When planning for the holidays, are you overwhelmed or baffled by selecting wines that pair well with the food items on your menu? I used to be. I’d listen to experts carry on about how this wine’s oaky flavor and berry notes paired well with that beef dish, and how that wine’s citrus tones paired well with the light salmon dish. Sometimes I would agree, but often, my tastebuds would revolt and I’d just nod in agreement, pretending the expert was oh so wise and correct. I mean, clearly, if they taste cloves in the wine, they must be right. Right?
Then I realized the one truth when it comes to wine and food pairings: the experts exist to help guide you to pairings that make sense to the general overall population, but in the end, the only opinion that truly matters is your own. Will you love them? There’s probably a good chance. But don’t feel bad if you don’t agree with a certain pairing, or you just can’t for the life of you taste the same blackberry and licorice notes in a specific wine that everybody else seems to notice. Just like with my no-measure recipes, I always urge friends to simply trust your tastebuds. Listen to the experts, try to extend your palate, and you’ll likely come to your own fabulous personal pairings. You might even surprise yourself: in learning what you do not like, it’s often easier to steer you to what you do like.
So now that you can release yourself from any stress associated with choosing wine and food pairings, you can confidently turn to food & wine experts for their gentle guidance. During the busy holiday time, expert picks can help save you lots of time — and sometimes money.
Whole Foods Top 10 Holiday Wines
In an effort to help make the whole food-and-wine pairing dilemma easier for folks like us during this super busy time of year, Whole Foods Market has selected its Top 10 Holiday Wines and also offers some suggested food pairings with links to recipes on their website. Easy peasy!
Recently, I attended a private holiday wine and cheese pairing event at Whole Foods Market in Portland’s Pearl District to try out some of their Top 10 Wines. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all of the Top 10 Wine selections were under $25. In fact, my absolute favorite wine (and favorite pairing) is normally just $9.99 — but was on sale for less than $8!
Some pairings were misses for my personal tastebuds; the first Cava was fantastic on its own but I didn’t care for the pairing with the Uniekaas Parrano, a very soft Camembert-like cheese.
My favorite pairing was actually with my favorite wine: the 2013 Santa Julia Bonarda-Cabernet with Beecher’s flagship cheddar.
Listed below is the Whole Foods Market Top 10 Wines list for the US, along with suggested cheese and recipe pairings. I’ve included just a few personal notes about ones I tasted at the event.
The Top 10 Holiday Wines
- Roger d’Anoia Cava (Spain)
Light, sparkly, slightly sweet with a smooth finish. You can’t go wrong with bringing a Cava to a holiday party, and this one was delicious. However, as I stated earlier, I wouldn’t have chosen the suggested cheese for the pairing.
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Uniekaas Parrano
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Shrimp Cocktail with Creamy-Spicy Green Onion Dipping Sauce
- Skouras Anassa (Greece)
Medium-bodied, fruity white with a clean, crisp finish. I didn’t love this wine, but others in the room really enjoyed it. Again, personal tastebuds prevail!
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Red Leaf Canadian Aged Cheddar
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Roasted Salmon Stuffed with Spinach, Feta and Ricotta
- Simonnet-Febvre St. Bris Sauvignon Blanc (France)
Notes of freshly cut herbs and delicate fruits, smooth finish
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Vermont Creamery Bijou
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Classic Butternut Squash Soup
- Novellum Chardonnay (France)
Zesty white wine
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Hervé Mons Camembert
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Roast Turkey with Apples and Onions
- Allan Scott Marlborough Pinot Noir (New Zealand)
Rich red with a velvety finish
Suggested Cheese Pairing: P’tit Basque
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Five-Spice Roast Duck
- Cercius Côtes du Rhône (France)
Lush and decadent with deep, rich berry notes
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Sottocenere Italian Truffle
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Mashed Vegetables
- Tablao Navarra (Spain)
Juicy red, made up of mainly Tempranillo grapes
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Seaside Cheddar
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Roasted Beef Brisket with Carrots and Tomatoes
- H & G Priorat (Spain)
Silky and robust, a spicy, well-balanced red
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Fromager d’Affinois
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Crown Roast of Pork with Wild Rice Stuffing
- URBAN BLISS PICK: 2013 Santa Julia Innovacíon Bonarda-Cabernet (Argentina)
Deeply complex and full-bodied, this red is rich and full and everything I love about red wine. And, it comes in a full liter bottle!! For just $8-10, depending on your location. This is, in my non-expert but frequent wine drinking opinion, the BEST VALUE you will find, hands down, in the current world of wines. Just don’t buy them all — save some for me, okay? ;)
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Borough Market Cheddar (we tasted it with Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar. SO good!)
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Apple, Sausage and Sage Sourdough Stuffing
- Les Hauts de Bel Air Bordeaux (France)
Powerful, elegant red that is rich and balanced on the palate
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Fourme d’Ambert
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Portobellos Stuffed with Greens and Blue
- Mat Kearney Verse & Chorus Napa Valley Red (California)
I liked this, but I didn’t love it. This red wine is made through a partnership between famed musician Mat Kearney, Peju and the John Anthony family who, combined, have more than 60 years of Napa Valley wine making experience. It’s described as a bold red, but to me, it tasted bland compared to the richness of the 2013 Bonarda-Cabernet.
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Emmi Le Gruyère
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Slow Cooker Lentil Stew with Polenta
- Grace Lane Yakima Valley Riesling (Washington)
Suggested Cheese Pairing: Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue
Suggested Recipe Pairing: Honey-Glazed Ham with Fresh Pineapple Chutney
One great pairing tip that I learned from this event: try either pairing like with like, or pairing opposite flavors. That way, either they will gently complement one another, or they will be different enough to let the other stand out.
Do you have any “rules” when it comes to food & wine pairings? Any favorite holiday wines? Please share in the comments below! We can all always use new wine recommendations. ;)
Thanks to Whole Foods Market for hosting the media wine and cheese pairing event, and giving each attendee a gift card. All opinions are, as always, my own.