Picking The Perfect Wine For Your Holiday Meal Should you choose a bottle of Beaujolais or your favorite Pinot Gris tonight? Pairing wine with your mouth-watering holiday meal doesn't have to be a hassle. For advice, Farai Chideya speaks with wine authority Leslie Sbrocco.
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Picking The Perfect Wine For Your Holiday Meal

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Picking The Perfect Wine For Your Holiday Meal

Picking The Perfect Wine For Your Holiday Meal

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The turkey is done. The pie is in the oven. Now, if you could only figure out which wine to serve. Pairing the right wine with your traditional turkey dinner can add a delicious dimension to an already mouthwatering meal, and selecting the perfect variety doesn't have to be a hassle. Leslie Sbrocco knows all about the vino. She's the author of "Wine for Women" and "The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide." She's also the wine consultant for the gourmet food store, Harry & David. Leslie, thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. LESLIE SBROCCO (Wine Authority): Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: So, a lot of people are completely intimidated by wine. They might be afraid they'll mispronounce the name of a region or look stupid sniffing and swirling the glass. So how do you advise people to get over their anxieties?

Ms. SBROCCO: I tell them it's only fermented grape juice, so not to worry about it at all. It's really about enjoyment. And I think that's where we're moving in this country with wine is to the casualization, if you will, of wine, making it an approachable, everyday beverage. And you - you can sip it with Chinese food or you can splurge on it with New Year's Eve meal.

CHIDEYA: So turkey is a staple of many holiday meals. So, white wine - can you only drink white wine with poultry or can you mix it up?

Ms. SBROCCO: Absolutely not. You can - I am of the belief that drink what you like and eat what you like, and you'll be happy. But there certainly are guidelines that make things better. And when it comes to pairing food and wine, there are certainly things like matching the texture of the food and wine, about pairing up the sauces. When it comes, however, to the turkey table, that's where you get a little tricky because it's not about the turkey, really. It's about the gravy and the spicy sauce of stuffing and the yams covered in marshmallows and your grandmother's green jello and the cranberry sauce. So it's cacophony of flavors that really are assaulting your pallet, and that's what you're having to balance with the wine. So don't worry about the turkey. Worry about all the other stuff when you're pairing food and wine.

CHIDEYA: Now what simple guidelines can you offer folks when, in general, they're trying to figure out how to pair food and wine?

Ms. SBROCCO: Well, with - and let's just take, for example, since the holidays are in full gear and people will be serving turkey meals, they'll be serving ham, they'll be serving roast beef - with the turkey, things that you want to sort of stay away from are heavy Cabernet Sauvignons and Marlowe's, maybe really big, buttery Chardonnets because those are the kind of things that conflict with the flavors.

With a turkey-table meal, you're looking to help offset the tanginess of the cranberry sauce or match the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. So look for wines that have a little bit lower alcohol, maybe a little bit lower, little to no o-character, have really bright, refreshing, juicy flavors and bright acidity and have a lot of fruit flavors and even sometimes a little bit of sweetness.

And so things like white wine, you're looking for things like Riesling, which has often a touch of sweetness in it and very fresh and vibrant flavors. Things like Gewurtztraminer, or just Gavertz for short, which means spiced, and it has a little bit of fleshy character to it, but it still is this lovely fruity wine with a little bit of spice to help offset that spicy sausage stuffing.

And in terms of red wine, things like Beaugelais - a lot of folks drink Beaugelais with turkey because it has this fresh - again, fruity character, lots of red cherry notes. Not too intimidating in terms of the alcohol levels. I love, you know, a nice, balanced Syrah with a turkey meal, which is a bigger, heartier red wine.

But Pinot Noir, probably, is your ultimate turkey-table wine. It's an elegant red that has balanced characters of 0-(unintelligible), and for that it just means a little grippy in your mouth. Pinot Noir is like a sexy silk dress, and that is really what it does is it drapes your pallet and helps to offset all the wild flavors that you're getting from turkey.

CHIDEYA: All right. Harry & David, I mean, this is a place that has these legendary gift baskets. It's really one of the stalwarts of the holiday season. So tell me about your relationship with them.

Ms. SBROCCO: I'm very excited. I do a number of consulting projects, and Harry & David came to me six months ago and said they were starting to launch a wine program, which is very exciting for a company that's 75 years old. And so we've launched a wine program which has about 10 offerings at this point and growing, and some terrific wines. For example, from Italy I've got the (unintelligible), which is a lightly sweet, sparkling red wine that's paired with chocolate, and it's just brilliant. I've got a gift basket, the ultimate wine-tasting basket, which has three terrific wines from California, including Newton's Vineyards Claret from Napa, which is great. Rutherford Hill, Merlot, Cuvee, Chardonnet, and just a huge basketful of everything you'll need to throw the great, you know, ultimate holiday wine-tasting party.

So I think what it means is when you get a company that's sending out 90 million catalogues a year, you know, reaching the American public to now integrate wine into that, is certainly saying something about where wine is in our culture. People want it.

CHIDEYA: How did you get into this?

Ms. SBROCCO: Drinking a lot, pretty much. Pretty much the truth. I actually came with a background in television, and I still, of course, do television. I have a television show on PBS called "Check, Please! Bay Area." But it came from pure passion. It came from being an avid consumer of wine. And about 15 years ago, after visiting as many wineries as I could in California and beyond, making home wine - you know, I'm home wine maker - so taking courses to make home wine and joining tasting groups, I just had an epiphany where I said, OK, I have to be able to somehow make a living talking about something I love. And wine was, you know, was it for me.

CHIDEYA: Take us out with a couple of bargains and splurges.

Ms. SBROCCO: For the holiday meal, look for Shannon Blanc from South Africa, which is a crisp white wine, and you can look for lovely Pinotage, which is a red wine unique to South Africa, and it's sort of like a Pinot Noir. And you can get those in very bargain prices, terrific. Wines from Spain, certainly, offers tremendous values right now in both white and red categories, so look for Albernino or look for Tempernio from the Rioja region and Toro and Rivera del Duero in Spain. Certainly wines from Australia, and everybody knows Shiraz from Australia, the spicy red.

But there's also beautiful, dry-style Reislings from the Clare Valley of Australia, and Argentina is my other fabulous pick for international wines that offer value. Malbec from Argentina is an ideal wine, a big red wine to go with roast beef, for example, during the holiday season, and it won't set you back a lot of money. You know, there are many wonderful producers like Catena, and they make wines for well under $10.

CHIDEYA: So Leslie, what about some splurge wines?

Ms. SBROCCO: Well, I think in this economy, splurge is a relative term. So what I like to do is tell people to think about makeovers. For example, if they are thinking about spending $100 on a bottle of great champagne, that's wonderful. You can go out and buy Dom Perignon, certainly. Dom Perignon Rose, for example, would set you back a couple hundred dollars. But think about sort of switching that out with another wine. For example, Chandon in Napa Valley is part of the same company that produces Dom Perignon from (unintelligible) in France, and they do a gorgeous wine called Etoile, and it's about $40 for a sparkling wine. So now you've splurged and gotten one of California's best sparkling wines, and it's by the same company that ultimately makes Dom Perignon. So now you've splurged but saved yourself a little Christmas money as well.

CHIDEYA: Leslie, thank you.

Ms. SBROCCO: Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: Wine authority Leslie Sbrocco is the author of "Wine for Women" and "The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide." She's also the wine consultant for Harry & David. She spoke with us from NPR member station KQED where she hosts the TV show, "Check, Please!"

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