All Wined Up

Wine Pairings for the Spring Holidays

Guest post by Ali Lieberman, CSW

Although it may feel like summer has already hit DC, Easter and Passover are just around the corner. These two holidays don’t have much in common, but there are two things that will likely be on both dinner tables: seasonal spring dishes and wine. Planning a holiday feast can be a bit overwhelming before you even introduce the thought of wine pairing, and on that note I'd like to share some tricks of the trade.
My first rule whenever hosting a dinner party (or any party) is to start with bubbly. It awakens the palate and elicits a festive mood. It’s also the perfect pairing for fried appetizers and most salty food. Think hushpuppies, potato pancakes and bacon-wrapped…anything. And if your Easter “dinner” begins at noon, it’s a perfect booze for brunch. Spending upwards of $40 for Champagne can be well worth it, but a Cava from Spain (which is made in the traditional Champagne method), or an inexpensive Prosecco (if you’re looking for an orange juice topper) will do just fine.
For the main dish, you can go in many directions. Here are some suggestions for the three types of meat you’re likely to feast on.
Most hams are cured. This means SALT. This also means you want to stay clear of big, highly tannic wines. Off dry (slightly sweet) and acidic wines are best because they counter the saltiness and can really enhance the flavors. “Ham is somewhat tricky [to pair with wine],” says Certified Sommelier and Founder of Vino50 Andrew Stover. “I sometimes enjoy a fuller bodied fruit driven white or a lighter, juicy red. For white, think Virginia Viognier (which is especially tasty with Virginia ham) or Vouvray/Chenin Blanc wines that have big fruit and a touch of sweetness.”
If you’re a “wine is red” person, look for a wine that’s lighter in style, is acidic and has bright fruit flavors. A Cru Beaujolais (not to be confused with Nouveau) can be a fantastic pairing with ham. Italian varietals such as Barbera or Dolcetto or a lighter style Tempranillo from Spain should work nicely. If you ham is buried under a thick glaze of cinnamon, sugar, bacon, clove, and so on, open up a Zinfandel.
Lamb has natural gamey and earthy flavors and is rich and fatty. This just screams for a red wine. Some widely-accepted wine pairing rules are garbage, but fatty meats with big red wines are almost always a must. The “big” in big red wine refers to the body and tannins of the wine. Tannin, which leaves that astringent feeling in your mouth, reacts with protein, easing that somewhat harsh, drying sensation and it cuts through fat nicely.
Rhone blends from Southern France are a great match for roasted lamb. Other wines to look for are Riojas, Malbecs and Cabernet Sauvignons. If the lamb is prepared in a lighter style with minimal seasoning, a medium bodied Pinot Noir from California or the Pacific Northwest would also work well.
Whether your brisket is smoked or barbequed, you should look for a medium to full bodied wine with prominent, juicy fruit notes which will either offset the smokiness or compliment the sweetness in the sauce. Brisket tends to have loads of flavor and so you need a wine that will stand up to the meat. An Australian Shiraz or a Zinfandel should work well. If you must have a white, look for a rich California Chardonnay or a white Rhone blend.
“When all else fails, bubbles is where I turn,” says Stover. “One of my favorites, especially for ham, is the Tedeschi Vineyards 'Hula O Maui' Sparkling Pineapple Brut from Maui, Hawaii. What better way to enjoy Easter/Passover dinner than with a glass of bubbly pineapple along with roasted ham.”

Images via Flickr (creative commons) by  Nikchick and L.Richarz respectively