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.

 

Some New Wines To Try in 2016!

Already caved and broke your New Year’s resolution? Not to worry, I have a new one for you that’s going to be much easier to adhere to and a hell of a lot more fun.

Most of us fall into the same routine when it comes to drinking wine, we stick with what we know and have always enjoyed as comfort and consistency remain the most important factors. But what if you never tried a Napa Cab or an Italian Pinot Grigio for the first time? How could they eventually become your favorites??

2010-Robert-Mondavi-Winery-Napa-Valley-Cabernet-Sauvignon                      

It’s like my man Daniel Tiger says: ‘You gotta try new food ’cause it might taste…. GOOOOOODDD!!’ (If you have kids under 4, you know the song) If you don’t try new and different wines, your palate may never experience the multitude of unique aromas, flavors and textures that are out there in the wonderful world of wine. So here are a few examples that are somewhat off the grid for most wine drinkers but have a lot to offer and are steadily improving in quality and exposure.

Finger Lakes Pinot Noir

The Finger Lakes region has produced some fantastic expressions of Riesling and Chardonnay among other white varieties over the last few years. But the reds have been a little light and green due in most part to the immaturity of the vines and the colder North East climate. Well guess what… the vines are getting older and the winemakers have learned the intricacies of the land and climate leading to a much needed overall improvement of the FLX reds. Some stellar Pinots have been crafted from certain producers such as Anthony Road, Fox Run, Heron Hill and Hearts & Hands.  My favorite is the 2013 Lust Pinot from Inspire Moore. It displays true Pinot fruit character balanced with well integrated toasted oaky notes and lovely dark spices. It runs around $25-30, but is on par with Pinots from better known regions at the same price point.

 

Tuscan Syrah and Malbec

Chances are you’ve probably tasted and enjoyed a Super Tuscan wine in the course of your wine drinking era… but I’ll bet it didn’t have Syrah or Malbec in it! Super Tuscans are typically blends based on the Sangiovese grape. A quick history note… they emerged from rogue, yet talented, wine producers that did not want to follow the regulations in Chianti and HAVE to use primarily Sangiovese in their wine. Nowadays most Super Tuscans will still have Sangiovese in the blend even though it is not mandated,  but they may choose to just utilize Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (styled after the iconic wines of Bordeaux) either in a blend or single varietal wine. But because there are no restrictions on what grapes can be used, winemakers started to experiment with other international grape varieties, including Syrah and Malbec. When done properly, these can be intense, seductive and downright delicious wines! The 2011 Vie Cave Toscana, Maremma (Antinori) is sleek and racy made with 100% Malbec while the 2009 Regini di Renieri is dark, brooding and complex produced from only Syrah. Both are examples of serious, ageable Tuscan juice and will run about $30-35.

                             

Greek Assyrtiko

I too once treated the wines of Greece similarly to The Phantom Menace of the Star Wars Trilogy and did my best to avoid them. But as of late I find myself specifically seeking them out, particularly the Assyrtiko white wines from the island of Santorini. This indigenous grape is mostly planted in the volcanic rich soil on the island imparting healthy amounts of minerality and acidity with some great citrus and floral components as well. The Claudia Papayianni 2013 Ex’arnon is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtiko and is as light and refreshing as it is crisp and floral. A true expression of the region and great value for around $16 and makes a great pairing for any chilled seafood dish.

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!