Your Complete Guide to Holiday Food and Wine Pairing and Gifts

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Perhaps you are entertaining this season, or maybe you entertain all year.  A glass of wine at dinner is better when paired appropriately.  A glass of wine with friends is even better.  Maybe you want to give a bottle of something as a gift.  Or perhaps you are curious about great wine.  Great wine doesn’t mean expensive.  The terroir and nuances and enjoyment of wine and the way it plays with food pairings can be found in a bottle of twelve dollar wine.  You just have to know what to look for.

There are five glasses of wine in each bottle.  A standard pour is five to six ounces.  This will help you plan how much to provide at a party.  Serve whites at 55 degrees.  Reds at 65-75 degrees.  Look for wine between ten and twenty dollars.

For appetizers– a sweeter wine that holds up on its own and is quite delightful is RieslingPinot Noir can be paired with anything.  It is the most versatile.  Look for the cherries and chocolate flavors in this milder wine.

If you are serving something with butter or cream- Mushrooms with butter sauce and Parmesan or Linguine Alfredo, let’s say, or a nice salmon with a creamy herb sauce will pair perfect with Chardonnay.  Chardonnay carries the crisp tropical and fresh fruit flavors of white grapes with the toasty cream finish thanks to the oak it matures in.

If you are serving seafood or salad– Shrimp Cocktail, a beautiful main-dish salad with chicken, or pork roast with apples and cabbage.  Anything that has crisp flavors-apples, lettuce, briny seafood- goes best with a Sauvignon Blanc.  It has crisp fruit and mineral flavors, is dry, and is made in stainless steel.  It goes really nicely with food.  If you want to go a tad sweeter with this type of menu, choose a Pinot Grigio.

If you are serving tomato based dishes or beans- Rich chili, thick pastas and savory sauces, olives, or bean soups all go beautifully with Cabernet Sauvignon.  Anything Italian naturally pairs with Sangiovese, Chianti, or Barbera.

If you are serving red meat or barbeque- You just can’t go wrong with a Merlot or a Malbec with a smoky steak or buffalo burgers.

If you are serving dessert- a thick Port with fudge is divine, a glass of Moscato or Ice wine is a sweet way to end the meal.

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A gift to a wine club is a great present to the wine lover on your list.  Some of the smaller wineries offer wine clubs which gives the oenophile on your list some new and exciting small batch wines to enjoy.  Some of the larger wine clubs offer treats from around the world.

Enjoy your festivities this season, my friends.  Cheers!

 

 

Purgatory Cellars (a delightful field trip)

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“Come with me,” the winemaker said to his newfound friend and now business partner, Gary, “Let me show you something.”  The gentleman over the bar pouring my wine flight recalled his first meeting with Marko in Croatia. The beginnings of Purgatory Cellars.

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“So, I followed him out to the middle of nowhere and there is this shed that looks like it is falling down and inside is all of this!”  Gary’s hand sweeps behind him showcasing the large steel vats holding wine.  Marko declared that he was a hobbyist.  Gary mentioned that hobbyists don’t have that kind of, and that much, equipment!

I swirled my glass of Sangiovese and tried to identity components.  I tasted my favorite varietal and noted that distinct flavor.  New Mexico.  The name of their winery is Purgatory because that was a town they were looking at for grapes or to set up shop but much of their source for grapes came from a winery in southern New Mexico before it went to auction.  The flavors of desert and soil with its plum and raisin essences so pleased me.  I went back to detect the wood it slept in.  It didn’t smell of French.  “Slovenian?”  I asked.  “Croatian.”  Didn’t learn about that kind of barrel in any sommelier class.  Fabulous.

The flights are very reasonable.  Five healthy pours of red or white or their ever amazing reserves range from $7-$10.  Glasses of wine and bottles are reasonable as well.  They are starting a wine club I look forward to.  And besides that, the atmosphere is lovely with all homemade wooden furniture, comfortable couches, and a gas fireplace and twinkly lights illuminating bottles and bottles of wine and wine making equipment.  And I love that they use all New Mexican and Colorado grapes.

My friend and I sat for nearly three hours chatting incessantly and tasting wines.  We were neither rushed or pressured.  It is a relaxing, delicious experience to partake in.  Tell them Farmgirl sent you.  Or, maybe I’ll see you there!

Purgatory Cellars, 18921 Plaza Drive, #100, Parker, Co 80134

purgatorycellarscolorado.com

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey (a field trip)

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Sometimes one needs to run away, to have a change of scenery, and to put the day to day chaos away and perhaps have a glass of wine!  A change of place can create calm in thought and help bring on new ideas.  We haven’t had a field trip to a winery in some time, so Doug and I with our friends, Rodney and Pat, headed up to Canyon City to explore one in our own back yard.

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The Holy Cross Abbey is a beautiful gothic structure that used to house monks and a boarding school, but as it declined the grounds were left to a viticulturist and the abbey now rests while the winery does the work now.

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We enjoyed the VIP tasting (surprisingly affordable) which included eleven pours to taste most of the wines produced there, from a luscious Petit Sirah to a sweet Apple wine made from local apples.  As we walked outside to the place that the tasting would be held we immediately took in the quaint picnic table set for four with wine glasses.  The vineyard directly behind buzzing with life.  The perfect early autumn air and the smell of nearby mountains and flowers made the event seem as if it were written out of a magazine.

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Our delightful hostess, Elise, was a charming addition to the tasting as we compared stories of herbalism, homesteading, and future dreams.  Her aspirations include starting a community organization that brings like minded people together and turning her parents’ property into a lively homestead for them.  We took to her sweet spirit and enthusiasm immediately.

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It was a day of laughter, good weather, friends, and wine.  We sat in the sun, enjoyed a meal together afterwards, and sang karaoke into the night.  The perfect day.

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If you are in the area the Holy Cross Winery is a lovely place to stop. http://abbeywinery.com

The Snobby Homesteader’s Wine (boxed and oddly delicious)

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I do enjoy a glass of wine at dinner.  Sitting in the restaurant that my daughter, Emily, works at enjoying a small pizza and the house wine is enjoyable to me.  I told one of my friends who was there that the wine wasn’t the best, most award winning, but it was quite good, and really quite excellent with food.  I have a reputation for being a wine snob.  I am not proud of this, but I also am not drinking the mass produced style wines.  Concannon or Mondavi?  I’ll pass.

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I wasn’t always this way.  I didn’t start drinking any type of alcoholic beverage until I was twenty-seven years old.  And my first tastes of red wine were enjoyable as long as they were kind of weak.  Then I started tasting nuances that I really enjoyed as we began hanging out at the wine bar with friends more; dried fruit, molasses, vanilla, the taste of hot summer sun in the Andes…I have quite an imagination.  I wanted to know more about these tastes and was fascinated that a bottle of wine will taste different depending on what day you open it.  Terroir became a puzzle, a mystery of place and time,  or wine maker, and harvesters, of weather patterns, of flavor.  A few beginning sommelier classes made me even more obsessed and probably obnoxious to drink with.  Then I became a homesteader a little more seriously.  Which means that gone are the days of my beloved wine club.  No more cases of various wines being delivered up the front walk.  It was an expensive year this year and two hundred dollars being withdrawn every couple of months takes a chunk out of wood, rent, and chicken feed money.

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I passed the boxes in the liquor store on my way to find something else.  I never give boxed wine a second look.  The Black Box brand is pretty good and I have drunk it before, but off hand, I never really consider boxed wine a go-to for dinner.  But there were some new kinds there that had big notifications on their boxes.  “Gold Metal” and “Platinum” and the Pinot Noir touted “45 Gold Metals from Wine Enthusiast”…I backed up and swiveled towards the mystery boxes.  Bota Box was an eco friendly and highly awarded boxed wine.

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Eighteen dollars.  Now, I spend around $14 on one bottle.  I am not always home at dinner time, I do not like vinegary wine, and I am the only one who partakes in a nice glass at dinner in our home (Doug’s more a beer man.) so that last glass in there often goes to waste.  Well, not to waste but into the red wine vinegar mother (click here to see how to make your own red wine vinegar) and then I need another $14 bottle of wine for the next week.  The boxed wine has four bottles in it, all sealed up nice and protected from oxygen, which is what turns it into vinegar, and will last up to four weeks.  Huh.  Funny the things homesteading with little cash will inspire you to try.

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“Look at the Franzia, it’s cheaper,” says my ever cost conscience non-wine connoisseur.

“Oh, heck no.  I am not drinking Franzia.”  Who the heck does he think I am?

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I chose an award winning boxed wine and imagine it to be like the demijohns of red wine that the Italians fill up at the local winery and took it home.

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Again, I rarely find that “Oh My Gosh, this is awesome wine!!!” and it is always a treat when I do but I want a good wine that goes well with food or on its own with a good book.  The Pinot Noir, the Sauvignon Blanc, and the Merlot have all delivered on that.  I am impressed.  The boxed wine is affordable, more eco-friendly, and good?  This is a win, win, win situation.

A few nights ago I cut through the restaurant kitchen with Emily to help her load the baby into the car after she got off work.  I looked up to see their house wine.  Franzia.  I had to just shake my head and laugh.

 

 

A Walk in the Vineyards (visiting Napa)

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Is wine just another drink?  A snobby, pretentious one?  An expensive bottle of grape juice?  It is more than that, of course, as I have written in Wine 101 and Wine 200.  The puzzle of finding out where the grapes were grown, in what kind of soil, surrounded by what, in what climate, on old or new vines.  These can all be answered in a glance, smell, sip.  I love that one can find so many complexities and aromas in a simple glass of…well….grape juice.

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And behind all that, the fancy restaurants, the food pairings, the bottles snug in the cellar, is the farmer.  A farmer, workers, wine makers, all making this journey through dinner sensational.

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Homesteaders have been making their own wine for many, many centuries.  Fermenting grapes was a way to preserve the bounty and provided safer refreshment than water at many times.  It is a preservation method, a return on the farmer’s time and energies growing this humble fruit.

Following the vineyard tour of Pine Crest in Napa, I took to memory everything the guide said about the growing of the grapes.  Hillside, sun, distance from the ground, sugar content, days on the vine.  I kept asking questions.  I must grow grapes.  A sad shake of the head met me.  140 days on the vine.

“Oh, I can do that.  I have a four and a half months to grow.”  That is a hundred and forty days after the fruit is visible, after flowering, after Spring, 140 days.

“Oh wait, that is my entire growing season!”  Oh, Kiowa, you high desert land, you’re killing me as a farmer over here!

But you know me, if someone tells me in Napa Valley, where they know grapes and wine, that I can’t grow grapes, I’ll be shopping for Sangiovese and Petite Sirah grapes the second my plane lands back in Colorado.  There has got to be a way for me to grow good grapes.  I will research areas similar to my climate and see what they grow.  Surely along the equatorial line Colorado matches up with somewhere like France across the globe.

Six dollar wines with cute animals on them or fancy Italian words used to be my wine of choice.  Now, you can find a darn good wine at twelve bucks, but I used to think the Costco style wines, in all their bulk glory and appealing labels, were the best wines.  Then I started enjoying red blends, their smooth, creamy textures, albeit void of intense complexity, seemed fitting for any occasion (and still can be).  Though I love a good puzzle.  And the puzzle can only be found in single vineyard wines.

Single vineyard is how you know the grapes came from the same place.  That wine will give you more uniqueness, as it will whisper to you notes about its soil constitution, how far its roots traveled, how much sun it received, how old the vines are.  Its own place on the planet written out in a bottle.

Estate grown means that it is grown on the vineyard owner’s properties, but their vineyards could be miles apart.

Reserve means that it was grown in a particular patch of vineyard, a more expensive wine generally, but a more concentrated memory of where it was grown.  The best area of the vineyard.

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We walked through the vast vineyards.  Watched as row upon row clung to the hillside taking in the glorious sun.  Smelled the sacrificial roses.  They are there to attract insects.  The destructive bugs will hopefully go to the roses instead of eating the precious fruit.

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We walked through the warehouse-looking area where thirty feet high there were stacked newly harvested and resting wine hovering in French oak barrels.  Enormous steel tanks held bubbling early fermentations of wine.  We walked into the cave.  Several miles of caves exist under the buildings.  Rows and rows of oak line the walls filled with their proud vintage.  We tasted a sample right out of the barrel.  It was delicious.  Creamy, interesting, smooth, filled with berries, molasses, spice, and vanilla.  We walked further down the cool caves (incidentally only three degrees cooler than my basement…I can do this!) and came upon a beautiful round table with three dozen shimmering glasses and small plates of cheese.  We went through three tastes of wines, each delightful with its chosen cheese, and savored the romantic cave atmosphere.

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Next Google search; zone 4 grape vines and an oak barrel.

To Screw or Cork…

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A few years back we were sitting in an upscale wine bar, twinkly lights abounded, a joyful dancing fire warmed in the large fireplace,  It was our monthly wine tasting event and we were cozy with the owner at a table as people milled around sampling, catching up on the month’s events.  I came back to the table with my next sampling.

“This wine has a screw cap!”  Giggle, giggle, shake my head.

I could see that Lee had explained this many times and just as he had explained to me how to pronounce meritage, he patiently explained to me the reason for screw caps.

Cork is endangered, actually.  It is a tree.  And we sure use a lot of it to make floors, and wine corks, and corkboard.  One could choose the plastic type corks but they expand and contract.  So does the cork, actually.

The wine maker pouring the wines cut in.  “Every one in one hundred bottles gets oxygen into it via the cork.  That ruins the wine.  I only have one shot at getting people to fall in love with my wine,” he says, “It may not seem like a lot, but one out of a hundred people are not going to re-purchase or try my wines again because of it.  Screw caps keep oxygen out better than plastic or corks.”

This is also cost effective and helps keep wines affordable.

“Do you know how much I paid for that wine?” my dinner guest exclaimed ($13), “I can’t believe it has a screw cap on it!”

I proceeded to tell her what I just told you.  It wasn’t until last night that I remembered my own lesson.  I had bought different bottles of wine during the week but had taken them to friend’s houses and left it or my friends drank it all at my house.  (I helped.)  Last night I wanted a glass.  I had three bottles of half drunk wine.  One vinegary, one really vinegary, and the one with the screw cap.  Doug poured me a glass of the screw capped one.  I hesitantly sniffed it since it  was about ten days old and after four, we typically pitch it.  It smelled of Sangiovese, of Italian countryside, fresh currants, and cinnamon….

Ah, screw caps, you spoil me.