• CIA holiday wine and food pairings
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  • Turning Holiday Pairings Upside Down

    The CIA Way

    While I love most of the traditions of the holidays, one that I think it’s time to revise is the “what to drink with your holiday meal” article that we see over and over again this time of year. Champagne on New Year’s Eve, Gewürztraminer with turkey, and don’t forget to pull out your best Claret (do we even know what that is anymore?) with the Christmas roast beef. I say, let’s be thankful for the entire world of wine, light a candle for the birth of new traditions, and head into the next year with a more adventurous palate.

    Instead of Gewürztraminer with Thanksgiving dinner, try Torrontés. Plenty of the same enticing aromatic beauty and clean acidity, but with a little less sweetness than your average “Gewurz.” This Argentinean white has almost Muscat-y qualities without a hint of sugar. Pairs well with root vegetables, green bean casserole, white meat poultry, and even a variety of pre-dinner snacks like ham, mild cheeses, and dried fruit.

    Instead of Beaujolais Nouveau, try a great dry Rosé. Whether made from Grenache, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, or your grape of choice, look for one that has a generous amount of pink color. That will probably indicate a good dash of red wine flavors (fresh cherry, a savory note, and the pleasant tartness of cranberry), which make it a great partner at the table with dark meat turkey, sweet potatoes, and, you guessed it, cranberry sauce.

    Instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, or any of its brethren based on Bordeaux varieties, try a good ol’ California Petite Sirah. There’s a reason its fan club is called “P.S. I Love You.” That’s because, for those of us who crave big, bold red wines, there’s nothing like this Rhône-based but American-made lover to make you truly happy. Full of fruit and tannin, this will become a new classic for you, especially if you introduce “Made in the USA” ideas into your holiday meals: grilled steaks, garlic mashed potatoes, horseradish cream, and fancy ketchup. This could be the gift you’ve been wanting all year.

    Instead of Port, try sweet Sherry. Don’t get me wrong; Port is great. Port and Stilton...Port and walnuts by the fireplace...But with pumpkin pie, for my dollar, there’s nothing like a sweet Sherry, be it cream, Oloroso Dulce, or Pedro Ximénez, to match the spicy, creamy, earthy flavor of a perfect squash dessert. Works equally well with crème brûlée, figgy pudding, and your favorite honey by the fire.

    Instead of Champagne, try Prosecco. Just as festive and bubbly, with lots of fresh, fruity flavors. You get the same “pop” for a quarter of the price, which makes it a good excuse to have more of your friends at the party while you resolve to learn more about wine in the new year. Perfect with so many foods—grilled cheese, brunch buffet, charcuterie, cupcakes, oysters, or caviar—no matter what your budget or pairing skill level may be. You can afford to fool around a little before the party to find your best match.

    Sparkling Holiday PunchAnd finally, with so much of the world not having to worry about warming their chilly bones during the holidays—San Antonio, the Napa Valley, and Singapore come to mind—let’s replace the Mulled Wine with a Sparkling Holiday Punch that you can make for a crowd or for yourself.

    —Traci Dutton, manager of public wine and beverage studies, Rudd Center for Wine Studies at the CIA’s California campus. She was previously sommelier for the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant.

    CIA's Sparkling Holiday Punch recipe >

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