Let’s face it: wine snobs are easy to make fun of. Like the painfully self-absorbed Paul Giamatti character in “Sideways” they are easily portrayed as caricatures — particularly the most elevated of the breed, who actually write reviews for magazines like Wine Spectator or Bon Appetit. In my opinion, these reviews are mostly stunning, Ph.D.-level hooey. One such critic, for example, recently described a Brut champagne as having “an open-knit texture focused by firm acidity while rich notes of leesy bread dough and smoky roast nut add depth to flavors of kumquat, tangy apple, white peach and lemon peel, with an aromatic finish.”
I’m mean, c’mon… Lemon peel and leesy bread dough? Really?? (And what is “leesy” anyway?)
So yeah, I’m kind of a cynic about snooty wine reviews, including wine pairing suggestions. However, I will admit that even a beer-drinking, brat-eating Packer fan like me can appreciate that certain wines really do taste better than others when paired with specific foods. Since the Thanksgiving-through-New Year’s holiday season is a time when lavish meals with wine are de rigeur, here are my unapologetic, somewhat uneducated, but nonetheless strongly felt suggestions on holiday meal and wine pairings.
BIG REDS WITH BEEF: My strongest rec’s come with Christmas-y red meats like prime rib or standing rib roast. For these robust flavors, you gotta have an equally robust wine. Unlike Miles (Giamatti’s character in Sideways) I don’t hate merlot; in fact, I think it rocks, particularly with prime rib. Like Miles, I am a fan of pinot noir, as well as another “big” red, zinfandel. (Don’t confuse that with white zinfandel, which is actually a type of Kool-Aid and should be paired with bologna/white bread sandwiches and Fritos.)
(SLIGHTLY SWEET) WHITES WITH TURKEY: For turkey, go with white. I’m normally a chardonnay guy, particularly with fish, but turkey is a little different deal. For that I prefer something lighter, like sauvignon blanc, or with a touch of sweetness to it, like viognier. Riesling and Gewurztraminer also are popular, but those are just a bit too sweet for my liking. (But, whatever – as long as it’s not white zin…)
HAM GOES EITHER WAY: With ham, either whites or reds can work. For whites, I’d edge a bit toward the sweeter stuff, as noted above (or even a viognier/chardonnay mix.) For reds, I like Beaujolais Nouveau or tempranillo, which are a little lighter than zin, pinot, merlot and the other big boys.
As long as I’m on a roll, here are a few thoughts on food and beer pairings. (Generally, some of the same rules apply as with wine.)
HEAVY FOODS NEED STRONG, HOPPY BEER – Strong, intensely hopped beers, like India Pale Ale (IPA) go great with prime rib and other heavy dishes because their bitter punch and strong flavor stand up to the meat and potatoes.
KEEP IT BASIC WITH FAST FOOD: Let’s face it, the holidays aren’t just about Bon Appetit-inspired feasts – there’s plenty of fast food and pizza in the mix too. For those meals, I’d go with more basic beer styles like lagers, pilsners and wheat beers. Their light, clean taste cuts through the delicious greasiness and just seems to work well in this setting.
DESSERT BEER? – Yes, just as there are dessert wines, there are dessert beers. While you wouldn’t want to session with a double-chocolate stout or Trappist ale, a little bit after dinner can be the perfect nightcap. Also, try having Christmas cookies, cakes and other desserts with malty brews, like amber ales, porters or just about anything from Belgium or Holland. Yum.