The calendar time between November 1 and December 31 can be a string of moments of great joy. Families and friends gather to wish each other good fortune, reflect on moments past, and celebrate the season with gifts, special events and love.
Many of us fondly look forward to this time of year from a long way off in terms of months, with plans being made back in another season of heat and humidity. We want to be certain that everyone who should be involved is aware of their role in the events surrounding the celebrations. We want them on the scene and present for festivities.
Travel plans and dining plans are considered in great detail, with further study devoted to details about all the where’s and what’s coming under scrutiny and opinions from all participants.
Dining in particular is at the center of the discussion and traditions, particularly in the Gulf Coast region, being honored. The foods we eat, the time we gather for that activity, and who will be around the table have to be based on what we have always done in the past, likely going back several generations. Any deviation is considered a slight.
Since we are near to so many local diverse food sources, our area’s version of a Norman Rockwell Holiday Feast is not likely to bear full resemblance to what is going on in the East, the North, or the West. Add to that the fact that some of the best home chefs to be found anywhere are here, this fact alone will most certainly cause more than a few of our preparations to be beyond what others elsewhere are enjoying.
Even at the root level, consider that something as basic as cooking the turkey, for us is likely to be a big deviation from that button-popping, basted-in-the-oven routine followed by our American brethren. We haul out the big frying rig, the butane tank, and tell the children to keep a safe distance from the bubbling cauldron which just barely accommodates a fine bird. Dressing cannot be placed inside the turkey, as is the tradition in many places, as piping hot peanut oil is the cooking method of choice. The tender result is anticipated and savored by all gathered around the table. To those who have not experienced this ritual, it sounds off-kilter but is absolutely heavenly.
A challenge to any host or hostess is what to serve alongside the soon-to-be golden turkey. To be sure, the logical and Gulf Coast traditional sides of mashed sweet potatoes, oyster dressing, home-made biscuits, savory mushroom gravy, and crabmeat salad are safe for inclusion in the Big Feast. But what to drink?
Many of our friends and relatives are perfectly happy with their beer. And even with all the craft beer offerings now on shelves, even fresh beer direct from the local pub in growler containers, there are those who like what they like and will be quite pleased with something they drink all the time. Boring but at this time of year, everyone gets to have what they want to have. That’s only right.
As for the rest of us, well, we have such a wide variety of choices, it boggles the mind. Let’s set aside the endless array of cocktails. Sure a great Bloody Mary or Brandy Milk Punch is the ideal way to begin the festivities. And maybe you are the consummate host who simply sets out a full bar with all accompaniments and let everyone do their own thing. Problem solved. It’s okay that the spirit component will soon be gone thanks to heavy hands on the pour. Heck, it’s the Holidays. Changing someone else’s habits is not on the agenda at this time of year.
But what about the wines? How do you set something out that pleases all palates, pairs with a dizzy array of foods, and is not complicated, requiring thought about taste, aromas, textures, and the like? You need something simple that crosses a lot of lines, for both culinary and people.
Here are a few suggestions of wines that may please everyone and don’t conflict with your masterpiece of a table setting:
Chardonnay – the old reliable. Don’t grab one that is too oaky or sweet. Keep the flavor profile in the middle range so as not to conflict with the many dishes on the table. And don’t serve the wine too chilled. What the wine offers will be dulled with overly-cold temperatures. Consider Sonoma-Cutrer or Wild Horse.
Viognier – This delightful white wine from the Rhone Valley of France provides excellent acid structure (important with food involved), with a fresh profile. Bit of stone-fruit, think apricots, components, but not sweet. Drink young and cool. Look for any bottle from Russian River, California, or something from France.
Albariño – The classic white grape from northwestern Spain which grows in a region revered as a religious pilgrimage destination, on the cool North Atlantic coast. A racy, easy-drinking wine with superb minerality. Quite clean so it goes with a wide range of food accompaniments. Spain is really ground-zero for this grape so look to wines from that country when making a choice of Albariño.
Rosé – Really does well with just about any dish on your table. Don’t be afraid of the color or the sweetness level. Most rosés today are not sweet but reflect the structure of the strong red grapes from which the wine is created. Truly great and classic rosés come from southern France, but darn good ones hail from Washington State.
Sparkling Wine – The party blender. Because of their acids and restrained fruit structure, sparkling wines pair with everything, or nothing. Just by themselves they do fine. Sparkling wines can be expensive, such as Champagne (which are worth every nickel), or you can pick up a reasonably priced Prosecco from Italy or a Cava from Spain. Just be cautious when deciding on a low-priced sparkling wine because sometimes these are a bit on the sweet side. In the lower price range, that sweetness is not really well-structured or well-integrated into the wine. If you like sweet, then no problem.
Pinot Noir – Often the main grape in a great sparkling wine from America or France. The reason that this grape pairs so well with food is that this is the most acidic of fine grapes. Pinot Noir cuts through the fat and the sugars of your cuisine, blending all the elements into a smooth, pleasurable taste on your tongue. Pinot Noir can come from Burgundy, France; Russian River, California; Willamette Valley, Oregon; or Santa Barbara, California.
Beaujolais Nouveau – This wine that by French law cannot be released until the third Thursday of November is the 2014 vintage, and is infamous for its freshness, acidic components, and fruit-sweet –as opposed to sugar-sweet- style. Delightful with turkey, dressing, even cranberry sauce. Put a slight chill on the wine, not cold, and you have a wine that everyone is going to truly enjoy with every course of the feast.
Wishing you and your family a great Gulf Coast Holiday Season filled with fine beverages and memorable dishes. It is a most wonderful time of year, except for all the other times spent at the beach, enjoying festivals, and living the good life alongside pleasurable waters.