Wine Pairing Tips for the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes

Now that the Christmas shopping frenzy starts to settle down, it’s time to focus on the most important parts of the holiday season… family, food and wine! My family partakes in the Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, and as of late we use a lot of different seafood styles throughout the meal. 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. But it also makes pairing the right wines a little tricky.

To give exact wine pairings is difficult, as there are dozens 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.  I like to go with 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. Domaine Jean-Paul Balland wines offer a wonderful expression of Loire Sauvignon Blanc and at around $20 the base Sancerre is a great value. Pascal Jolivet is also a solid option and is usually under $20 a bottle. A dry, high acid Finger Lakes Riesling will also work with all those raw bar goodies.  Any of the selections from Herman J. Wiemer (particularly the Reserve Dry Riesling) are sure to please the palate. Pinot Grigio is a 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 produces a solid offering.

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.  Chablis is a reliable option, as these unoaked wines made from Chardonnay have all the endearing qualities we love about Chard, but without the smoke and wood influence. Simmonet-Febvre is consistently tasty and usually can be found for around $20 a bottle. Albarino can also work out quite well here, as all that minerality and stone fruit balance against most baked seafood recipes. The As Laxas is stunning, and a great value under $25.

Image result for seared scallops

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 can go on the wine. Lighter Chianti Classicos and Pinot 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, South Africa 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 2015 Pieropan Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy (750ml)white sauces, 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 called La Rocca, but it ain’t cheap at about $35-40.  Feudi di San Gregorio produces a lovely Fiano and is a screaming value for under $20.

 

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 Image result for shrimp calamari fra diavolochoice 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 Barolo or Chianti Classico Riserva. 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. As far as Barolo, the 2012 Fontanafredda Seralunga D’alba is drinking like a champ right now, and for under $40 is about a good a deal you can get in the Barolo world.

HEARTY SEAFOOD:

This is also a sauce driven pairing in terms white or red wine, but because lobster, king crab, swordfish, etc. can be quite meaty and weighted you can go red for both sauce options. This is about the only time I prefer an oaky, buttery Chard when it is paired broiled lobster and a white wine/butter based sauce. But it can’t be over the top in terms of oak aging (as many of the Cali Chards can be) as the acidity and fruit have 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.

If your seafood finds itself  in a sea of marina sauce, you can stick with the same red options from the pasta course. However, if you are planning to open up some big dog reds for Christmas Eve, this is the time to do it. A Super Tuscan or Brunello  di Montalcino would be the traditional pairings, but if you have been dying to 2015 PRIDE MERLOT 750MLbreak open one of your aged Bordeaux or Napa gems, this is the time to do it. Renieri and Il Poggione are two of my favorite Brunello producers by far, and if you are digging for a hefty Napa Red, the Pride Merlot is a wonderful option here. Big, classic Napa fruit but with great acidity and super polished tannins  make it an ideal food wine.

Whatever you do… make sure to open something special in the good company of family and friends this Christmas, as that is always the BEST pairing of the season.

 

5 Summer Whites to Beat The Heat

It’s hot… It’s like Africa hot… Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.  While the Biloxi Blues fans will get that reference, the rest of us can just agree that it is really starting to heat up around here. This is about the time where the shift to white wine from red starts to kick in.. But not just any white wine, as certain ones are far more thirst quenching and refreshing than others. Sure, I’ll still reach for a hearty Syrah or a spicy, juicy Zin when the grill is rocking with all kinds of meat. But for Summer sippin’ I tend to reach for those crisp, aromatic and tongue tickling whites…. like the ones listed below.

Chenin Blanc is one of the most versatile white grape varieties in the world, as it leads to a wide variety of styles of wine. In warmer climates, or if picked later in the season, it can lead to an off dry or even sweeter wine leading to aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, almond and ginger snap. But in cooler climates, and when fermented to the fullest, Chenin wines are crisp, dry and mouthwatering with fresh green, apple, pear and just hints of that honey note. The most expressive examples come from South Africa (where it is also called Steen) and the Loire Valley in France. In fact, in Vouvray (region in the Loire) many producers will craft a sparkling version such as Domaine Pichot which is always one of my favorite ways to commence  any Summer grillin’ session. If you’re not into the bubbles, their Domaine Le Peu de la Moriette is quite a stellar still wine.

 

Albarino is a white grape mostly grown in the Northwest of Spain and Portugal with some experimentation happening in California and other new world wine regions. Most of the Albarino labelled wine you find on the shelves at your favorite wine shop comes from the Riax Baixes DO in Galicia, prime real estate for Albarino. These wines tend to have a bit more Image result for botanicalsdepth than other citrus driven whites (like Sauvignon Blanc) with searing acidity, discerning botanical aromas as well as white flower and stone fruit flavors. This not only makes it an ideal white to enjoy on its own, but a wonderful food pairing wine particularly with all kinds of chilled shellfish. Martin Codax is a very popular producer, and makes a widely available and solid Albarino, however I prefer the Bodega Eidosela, Ethereo with its mineral and tangy character for about the same price.

Speaking of Albarino… Vinho Verde is a coastal wine region in Portugal just south of Rias Baixes where Alvarinho (same as the Albarino grape) also flourishes. While the literal translation is ‘green wine’, the more appropriate explanation of the name is  ‘young wine’ as these are typically light and fruity with a touch petillance. Reds and Image result for petillance wineroses are produced in the region as well, made mostly from indigenous varieties, but the majority of wine that comes from the area is the Alvarinho based white (with other indigenous grapes like Loureiro and Arinto possibly mixed in). They are typically light straw or yellow in color, fruity and floral on the nose with a clean, lean and mouthwatering feel on the palate. And because these wines are typically quite low in alcohol, feel free to enjoy that second glass virtually guilt free! Vinho Verde options tend to be rather affordable, such as the Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha Vinho Verde which you can find for under $15.

Gruner Veltliner may be one of the most misunderstood and underrated wines in the world, but that seems to be changing as some of the finest examples are receiving well Grüner Veltliner (Green Veltliner) (white) | Aromas of green apple, lemon, blossom, cantaloupe, herbs, black & white pepper, mint | Austria, Slovakia & Hungary (Zöld Veltelini)deserved high accolades and ratings. Making up about 1/3 of all Austrian grape plantings, this spicy and aromatic wine comes in a variety of styles. Even though the bottle may look like a Riesling, GV does not have much in common with the popular German variety aside from the high acidity and some similar citrus notes. These wines typically feature more stone fruit than green fruit with white pepper, a lime or lemon note and a cool white pepper (or herbaceous) component. Some of the richer GV wines will age wonderfully where honey, almonds and a creamy texture prevail… which can come with a higher price tag. But for around $15 there is an ample amount of light and zippy Gruners to choose from, including this Domane Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner… thankfully it is much easier to drink than it is to pronounce. And keep an eye out for some FLX Gruner out there as the experimentation is starting to come to fruition.

 Soave (pronounced like  the iconic 80’s tune ‘Rico… Suave’) may be my favorite summer white wine of all. I’m not referring to the Bolla version (although for under $10 it’s a pretty good value play), but more so the wines from the Classico region of Soave. These tasty, undervalued wines that have the Classico designation are from the best soils in the area and are composed of at least 70% Gargenega with Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay possibly rounding out the blend. These light bodied, dry and refreshing wines commonly possess peach, orange zest and honeydew melon flavors with some almond notes in the better versions. If you are looking for something to pair with these wines think hearty seafood such as shrimp, scallops and even lobster as the acidity and fresh fruit balance perfectly with those meaty seafood dishes. Pieropan consistently makes a stellar Classico for around $20 and their Calvarino (produced from some of the best soil in the region) is well worth the extra $8-10, as it will age and improve over time.
Image result for pieropan soave calvarino