Tricky Holiday Scenarios and Their Pairings

Roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, more pies than the people around the table can possibly eat in one meal (but isn’t it delightful to try?)

Thanksgiving is, after Halloween, my favorite holiday of the year. I have amazing memories of my giant family (8 siblings) gathered around the table, eating green bean casserole, Boston Brown bread- baked inside aluminum cans, and spending the day playing board games, watching movies and our family Turkey Bowl. (Note: If the opposing team forms a line in front of the End Zone to block your touchdown, there is NOTHING in the rules to keep the team from handing off the football to a particularly light and perky (not to mention overly adventurous red head girl who knows NOTHING about football) and launching her over the defensive wall, into the End Zone. It’s surprising to me that this strategy isn’t more widely used.)

Thanksgiving for everyone across the country is a day of family, whether it’s the family you were born to or the one you chose for yourself, it’s a day of love and happiness and gluttony unlike any other in the US.

Of course, with family comes conflict- it’s inevitable. But never fear, I have compiled a list of possible holiday scenarios and ways to cope. (Responsible Adult Note: I’m not saying drinking is the only way to survive a big holiday meal, but in my experience it seriously helps. Also, call an Uber, don’t drive.)

Scenario 1: Everyone in your family (besides you) attended a specific university (I’m not saying BYU- Go Cougars?) The football team somehow made it to a Thanksgiving day game and they’re getting the crap kicked out of them. This game is in overtime which means dinner is being pushed back by five “football minutes” (very different from real-time minutes). The turkey is drying out, the cranberry relish is warming, the gravy is forming a skin on top… oh, and you haven’t eaten in three days to prep your appetite. You’re hungry, they’re cranky and the pies smell amazing.

Pairing: You don’t know how long you’re going to need to drink, so keep it LOW alcohol, low in intensity. This is DEFINITELY the job for a beer (not a heavy craft brew) or maybe a Moscato d’Asti (around 5-6%) or an Alsatian Riesling at about 8%. Make sure it’s light and refreshing and keeping your palate clean enough to sneak tastes between now and the time dinner actually starts.

Scenario 2: Cousin Gary brought his new boyfriend- no one knew he was looking for a BOYfriend- his mom, Aunt Carol, included.

Pairing: So here’s the thing, THIS could be the gift that keeps on giving- the snark, the passive-aggressive comments, the “subtle” bible verses… This is a long game, a marathon, NOT a sprint- Aunt Carol can actually be pretty funny when in passive-aggressive mode. HOWEVER, on the flip side, a lot of what’s going to be said is possibly offensive to you, so being too drunk just isn’t going to work if you’re going to keep your mouth mostly shut. I’d suggest a light-bodied red, maybe a Cru Beaujolais (NOT Nouveau- just spike Welch’s with vodka at that point) or a Pinot Noir from France. You’ll be able to drink it all night, it won’t have too much alcohol for you, but they have the structure and “guzzle factor” that means you’ll feel a bit of a buzz as you hear Carol wailing about never getting to plan a “real” wedding or have grandbabies.

Scenario 3: “So… how’s that acting/music/English/art degree working out for you?”

Pairing: First of all, pro tip- DO NOT SHOOT BACK WITH “how’s your botched plastic surgery lawsuit going?” Believe me, it’s not going to go as well as you might think. But, what to drink when your family is picking at your life choices, your career immobility, your regrettable fashion choices now memorialized on social media? Well, I’d say go big- it’s tough being attacked on this level, something like a Chateauneuf du Pape would be the decadence you deserve. BUT, since you probably DID get that ridiculous acting/music/English/art degree, it seems unlikely you can afford it. So just try another Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre blend (the grapes in CNdP) from the Southern Rhone or even Australia; they easily run below $20/bottle, many under $15, and are just as decadent and amazing. Trust me, it won’t be too hard to forget about what Aunt Doris said- never mind the fact she didn’t even go to college and her precious William is more interested in playing D&D in her basement than studying for the SATs anyways.

Scenario 4: Your brother and sister-in-law just bought an AMAZING new McMansion- 4,000 sq ft, on two acres of land, a gourmet kitchen, it’s Suburban Paradise… so they’re hosting this year for the first time. Oh, and they don’t know how to cook. Turkey is dry, rolls didn’t rise, jello salad is melted and the gravy has enough lumps you’re slightly worried it has cancer.

Pairing: Embrace the fact that dinner is going to be terrible, but you still need a certain amount of calories in a day, so imbibe them via wine. But since red wines can feel kind of heavy on an empty stomach, I’m recommending keep it light with anything sparkling that isn’t too sweet- Prosecco, Cava, Cremant,Champagne- it’s all golden here. And don’t worry about glasses, feel free to chug it out of the bottle because you were promised dinner and this is fucking crap, so you’re entitled to get as drunk as you want. Not to mention, now you don’t have to pretend to help with the dishes- you didn’t use any!

Scenario 5: So, when are you two getting pregnant?

Pairing: Tequila. Unless you’re actually pregnant, (please don’t drink tequila if you’re pregnant). But you can say “none of your business”. You can try “I don’t know, we keep trying (insert disgusting and non-procreative sex act here) and it just hasn’t worked yet!” Generally speaking, in my not at all statistically relevant research, that bitch is going to ask that until you or her are dead.  She’s going to ask your gay Cousin Gary and his boyfriend named Sumner (don’t get me started on the name), and feel 100% entitled to know the answer. She won’t even care if this makes you break down and sob because you know you CAN’T have kids. This is a crappy question to ask people, they really should mind their own business, but in the meantime screw the wine, this is the job for our brother from across the border, Senor Tequila.

**Oh, quick side note: 3 tbsp pumpkin puree, 1 tbsp triple sec and a little bit of water, mixed with cinnamon and tequila make for an unbelievable Pumpkin Margarita- try rimming the glass with pumpkin pie spice and sugar if you’re really trying to impress. It isn’t common, it isn’t typical, but it’s delicious. Drink three of those babies and you’ll barely remember what ANYONE said around the dinner table on Thanksgiving!

Have a Happy Turkey Day! Remember, when in dout, Gewurtztraminer or an unoaked Chardonnay are my choice of whites with turkey dinners,  a French Pinot Noir (do not overlook red Burgundy- it’s like shooting fish in a barrel!) or maybe even a somewhat zestier but still less jammy Southern Rhone Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend.

Happy Holidays!

Chardonnay 201: Time to Taste

So I got chardonnay from Chile, New Zealand, Russian River Valley and then two from Burgundy- a Bourgogne (lowest end) and one from Macon, so close to both ends of the spectrum.

Most people I know who are serious about wine have told me that the best way to learn a grape is to try as many styles of that grape as possible- different regions, different price points, blended… whatever I could get my hands on- drink it, study it, befriend it. And obviously, education is very important to me. So important, in fact, that I went out and bought five chardonnays from different places around the world to taste and try to really hash out my feelings over this grape.

I mean, I’m a red wine girl- not that I don’t love my bubble or the occasional rose, but generally speaking, 90% of the time, I’m drinking a bold red. But chardonnay… well, depending on where it’s from, can be the white wine for red wine drinkers. Not to mention, in my swampy, DC summer where some days hit 115 degrees in the heat index- sometimes a crisp, cool, refreshing hit of green apples, pear, tropical fruit… sometimes it’s exactly what you need to survive the weekend.

And because of my outstanding dedication to my pursuit of knowledge, this weekend was spent with the grape- I wanted to personally nail down the fingerprint of the varietal, to taste for myself the difference between regions- especially old world vs new world as we wine snobs like to talk about all the time.

So I got chardonnay from Chile, New Zealand, Russian River Valley and then two from Burgundy- a Bourgogne (lowest end) and one from Macon, so close to both ends of the spectrum.

I started with the two French and the California wines- the Bourgogne was about $11, the Macon was $22, the Russian River Valley Chalk Hill was $35. To represent the warmer climate regions, I picked a favorite New Zealand bottle and decided to try a new to me Chilean- each bottle costing about $10. So, let’s get into it.

Tasting notes:

2014 Vincent Sauvestre Bourgogne: Honestly, this should have been a sparkling- a blanc de blanc cremant (sparkling wine made using the traditional champagne method but NOT in Champagne), it just, in my opinion, didn’t have the structure or body I want in a white wine- maybe some bubbles would have helped there? It was a pale straw color, which already had me nervous- it looked more like a pinot grigio than a chardonnay and that made me nervous. I got a slightly tropical fruit nose, but mostly I just got crisp pear, some green apple and a tiny bit of cream. For $11 it wasn’t terrible, but it was easily my least favorite of the line up. Mostly I just thought it was meh.

2014 Macon-Burgy: Ok, so, aside from Chablis, this is the kind of chardonnay that white Burgundy fans get so excited about. And I’m not going to lie, I was a fan- it wasn’t my favorite chardonnay ever, but for a Burgundian style chard, I thought it stood up to its reputation- I appreciated and understood what that term Burgundian meant. Remember, chardonnay grows best in clay and limestone soils- weirdly the BEST wines tend to come from grapes that grow on vines that have to struggle and fight to be able to grow. This wine spent 8-10 months in stainless steel- they never touched oak, they didn’t even walk past an oak tree. BUT, they did go through MLF so while this wine was complex (many layers, wow- more layers than a Victorian woman), there is still a healthy hit of cream that, to me, read like lemon curd and ripe baked apple. It was good- I can’t say it was great or the perfect Burgundy, but I genuinely enjoyed putting this in my mouth. (Yes, I know, that’s what she said).

2014 Chalk Hill- Russian River Valley: I’m not going to say this is the perfect example of a CA chardonnay, I think some others I’ve had in my life seem more ideal- Scribe winery’s chard (they even offer a limited release skin-on that I go crazy for) is probably one of the more perfect bottles I’ve had to represent a large state. However, this Russian River Valley bottle really hit my buttons. It was richer than a Rockefeller in its stunning deep gold color and the nose was nothing but baked apple and baking spices of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Seriously, I smelled this glass and was transported to fall ciders and family holidays wherein we would make more apple pies than even an 11 person family can comfortably eat in 2-3 days. The taste fulfilled the promise of spiced, baked apples more than I could have hoped for but had an acidity that really cut through the richness and allowed me to be able to taste my popcorn. I will say that the alcohol content of this wine, being a new world version and higher ABV, DID make my boardgame day infinitely more enjoyable- Kill Dr Lucky is always funnier when slightly tipsy.

2015 Il Nobilo from Marlborough, New Zealand: This is the chardonnay I’ve frequently turned to in my past- and not only when the board game my fiance wants to play is far too intricate and weird for it to be truly enjoyable. This is a bottle that really turned me around on Chardonnay- it’s proximity to the Equator means it’s going to have tons of tropical fruits on the nose and the taste. I personally thought it was like a pineapple/papaya creamsicle and I absolutely loved it for that. It had just enough acid that I barely noticed the fatty, creamy, unctuous quality of the wine. I can’t say it would have been the ideal food pairing- honestly, it was the tiniest bit flabby when I tried it with white pizza (a challenge every other chardonnay held up to remarkably well). I can say that with buttered popcorn I was a truly happy camper and was thrilled to drink it with no food at all- which sometimes is a bigger challenge- it being harder sometimes to find a wine worthy totally on it’s own rather than with food.

2015 Alta Delta from the Central Valley in Chile: This was another nice surprise for me. This region is a little over 100 miles south of Santiago, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains- so they go through the benefits of diurnal temperatures (wide swings between daytime and nighttime temperatures). This one was a bit of an enigma to me- I definitely got some flavors of melon, a tiny bit of apricot (stone fruit), a little lemon/lime zest… but I think I detected a bit of papaya too? I couldn’t find much information online about this wine so I’m guessing it spent a little time in oak, given it’s hints of baking spice, cream and a tiny little hint of vanilla. I also didn’t notice much minerality, a  little surprising from this kind of mountainous region, but not insane or unbelievable.

So there we are- 5 wines, 2 vintages, and the real constants in flavor were that each wine had at least a little pear or apple. After that common trait the big difference was between Old World perfectly fruit and mineral driven lushness, and the more oaked and tropical versions from CA, NZ and Chile- wines that were reminiscent of pineapple upside down cake in a mostly great way. I’m not sure this is the best expression of chardonnay I’ve ever had, but I genuinely enjoyed drinking it- and that’s still a good reason to drink it- even if it’s not “technically” correct based on the other bottles I tried- it was a definite outlier… but still one I’m likely to drink again because it was fucking delicious.