Tis the season for good wine

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Fit for a feast: Zinfandel's spicy, fruit-driven style mixes well with traditional holiday fare as well as intense herbed stuffings and flavorful gravies. | Photo by W. Peter Hoyne

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With the holiday season in full gear, so are the opportunities to celebrate with family and friends. Some of the more traditional foods to feast this time of year can offer an array of savory tastes from spice-rubbed and deep-fried turkey, herb sausage and bread stuffings and root vegetables to sage roasted potatoes, wild berry relishes and hearty wild mushroom gravies. Within this context, wine is the synergy that compliments the flavors and textures of these bountiful offerings. Choosing the right domestic wine pairing may be as much about personal preference as about what wine heightens the flavors of your favorite recipe.

While preparing for these holiday bounties, indulge in a delicate Rosé sparkling wine. These festive sparklers can provide a lot of energy and freshness as an aperitif or a gracious introduction to the first course. Rosés can be a fuller expression of sparkling wine with crushed berries and rose petal elements that offer a fuller spectrum of flavors, which will enhance the flavors in many foods.

Chardonnay usually comes to mind when discussing a holiday wine pairing. Roast turkey’s firm and richly flavored pieces of dark and white meats can easily be brought in to balance with a lightly oaked white. Chardonnays that offer a little creaminess and weight accentuate the protein and richness of this meat. If you are adventurous and looking for an alternate, try a perfumed Viognier. Either of these whites can cut through cream sauces, offset oyster stuffings, and marry confidently with scalloped potatoes with Asiago cheese or a cauliflower gratin.

Washington and Oregon Rieslings offering a hint of residual sweetness may be ideally suited for a honey baked ham, cornbread, caramelized baked apples, sweet potatoes with a maple glaze, white corn dishes, butternut squash, grilled pearl onions and bread pudding.

Far and away one of the most versatile wines for the dining room table is Pinot Noir. Explore the cooler regions of California’s Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast or Carneros district along those from Willamette Valley in Oregon, where Pinot Noir can be at its best. Pinot’s earthy aromas, high toned fruit, delicate tannins and forward acidity can offer harmony to bold dishes with aggressive flavors or round out fruit acidity while offering incredible balance to most dishes. It has an affinity for herb-roasted turkey with sausage stuffing, dark mushroom gravies, spiced cranberries and fruit chutneys. An older bottle of Pinot Noir can offer a different dimension with smoked bacon flavors.

Zinfandel is an All American grape and a darling recommendation for this year's feasts. It’s flavorful dark cherry zest and crushed black pepper quality can add intensity while making a statement at any table. This is one of those options that can cross over and find compatibility with many foods on the dining table. Zinfandel is not timid and it’s spicy, fruit driven style will integrate well with traditional fare or stand up to smoked turkeys and game birds, intense herbed stuffing’s and flavorful gravies. Of course, don’t forget the molten dark chocolate cake. There is an ample amount of ripe fruit in these wines, but avoid those with slightly higher alcohols as they can compete with some subtle dishes. In the end, the decision remains your own in selecting the perfect complement for the dinner table or just choosing the wine you might enjoy most with leftovers the following day.

Holiday Recommendations

2011 MacMurray Ranch Russian River Chardonnay: The MacMurray Family estate has an ideal location in the cool climate AVA of Russian River Valley and has established a reputation for crafting finely balanced Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This very focused and classically made Chardonnay offers plenty of freshly picked apples with starfruit and minerals integrated into the core.

2009 Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre Chardonnay: A vineyard designated Chardonnay that has been part of the St. Jean legacy for over three decades. An attractive Chardonnay that is intertwined with sweet layers of vanilla, buttery mango fruit and a touch of hazelnut.

2009 HdV Chardonnay: This is the pinnacle of Chardonnay each year. The winery is a joint venture between the Hyde Family of Napa Valley and the de Villaine Family of Burgundy. Medium yellow in color with endless layers of lemon meringue cream, minerals and honeyed pears. Great textural quality and seductive with each sip.

2012 Charles Smith “Kung Fu Girl” Riesling: A value-conscious selection and consistent domestic Riesling from Columbia Valley, Washington. Once you get past the label you can enjoy all the freshness that this wine offers. The light straw color opens to honeydew melon and peach blossom flavors, which are tapered with a touch of sweetness.

2011 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: While best known for their sparkling wines, J Winery has a portfolio of well-crafted Russian River and single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Sonoma. The dark ruby color of this wine opens to delicate flavors of rhubarb, clove and cinnamon. The black cherry elements are ripe and fresh.

2010 Soter “Mineral Springs” Pinot Noir: Tony Soter founded Etude Winery in Carneros before relocating to the 240-acre “Mineral Springs” Ranch in Willamette Valley, Oregon. He is a master craftsman who understands Pinot Noir and showcases his genius behind the Soter label. There are enticing earthy aromas with plenty of textural elements in this wine: Red cherry, leather, baking spices and mocha come through at every level, making this a complete wine.

2012 Rancho Zabaco Sonoma Heritage Vines Zinfandel: This is an entry level Zin from Rancho Zabaco that consistently over delivers and will keep your interest. There are candied spice aromas with juicy blackberries, red raspberries and enough stuffing to hold its own with any food.

2011 Peachy Canyon ”Westside” Zinfandel: A small family-owned winery with a history of making estate Zinfandels from Paso Robles’ warm Westside properties. This wine speaks more of elegance than weight, with a medium ruby color and caressing cranberry and red currant flavors that are smooth and long.

2011 Saldo: Winemaker Dave Phinney is known for his success with his signature Zinfandel blend “The Prisoner,”, while Saldo has become an integral part of his vision in making a forward, opulent and immediate attractive wine. Some Petite Sirah and Syrah was added for just enough bulk. The fruit is balanced and jammy with some briar and black pepper in the background. The tannins are fine and well integrated.

2012 Opolo Vineyards Mountain Zinfandel: This is the most recent release from Midwest natives Rick Quinn and Dave Nichols from Opolo Vineyards in Paso Robles. Made from 100 percent Zinfandel from small parcels in Paso Robles, the red fruit is plentiful with red raspberry jam, spice and pomegranate components. Fleshly and complete.

2010 Carol Shelton “Monga” Old Vine Zinfandel: Much has been written about Carol Shelton, who is one of the most awarded winemakers in the U.S. One thing that is certain, Carol is passionate about Zinfandel and its unpretentious style and range of flavors. She has mastered the “Zen of Zinfandel” with a portfolio of distinctive single-vineyard Zinfandel. This wine heralds from a wine-growing region in southern California and is seasoned in American Oak Barrels. A viscous wine with floral aromas of violets and wild strawberry that capture your attention. It is almost exotic with dried red and black fruits, silky tannins and a long mid-palate.

W. Peter Hoyne has been a wine journalist for over 20 years, covering stories of national and international significance. While his professional relationships in the wine industry have allowed him to share a unique perspective of wine, he is also intrigued by the culinary aspect and harmony that exist between wine and food. As a wine advocate, he is committed to consumer education and is focused on upcoming trends and American wine-buying habits. Email him at wphoyne@att.net.