What’s the Best Wine to Pair with the Holidays?

I can hardly believe it’s almost the Holiday Season! It seems to come earlier and earlier every year.

If you’re like my family, you’ll be drinking a bunch of different wines as we head into New Year’s Eve. It’s awfully hard to formally pair specific wines with the array of foods on the holiday table; there’s so much of everything that no one wine can cover all the bases.

But if I had to choose one wine to have with everything, from the first afternoon cocktail through the duck and roast beef and ham, to the mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables and jello salad, to the most decadent dessert, it would be my number one favorite white wine ever, Chardonnay.

Some people say that Chardonnay is too rich to be versatile with a bunch of different foods. Oh sure, they’ll concede it’s the perfect partner for crab, especially if it’s in-season Dungeness crab like we have here in the Bay Area, and super-especially if you serve it up with plenty of sourdough bread and butter.* But there is a certain crowd out there that believes you need something drier, crisper and leaner to be a really good food match.

Far be it from me to deny the allures of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio/Gris or any of the other dry, crisp white wines. I’ll drink a good one anytime! But for me, Chardonnay really does have all the attributes of the most versatile white wine in the world.

(Well, one caveat: Sparkling wine is even more versatile than Chardonnay. But then, many of the greatest sparkling wines are made with Chardonnay.)

It’s all a matter of taste, of course, but for me, Chardonnay’s richness is exactly what it has going for it. Few white wines in the world are richer. Check it out for yourself: While Kendall-Jackson produces several different Chardonnays (Vintner’s Reserve, Jackson Estate, K-J AVANT, Grand Reserve etc.), all share common flavors of intensely ripe mango, green apple, key lime pie and pear, with of course the fabulous creaminess that comes from lees stirring and the buttered toast and vanilla bean of oak barrel aging. Those characteristics may seem to suggest pairing with slightly sweeter fare (and crab, as well as other shellfish, especially lobster, can taste sweet due to its amino acids, fats and ocean salinity). But a great Chardonnay only gives the impression of sweetness; it’s actually a dry wine, which is Chardonnay’s magic: it tastes rich but finishes dry. That’s just what I want in a table white wine.

You might want to drink one of K-J’s fuller-bodied, oakier Chardonnays with your fancier, richer foods: Christmas ham, shellfish, a grand soufflé, shrimp, pork loin. With simpler but no less tasty fare, like roasted chicken, pasto pesto, baked butternut squash or buttery white rice, you might turn to something like K-J AVANT or Vintner’s Reserve. And there’s practically no dessert I can think of that doesn’t go with Chardonnay, unless it involves chocolate, although even with chocolate, there’s an exception: Try Chardonnay with a white chocolate truffle. Now that’s really getting into the holiday spirit!

* Dungeness Crab season is highly dependent of weather and ocean conditions and this delicious crustacean may not be available every year.

Steve Heimoff is one of America’s most respected and well-known wine writers. The former West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a contributor to Wine Spectator, he has also authored two books on the subject of California wine, including “New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff,” published in the fall of 2007.

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