • For the wine adventurous…try a Cabernet-Franc based red wine from the Loire, such as Chinon and Bourgueil.
  • Red Burgundy, Cru Beaujolais or Oregon Pinot Noir.  You just can’t go wrong with these food-loving wines.
  • Barbera d’Asti, Dolcetto d’Alba, or a nice Chianti. Sure to please the lovers of earthy red wines.
  • For the sweet wine aficionados in the crowd, grab a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui.  These sweeties will work for the whole meal from spiced cashews to pecan pie!

Remember to relax and enjoy the holidays, and don’t stress over the wine choices.  Choose something you love and something that your guests will be comfortable with, whether they be wine newbies or wine adventurers!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Can She Pair a Pumpkin Pie?

After the Thanksgiving meal is served…and served, and served, and served…you swear you’ll never eat again.  But, after an hour or so of watching football, washing dishes, or snoozing on the couch, you’re ready for some pumpkin pie.

The typical accompaniment for T-day dessert in my experience has been the dregs of whatever wine was served with the meal.  Nothing wrong with that, but Thanksgiving is a special day, so why not offer up a specially chosen Pumpkin Pie Pairing to cap off the day?

If you’ve read The Bubbly Professor’s “Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing” you know that the most important factor in most food-and-wine meetups is to “pair to taste, not to flavor.”  This makes a pumpkin pie pairing really simple:  you need a sweet wine, lest the food dull out the wine.  Now, it doesn’t have to be uber-sweet, just a hint of sweetness will do, but this is also one of those pairings where super-sweet wine works. 

Here are a few of my favorites –  enjoy!

Sauternes:  Sauternes, with its luscious sweetness is a match made in heaven for pumpkin pie.  The wine is a good “big and rich meets big and rich and they live happily ever after” type of match in terms of texture, and the subtle dried apricot-vanilla-nutmeg-dried leaves kind of aromas and flavors of Sauternes make this a Fall Fest in a glass.  Sauternes can be expensive…my personal favorite, Chateau Guiraud, is a cool one hundred bucks, however, there are many inexpensive (around $20.00 a bottle) versions on the market these days, and they are worth a try as well.  

Tawny Port: For years now, I’ve spent my Thanksgiving in the best possible way…surrounded by an awesome group of friends and family at the lovely home of (hi Janelle and Kyle!!) Janelle and Kyle. My contribution to the feast has often been a selection of dessert wines…with all of my suggestions listed here of course…and every year, the first bottle to be emptied is the Tawny Port.  So there.  First emptied = great match.  Not a scientific experiment, but a darn good one.  My go-to Tawny Port is Taylor-Fladgate 10-Year-Old Age Indicated Tawny Porto, which runs about $20.00 a bottle. 

Moscato d’Asti:  Moscato d’Asti, besides being just plain hands-down delicious, is a great match for pumpkin pie. It’s light, fizzy and sweet, but not too sweet, and with the pumpkin pie pairing, the wine will transform and taste just slightly off dry.  It’s a cool trick to play with people who claim to be too sophisticated for sweet wine.  Moscato’s popularity of late has spawned a host of cheap imitations, but you can’t go wrong with a true Italian; Saracco makes one of my favorites, and it’s a winner at around $14.00

Vin Santo:  Tuscany’s famous  “Wine of the Saints” is another great match for pumpkin pie.  The wine’s just-barely-there sweetness will allow it to pair with the pumpkin pie well; after a bite of pie, you won’t taste the wine’s sweet side anymore, but it will still taste rich, woodsy, spicy, and delightful.  If you try, if might even find a scent of pumpkin pie spice lingering in your glass.  Just about any Vin Santo will delight you, but my personal favorite is from Borgo Scopeto.

Brandy:  If you enjoy a long evening of conversation, Brandy is a great choice to serve with your pumpkin pie.  I personally don’t buy into the “spirits dull the palate” argument and think that Brandy with its warmth and calm makes a perfect pie pairing partner.  The anh (adorable new husband) and I fell in love with Torres Brandy on our honeymoon in Spain, but I am equally enamoured with Christian Brothers Brandy from the San Joaquin Valley in California.  The Christian Brothers Wineries and Distillery played an impressive role in the history of California Wine, as any visitor to Napa knows…perhaps that’s a story for a future blog post!

Coffee:  If you are in need of a wake-up (or sober-up) session before continuing on to the rest of your day, nothing beats a good cup of coffee with your pumpkin pie.  Coffee and pumpkin pie also makes a great day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast…just don’t tell  your fitness trainer.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!