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Monday, 23 November 2009

Wines for Thanksgiving & Christmas

With Thanksgiving coming up this week and Christmas not far away I've been turning my attention to wines that match these traditional meals.

We seem to turn to the classic wine regions for special occasions - maybe an acknowledgement that many of the finest food wines tend to come from the Old World. Of course New World wines have their place too and can be superb when matching with the right dish, it's just that living in the Loire makes me a little biased on this front.

The traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is no easy affair when it comes to wine. If it were just a case of finding a red or white to match a simple roast then our task would be simple. It's the many accompaniments that change everything.

I have been reading your Tweets and researching recipes for the festive season. What seems clear is that the word 'traditional' means many different things. Family traditions hold firm in the kitchen. What is considered 'de rigeur' in the Loire, is different from that in Kentucky, London, New York and around the world.

A typical Thanksgiving dinner (if I dare use the word typical because there is little typicity) will probably include a roast turkey and several side dishes to include anything from sweet potatoes cooked with maple syrup, cranberry sauce, corn, Jello-O made up with whipped cream, nuts and cherries, and herb stuffing. What recommendations on the wine front then?

Well, to find a wine that will go with everything from starter to pud is probably a bit difficult but there are one or two wines from the Loire valley that I would certainly suggest.

Food and wine matching is a very subjective issue. Many would choose a white wine with roast turkey, many would choose a red. There are no hard and fast rules but first and foremost choose a wine that you like!

Gamay based reds from the Touraine region such as Henry Marionnet's Vinifera 08 would go well. With lots of summer fruit, raspberry notes and lightish tannins, the wine would partner the fruity accompaniments.

Soft elegant Cabernet Francs from Bourgueil are wonderful with a roast. Pierre-Jacques Druet's wines are elegant, with silky integrated tannins. Try the Fiefs de Louys 2005 or for a real treat go for the Vaumoreau 2000 with it's blackberry fruit and smoky cigar box notes.

Chenin blanc from Vouvray is excellent if you prefer something fresh and sherbetty with hints of pears and a little residual sweetness. Very dry wines can taste even drier if the side dishes served alongside have a touch of sweetness whereas a wine with a little residual sugar on the palate can be very complimentary. Try Bernard Fouquet's Cuvée Silex 08 or Les Marigny 07 (slightly sweeter).

Pumpkin pie, pecan pie and Christmas pudding all call out for a luscious sweet wine. Try a Coteaux du Layon or a Bonnezaux from the Loire. These wines are made from Chenin blanc grapes that have been left on the vines until they are supermature. Often affected by 'noble rot', which gives them wonderful marmaladely aromas and flavours, they are fabulous wines. We love the wines of Eddy Oosterlinck-Bracke in Faye d'Anjou. The Passion de Juchepie 2003 is superb. Rich and unctuous with wonderful aromas of dried apricots, nuts and marmalade, velvety on the palate but not in the least cloying.

And to start off your celebrations - look no further than the Loire for a glass of sparkling wine. Why pay big bucks for a Champagne (ok I know it's being discounted in the UK at the moment) when you can enjoy a wonderful sparkler from Saumur for a fraction of the price. Don't think of this as second best. Would you expect the wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy to taste the same? The Loire makes a wide range of traditional method sparkling wines that are excellent in their own right. Try Langlois Chateau's Quadrille Extra Brut 2002 - made from a blend of 4 different grape varieties, it's full bodied with lovely toasty notes and real depth.

Not all the wines I recommend are available worldwide but the styles and grape varieties give a good indication of what to look for. Above all, happy Thanksgiving (can't quite bring myself to say Happy Christmas just yet).

If you have an interesting recipe for Thanksgiving or Christmas or have found a great wine that matches one of your dishes I'd love to hear from you.

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