Wine experts suggest sips for the holidays

By: Cortney Casey | C&G Newspapers | Published November 14, 2012

 Small wine shops — such as Cloverleaf Fine Wine in Royal Oak — often have staff who can provide guidance for hosts looking for the perfect holiday pairing possibilities.

Small wine shops — such as Cloverleaf Fine Wine in Royal Oak — often have staff who can provide guidance for hosts looking for the perfect holiday pairing possibilities.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

The adventurous oenophile

Craving something fresh and new versus tried and true for your glass? Master sommelier Madeline Triffon and sommelier Michael Descamps offer some suggestions for switching up your wine-buying this holiday season.

If you like: Barrel-fermented Chardonnay
Triffon suggests: Godello from Spain

If you like: Unoaked Chardonnay
Triffon suggests: Grüner Veltliner from Austria in the $15 to low-$20s range

If you like: Pinot Grigio
Descamps suggests: Verdicchio from Italy, Albariño from Spain or Vinho Verde from Portugal

If you like: Cabernet Sauvignon
Triffon suggests: Priorat from northeastern Spain
Descamps suggests: Malbec from Argentina

If you like: Pinot Noir
Triffon suggests: Cerasuolo from Sicily

If you like: Gamay/Beaujolais
Triffon suggests: Frappato, also from Sicily

Save or splurge?

The sky’s the limit when it comes to buying wine, but Decamps and wine buyer Tom Natoci have suggestions for some great values, as well as wines worth their steeper price tags.

Value: A Few Good Men Chardonnay and Hybrid Pinot Noir (around $9 apiece)
Natoci called these bargains — a South African white and a California red — sure-bets for Thanksgiving.

Value: 2010 Domaine Couly-Dutheil Chinon Rosé (around $14)
Descamps said he’s served the all-Cabernet Franc rosé from Loire Valley at large Thanksgiving gatherings because “it’s definitely going to make people who like red wine happy, both in texture and fruit profile.” Dry, with an underlying fruitiness and currant/cranberry characteristics, it “supports food really well,” he added.

Mid-range: Vietti Arneis (around $23)
Natoci said this northern Italian wine’s Arneis grape is “a little bit like if you could blend Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s crisp and mineral-y and dry.”

Splurge: Marramiero Inferi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (around $30)
Natoci said this Italian wine is perfect for California Cabernet Sauvignon fans looking to branch out. “It’s big and bold and dark, and it’s oaked — it would have a lot of the satisfying comfort flavors you would get from a California Cab,” he said.

Splurge: 2010 Domaine Huët “Le Mont” Demi-Sec (around $35-40)
Descamps called this rich, concentrated Vouvray a “star,” bursting with honey-covered Bosc pear and golden delicious apple flavors, with a peachy undercurrent and tons of lemony acidity.

Splurge: 2010 Outpost Zinfandel Howell Mountain (around $45)
Natoci declared this zin “phenomenal.” “That’s a monster of a wine,” he said. “It’s delicious.”

Madeline Triffon has a single-word suggestion for holiday wine selection, and it has nothing to do with grapes, tannins, acidity or sweetness.

“Relax,” laughed Triffon, a master sommelier who works with the Plum Market wine team. “You don’t have to be a wine expert. I think just offering nice beverages at your party is lovely. People come to enjoy the company.”
That said, Triffon and other local wine aficionados have tips aplenty for holiday hosts determined to augment good eats with equally delicious drinks.

Michael Descamps, sommelier and beverage director at MGM Grand Detroit’s soon-to-open Wolfgang Puck Cucina and Steak restaurants, said the traditional Thanksgiving meal’s diversity is the challenge.
“The food is kind of all over the place. … You have savory, you have sweet, you have fatty, you have rich,” he said.

In such circumstances, the hoped-for effect of course pairing is often lost, he said, and insisting upon a particular wine being consumed with a certain dish can put a damper on the fun.
“I think the answer is to pick a handful of wines and put them on the table,” he said. “Have it in your head that each of these wines might go (with) a specific course, but give your guests an opportunity to play with it themselves. It’s about making sure it’s friendly and accessible, instead of restrictive and uninviting.”

Triffon agreed. As most holiday feasts are served buffet- or family-style, she suggests handling the wine similarly, creating a beverage buffet or placing multiple bottles on the dining table.
A miniature wine bar at the head or foot of the serving line could offer a sparkling, a white and a red — or, for a broader selection, a sparkling, an off-dry white, a dry white, a lighter red and a more concentrated red, she said.

Among her suggestions: “An easy, dry white, like a fruit-filled Albariño, or a Pinot Blanc from Alsace,” or a dry Riesling, the fruitiness of which gives “the illusion of sweetness.”
Descamps, a fellow Riesling fan, recommends a semi-dry from Left Foot Charley in Traverse City, in particular. “I think it’s a really good call, especially if you want to stay local,” he said.

Tom Natoci, wine buyer for Cloverleaf Fine Wine in Royal Oak, advised avoiding anything that’s “too aggressively tannic” with the main course. He suggested Pinot Noir or Zinfandel because “they already have some of the complementary flavors” associated with traditional Thanksgiving dishes: Pinot Noir with cherry and cranberry undertones and Zin with spicy qualities.
Triffon, Descamps and Natoci all extolled the virtues of bubbly, which they insist is suitable for more than merely a toast.

“We definitely live in an area where sparkling wine is … occasion-driven,” said Descamps, daring hosts to defy convention and pop one mid-meal.
Locally, Triffon suggested anything from L. Mawby, an acclaimed northern Michigan sparkling wine producer. Internationally, she suggested an extra-dry Prosecco or Cava.

Sweet wine lovers who find traditional Champagne too dry might enjoy a semi-dry sparkling Vouvray or Detroit, a demi-sec sparkler from L. Mawby’s sister line, M. Lawrence, said Descamps.   A crisp Prosecco can echo the crisp vegetable elements of, say, spring rolls, he mused, while Champagne and Champagne-like varieties, such as Ferrari rosé, can align well with richer turkey and chicken dishes.
With Thanksgiving and Christmas desserts tending toward the very sweet side, Triffon said she’d skip attempting to pair that course with wine. Instead, she suggested offering up a selection of post-dessert sips, like a sweeter Madeira, or a tawny or ruby Port.

No need to go overboard on price by splurging on that vintage bottle.
“Your palate’s going to be somewhat deadened by what you’ve just consumed,” she laughed.

If you’re determined to course-pair throughout dinner, Descamps said to start “lighter and sparkling, and build your way richer,” being mindful of not “going backward” by sipping a big red, then transitioning to a light white, for instance.
For planning purposes, a good rule of thumb is figuring a little more than a half-bottle per guest for a generally wine-drinking crowd, said Triffon. Find a reputable wine shop, explain your goals and your price range to the staff, and trust them to steer you well, she said.

“If your budget’s tight, a good wine shop will absolutely have decent wine to drink between $10 and $15,” she said. “So I think you can budget around $15 a bottle, and take it down to $10 if money’s tight.”
Triffon also suggested keeping beer on hand for guests who aren’t wild about wine, and Natoci agreed.

“You figure the Thanksgiving meal is a pretty complex, pretty rich flavor profile,” he said. “You can do ales from Belgium, or you can do some different ales from America. It just sort of depends on the people that are drinking those craft beers as to the styles that they like. I wouldn’t force a really hoppy (India pale ale) on someone who doesn’t like that, but they can complement the food very well.”