What Wines to Pair with Your Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve 2016

This is my favorite time of the Christmas season. The shopping frenzy has settled down and the focus directs back to the most important parts of the holiday… family, food and wine! My family goes all in on the Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, and as of late we use a lot of different seafood styles throughout the meal. One year there was even a crab cake app that made the cut. But that is the beauty of this fish feast, there are no steadfast rules of what you HAVE to cook which gives the chef a true sense of freedom and creativity.

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So to give an exact wine pairing for the feast is difficult, as there are literally dozens to hundreds of different ways to prepare each of type of seafood. It is more about the consistency and texture of the fish and the sauces. For example, an appetizer of raw oysters and clams will covet a far different wine than clams casino or fried oysters. Below are some easy and general wine pairings for various styles of seafood that you may serve for your seven fishes feast, along with some specific wine recommendations.

RAW/CHILLED SEAFOOD:

The general rule of thumb is the lighter the dish, the lighter the wine. Pinot GriImage result for durand reservegio is probably the most popular light white wine for this part of the meal, but quite frankly unless it is REALLY good, it’s a little too neutral. But if PG is your go to, try and grab one from the Collio region…Fiegl always makes a solid offering. But I prefer Sancerre for this paring. The flinty minerality in these high acid, citrus fruit based wines seem to bring out all the lively flavors and freshness in any chilled seafood dish. Durand’s Reserve is a wonderful expression of Loire Sauvignon Blanc and at around $20-25 a good deal. The Pascal Jolivet is also a solid option and is usually under $20 a bottle.

 

BAKED/FRIED SEAFOOD:

For dishes like baked cod or seared scallops, you still want to keep it light but with a bit more body than your typical PG or SB. Albarino can work quite well as these wines still exude that crisp acidity but have a bit more body and structure. Chablis is a solid option too, as these typically unoaked wines made from Chardonnay have all the endearing qualities we love about Chard, but without the oak influence. Simmonet-Febvre is always tasty and usually can be found for around $20 a bottle.

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If your fish is getting fried, you’re gonna have to step up to some bigger whites like those Burgundies or California Chards, and here is when you can start getting into the reds. The thicker and heavier the batter, the bolder you cRelated imagean go on the wine. Lighter Chianti Classicos and Pinot can work for a delicate sautéed dish, but if you are going with the deep fryer don’t be afraid to pull out a Zin or Syrah, especially if you are cooking up something with a little spice in it. The Mullineux Syrah from Swartland, S.A. is a fantastic option, not just for this meal but for ANY meal! It’s around $30 a bottle which may not be cheap, but drinks like something twice the price.

 

SEAFOOD WITH PASTA:

For openers, make sure you use the same color wine as you do for the sauce. For white sauce dishes, like linguine with white clam sauce, you can still use the same PG or SB as you served for the raw/chilled seafood. But I like to step up the Italian white game for these dishes and go with a quality Soave (made from the Gargenega grape) or even a Fiano d’Avellino. Pieropan makes a phenomenal Soave and even at $30 it is a screaming value, while Feudi di San Gregorio produces a lovely Fiano for under $20.

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Red sauce = red wine… preferably something  a little high on the acid scale. Tomato sauce is high in acid so you want a wine that can match up to it allowing the food and wine choice to complement one another. My mom makes a mean shrimp and calamari fra diavolo which is always a Christmas tradition for our feast. I love to pair this up with a quality Chianti Classico Riserva or Barolo… both of which can cost a pretty penny. Monsanto CCR for around $20-25 is pretty tough to beat, but the Marchese Antinori CCR for  $40-50 may be my all-time favorite… particularly the 2007 vintage.

Image result for marchese antinori 2007               Image result for shrimp calamari fra diavolo

HEARTY SEAFOOD:

This is also a sauce driven pairing in terms white or red wine, but because this type of seafood can be quite meaty and weighted you can go red for both sauce options. Personally, I prefer an oaky, buttery Chard with a broiled fish and white wine or butter based sauce. But it can’t be over the top in terms of oak aging (as many of the Cali Chards are) as I like the acidity and fruit to stay in balance. Fox Run in the Finger Lakes makes a stellar Reserve Chard for under $20, and I simply love the Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse. It may carry a somewhat hefty $40 price tag, but is flat out tasty juice.

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If your seafood finds itself swimming in a sea of marina sauce, you can stick with the same red options from the pasta course. However, here is where you can get into some of the bigger reds as lobster and king crab can hold up to the weight of those dishes. A Super Tuscan or Brunello would be the traditional big red pairings, but if you have been dying to break open one of your aged Bordeaux or Napa Cab gems… this is the time to do it!

The best paring advice I can give is to pair up a special wine with those family members that will truly enjoy it. One of the greatest qualities of wine is its ability to play a part in creating wonderful, long lasting memories. So what better holiday than Christmas Eve to pop the cork on something special you have been saving and share it with loved ones to enjoy together. And that’s my PSA for the Holiday Season… Cheers!

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Some Fall Wines To Help Get Over the Summertime Blues

Get over it people…summer’s over. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s time that someone said it out loud. Sure, I’d love to still be kicking up the sand and body surfing the waves, grilling all day long while knocking back some summer brews and crisp, mouthwatering whites like everyone else. But it’s time to face facts, fall is coming and there is nothing we can do about it. Well, almost nothing.

What we can do is start switching gears from all those light and refreshing beverages to some with a little more body, spice and flavor. When it comes to beer, I don’t need to tell you what is on the horizon…can you say, Pumpkin?!?! But for wine, there is a myriad of red and white selections that can make the transition from the dog days of summer into the cool autumn nights and those breezy, foliage filled days a little more palatable.

Chardonnay

While Pinot Grigio and Sauvi Blanc kept you cool and refreshed over the summer, Chardonnay makes for the ideal fall white. With so many different styles ranging from the clean, lean and green apple driven unoaked version to the smoky, oaky and buttery bombs, it can be enjoyed during those warm fall afternoons or those chilly evenings. Having recently visited the Finger Lakes, my two favorite Chards right now both hail from Fox Run Vineyards where they are producing some serious whites. The unaoked Doyle Family Vineyard Chardonnay as well as the noticeably oaked Reserve Kaiser Vineyard Chard are both impeccable for the season and super reasonable under $15 for either option.

Zinfandel

No, not the pink stuff… REAL Zinfandel. There is something about all that blackberry and blueberry pie, brambly fruit and peppery spice that just screams fall to me. Whether opening a bottle for those late season grill sessions, or just enjoying a glass in front of the fire pit, Zin and fall truly make a perfect pairing. Rosenblum’s entire line of Zinfandel is pretty stellar, but for me the Rockpile Vineyard for around $25-30 a bottle is a clear standout. And for about $20-25 you can grab the Decoy Zinfandel (entry line of Duckhorn) which is a true value as it exhibits much of the same flavor profile as the higher end Paraduxx Zin that is twice the price.

2012 Decoy Sonoma County Zinfandel

Northern Rhone

Most people seem to be more familiar with the Southern Rhone (AOCs such as Cotes du Rhones and Chateuneuf Du Pape) Grenache based wines than the Northern Rhone which is a little more elusive and dare I say…mystical? These Syrah based wines (some with a dash of Viogner, yes a white wine, added into the blends) are known to be quite complex yet elegant and typically carry aromas and flavors of black fruit, kirsch, pepper, earth, floral notes and even bacon fat. These hearty and silky wines are just what the doctor ordered to help keep warm and cozy on those crisp autumn evenings.

Certain AOCs such as Cote Rotie and Hermitage are home to some of the most famous vineyards in the world and produce some outrageously delicious, ageable and expensive wines. Yet, there are less elite appellations such as Crozes Hermitage, Cornas and St. Joseph that intrinsically carry similar styles and characteristics at a much more affordable price point. Some top notch producers to keep an eye out for are E. Guigal, M. Chapoutier, Tardieu Laurent, Delas Freres and Saint Cosme.

E-Guigal-Cote-Rotie-Brune-Blonde-2010        wine bottle label       

Port

This may not be an everyday fall kind of wine, but if the right occasion arises a little Port can go a long way. Fortified wines are like getting the best of both worlds, since they are typically a combination of some form of spirit and wine. In producing Port, brandy is added to the juice during fermentation in order to halt the process leaving much of the residual sugar in the finished product… pure genius! Originally it was done so the wine could travel without spoiling, but ever since the chaps over in England were taken with this new style of wine it has become a dessert wine staple. So when you are sitting out in front of the fire on those lovely fall nights making S’mores with the kiddies, the chocolate, dark plum and berry flavors of most Ruby style Ports, particular a Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto, make for a decadent accompaniment.

        

So instead of dreading the fading of those summer days, it is time to revel in the emergence of my favorite season of the year. Enough with all of that lounging around, enjoying the pool and beach and golf and… I mean who am I kidding, of course it sucks. But enjoying some of these fall friendly selections will at least soften the blow.

Cheers!

Think While You Drink!

I know that may sound like an oxymoron to some, so allow me to elaborate. My colleague and I curate and teach a wine education and tasting program for our internal staff . It’s meant to provide not only a basic overall knowledge of wine, but to learn how to taste and utilize all of your senses. Granted, we start the class at 5:15 so there are some that are just looking for a drink after a long day of work. But as I was reminding everyone that we are “tasting” not drinking, I inadvertently came up with a catch phrase that I like to iterate as much as possible during these classes… that everyone should be “thinking while your drinking”.

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That doesn’t mean you should be figuring out your dinner plans or performing high level mathematics while sipping on some lovely juice. It means that you should be examining the wine to some extent in terms of its aromas, flavors, mouth feel, texture, finish, length, possible food pairings and most importantly…if you are enjoying it and why or why not. It is easy to predetermine whether you think you will enjoy a wine based on the grape, region or even price. But we try and present  classic examples of each grape variety produced in different regions to really determine its characteristics and how it can vary from region to region and why that may be. So by actually experiencing various wines from all over the world, everyone is beginning to figure out their own palate without being influenced by stereotypes or predisposed opinions.

For example, this week we took on Riesling…a very polarizing grape as most people either love it or hate it. Regardless, there is a general connotation out there that Riesling is sweet. Guess what, not so much! Of course there are many sweet Rieslings and some are even meant to be dessert wines. But they can also be made in a dry, crisp style and have very little residual sugar. In German wines you will often see Kabinett or Trocken on the label, which will note that it is in fact a dry Riesling. It was great to see some people come into the class “knowing” they didn’t like Riesling, but by the end of the class enjoying some of the selections that they weren’t aware even existed.

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So by thinking while you’re drinking, you start to take into account all the different characteristics that make a wine what it is. How intense the aromas are on the nose, what kind of fruit aromas and flavors are present, how much oak was used and what kind, how acidic or tannic a wine is, what kind of food would make an enjoyable pairing and of course if you find a particular wine pleasing. After all a wine can be well made, expensive and have a 95+ rating…but if it doesn’t itch you where your scratchin’ than all of that don’t mean a thing.

Cheers!