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It’s time to think about holiday meals and foods. It’s time to help the local economy. It’s time to think globally and drink locally: Wine expert Gordon Kendall pairs great area wines with traditional dishes.
It's time to think about holiday meals and foods.
Like a deer hunter stalking its prey, the holiday season has crept up on us again. Folks planning elaborate feasts and holiday parties will be seeking trendy, crowd-pleasing wines to serve.
It may come as a surprise to readers that out of more than 140 wineries in Virginia, several wineries near Roanoke are producing some of the best wines in the state. I have been visiting local wineries recently and tasting their offerings and I am happy to report that these wines are as good as those from anywhere else in the world and many will not empty your wallet. Here are some gems I recommend and some suggested cuisine pairings.
Start your guests off with a crisp, cool glass of AmRhein Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2006. This stainless steel-fermented white wine is a dead ringer for the popular New Zealand style. This fresh wine exhibits lively aromas of Indian River grapefruit, nettles, and freshly mowed grass. This bone-dry wine washes over the palate with fresh grapefruit flavors and finishes with bracing acidity.
Winemaker Russ Amrhein sources the grapes from his Franklin County vineyard and makes the wine on top of Bent Mountain. The wine is sealed with a screw cap, so there is no need to worry about the moldy aromas associated with cork taint. At approximately $10 it will not put you in the poorhouse.
Serve this wine as a first course aperitif with shrimp cocktail. The crisp, clean dry flavors will awaken the palate and compliment the sweet, rich flavors of the shrimp. The wine’s core flavors of white fruits will counteract the spicy horseradish in the cocktail sauce.
Another great white wine is AmRhein Traminette 2008. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, because you will like the moderately sweet honeysuckle nectar flavors balanced with appropriate acidity. Traminette was developed at the University of Illinois by hybridizing the spicy Gewürztraminer variety with a variation of Seyval Blanc. The grape thrives in Virginia’s climate. Winery owner Amrhein’s German heritage shows through in this Spatlese-styled wine. Spatlese wines are made by allowing the grapes to obtain optimum ripeness and sweetness before harvesting. The wine is well worth its $15 price tag.
Pair this wine with your Smithfield or Country ham. The wine’s clean sweet honeysuckle flavors will provide a pleasant counterpoint to the ham’s salty and savory flavors. There are no oak flavors to interfere with them.
Every holiday season, wine writers attempt to discover a wine that pairs with the plethora of flavors and textures present at the traditional feast of roasted turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce. Why not try a wine that was designed to match with this holiday extravaganza? Valhalla Vineyards Cornucopia 2004, a blend of 47 percent Merlot and 53 percent Syrah, rendered in a soft, spicy style, is the perfect accompaniment. The wine has a medium, slightly tawny red color and aromas of red fruits, spice and roses. Separate lots of Merlot and Syrah are aged four years in oak barrels before blending and bottling. The wine sells for about $18.
The wine’s soft, velvty texture, mild tannins, red fruit flavors and spicy charactaristics marry well with the traditional holiday feast of roasted turkey, root vegetables, dressing and cranberry sauce. The medley of seasonings present in the dressing are picked up and delivered by the spicy component in the wine. The tannins are soft, so bitterness will not be present, unless provided by family members.
Fincastle Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, produced in Boutetourt County, is a great wine for holiday entertaining. Winemaker Peter Classey ages the wine in American oak barrels for 24 months to produce a soft style with mild tannins. The wine has a medium tawny red color with a clear edge. Aromas of cherries, tree bark, dust and cedar waft from the glass. Unlike the massive, expensive California Cabs, this wine is produced in a kinder, gentler style. The wine is mellow and soft on the palate, with flavors of red fruits and cedar. At $12 per bottle, the wine is affordable for entertaining.
Since most folks don’t favor an agressively tannic red, this wine is a great crowd pleaser to serve at parties.This wine is a great accompaniment to popular hors d’ouvres such as sausage cheese balls and cocktail weiners in sauce. The smooth fruit flavors in the wine match well with the rich and spicy flavors of the food without agressive tannins to make guests frown.
If you are serving more serious red meats for the holidays, take a look at Villa Appalaccia Aglianico 2007. This ancient red grape originated in Greece and today constitutes majestic wines made in the Basilicata region of Italy. The name is actually a mutation of Ellenico, the Italian word for Greek. Villa Appalaccia’s rendition is remarkably close in style to its Italian cousins. The wine has a deep cordovan color, rich aromas of black fruits, leather and dark pipe tobaccco and bold flavors delivered on a well structured tannic frame. The winery, which resembles an Italian villa, is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Rocky Knob.
If you are serving a succulent prime rib of beef for dinner, this wine is an excellent foil. The fat in the meat will be cut like a rapier by the firm tannins and zesty acidity in the wine. The synergy of succulent meat flavors and the bold flavors of the wine will create a complex symphony in the mouth. The wine is available on line from the winery for $19.95.
For dessert, try Valhalla Vineyards Late Harvest Alicante Bouschet 2001. Unlike most red grapes, which contain clear juice, this liquid inside this French varietal is dark red. The grapes are allowed to hang on the vine well past harvest time for other varieties, resulting in concentrated sweetness. The grapes are harvested, the juice is pressed out and the bitter skins are discarded. Winemaker Debra Vascik told me that the juice is so sweet that it takes over a year to ferment into wine. The wine is dense, dark blackish red and coats the glass. Bold aromas of raisins, prunes, dark pipe tobacco and licorice emanate from the glass. The wine is powerful and warming on the palate with port-like flavors of dark fruits and raisins. The wine is $20 for a half bottle, but remember; dynamite comes in a small package.
Serve this wine after dinner with bleu cheese and walnuts, or desserts such as chocolate indulgence or even dark chocolate candies. The wine’s rich sweet flavors and potent alcohol will provide a relaxing sensation and compliment the creaminess of the cheese or the bittersweet flavors in the chocolate. If you want to blow your guests away with something simple, just pour the Alicante over vanilla ice cream. The wine will melt the ice cream and the vanilla and cream will be accentuated by the warm raisin flavors.
If none of the above excites you, just pick up some Villa Appalaccia Pinot Grigio 2007 (available locally). This wine is a crowd pleaser with its lively, crisp honeydew melon flavors. It is a versatile wine that pairs well with just about any food except dessert (dry wines taste sour when served with sweet desserts). The wine sells for about $15, but is as good as any Italian Pinot Grigio.
So stimulate the local economy and celebrate the holidays with local wines. Think globally and drink locally.
While visiting local wineries and tasting these neighborhood wines I discovered a few others that are quite good and well worth a try. Here is a short list with some suggested food pairings.
- Valhalla “Rheingold” Chardonnay 2004 – Nice minerality and barrel fermented for a creamy texture. (Oyster Stew) $24
- Fincastle Vineyards Viognier 2007 – Full bodied and rich white with apricot notes. (Crab cakes or crab imperial) $20
- AmRhein Petite Manseng 2006 – For tasters who like a sweeter wine with pineapple flavors. (Spicy Asian foods) $13
- Valhalla Valkyrie 2002 – A red Bordeaux style blend with smooth fruit flavors and a touch of earth. (Grilled Steaks) $28
- AmRhein Mélange 2005 – Bordeaux style red with deep red color and black cherry flavors. (Venison or game birds)
- Villa Appalaccia Toscanello 2005 – A soft, medium-bodies blended red patterned after Chianti with vibrant cherry notes. (Lasagna or spaghetti) $17