With holiday entertaining in full swing, experts share tips on finding the perfect wine and beer to celebrate the season. When it comes to talking turkey, they look not only at popular stalwarts such as pinot noir and chardonnay – but well beyond.
“You have to stick with wines that won’t compete with the dish, (but) enhance the food,” said Caroline Schrader, sommelier and general manager at The Village Cellar in Hinsdale.
Appetizers can always be paired with a sparkling wine, and Schrader recommends a personal favorite, the 2011 Raventos i Blanc ‘de Nit’ Rosado Cava from Spain.
“I don’t think any holiday meal is complete without bubbles,” she said. “They’re a great starter, especially for serving with appetizers. Sparkling wine really cleanses the palate.”
There are also several wines that don’t work well with turkey and other traditional entrees, explained John Hutzler, owner of Vino e Birra in La Grange, who recommends steering clear of merlot, cabernet and Bordeaux.
Finding the right selection can be as close as a Midwest vintner or brewer.
“Michigan is making some good wines, and even good red wines,” Hutzler said.
One of Schrader’s top recommendations for white wines is the 2012 Left Foot Charley pinot blanc from Old Mission Peninsula in Michigan.
“It’s kind of a different spin on pinot grigio,” Schrader said. “Typical wines are great, but sometimes it’s nice to think outside the box and serve something different that people haven’t tried before.”
Like wines, craft beers add another dimension to holiday meals. Flesk Brewing Company in Lombard and Church Street Brewing Company in Itasca are two local options. Visal Kheam, owner of 20 West Wine & Spirits in Lombard, said Feral Cat from Flesk Brewery is an American wheat beer that would pair perfectly with a meal like ham.
“It’s just a matter of adventure,” Kheam said. “You really don’t quite know other than from word of mouth what you’re going to get from a craft bottle. It’s an experience (for) your palate — they’re heavier, weightier, and have layers and layers of nuances.”
Some beers and wines celebrate their own holiday vibe. Kheam says Christmas beers like Chicago’s Revolution Brewing Fistmas Holiday Ale combines ginger root and orange peel, and others are brewed with roasted chestnuts and cinnamon.
Tasting deVine in Wheaton carries three holiday wines: Christmas red and white, and a holiday Glogg (which is similar to the red, but with port added), all three meant to be warmed before serving.
“They’re very aromatic and flavorful,” said Bev Fishleigh, manager of Tasting deVine. “They are just wonderful for a cold snowy night, or while putting up the Christmas tree, coming in from walking the dog or shoveling the snow.”
But Fishleigh warns — don’t let the wine get so hot it boils.
“You will boil a little bit of the fun out of the wine,” she said.
But it’s not just heated wines that need attention to temperature.
“A lot of people tend to serve red wines too warm and white wines too cold,” Schrader said. “Across the board, pretty much everyone is guilty of that. Red wine should be 55 to 60 degrees, while white wines should be served at 45 to 50 degrees.”
For those who don’t have a specialty wine fridge, Schrader recommends putting red wine in a regular refrigerator for about 30 to 45 minutes before serving, while white wines should sit out for about 30 minutes.
“Temperature is supposed to enhance the taste,” she added. “Each wine is meant to be enjoyed a certain way.”
In the gift-giving arena, once the perfect wine has been selected, there are plenty of fun accessories, ranging from unusual bottle stoppers to wine racks. A hot item is the CHILL, a cooling wine spout; the icicle-like bottle attachment is filled with a cooling gel.
Tasting deVine carries the Lynfred Winery line of Roselle, including its chocolate-dipped bottles. Hand-drizzled by a chef, the chocolate breaks off to be enjoyed with the beverage.
No matter what libation you decide upon, the most important thing is to appreciate the people sharing it beside you.
“Drink what you like, even if it doesn’t match with the food,” Kheam said. “At the end of the day, the holidays are meant to be a fun time, so drink what you like and enjoy it.”