Continuing the run-up to the release of the spring issue of Fine Lifestyles Regina, here’s “The Willetts on Wine,” the wine column penned by my wife, Margaret Anne, and myself, from winter issue of FLR, in which it premiered. Eventually there’ll be a dedicated Willetts on Wine website to replace the old Blogger blog we haven’t updated in forever. But for now…enjoy!
It seems like cooking dinner these days is a high-wire balancing act. You’re expected to perfectly balance protein, veggies and carbohydrates while also serving up fresh (preferably local) ingredients, delectable tastes, and tantalizing textures.
Throw in the expectation of a perfect wine match, and the whole act may end in disaster (there’s no safety net for dinner-party hosts!).
If your personal knowledge of wine is limited to the fact that some of it is red and some of it is white, then maybe it’s time you got some expert advice.
There are lots of wine reference books, but one of our favorites is Harmony on the Plate by Shari Darling (no, really, that’s her name!). Her advice can be summed up by two basic tips, either of which can lead to an excellent food/wine match: 1) match like flavours with like (but make sure the wine’s flavor characteristics are stronger than the food’s), or 2) when in doubt, remember that opposites attract.
Sometimes, though, you don’t have the time or energy to worry about the perfect match. When we feel that way, we reach for one of our reliable standbys. If we’re in the mood for a white, that’s likely to be a Viognier. The floral aromas and fruity peach and apricot flavors marry well with almost any food, and Viogniers are much easier to find than they once were. Our go-to choice? The Clay Station Viognier from the Lodi foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada.
On the lighter end, check out Rieslings. Their crisp taste and light body make them good matches with a variety of foods, from fish to fowl to smoked pork. They can even go well with strongly flavored and scented spicy foods with lots of acid and heat.
While you can find Rieslings from Australia, the U.S. and Canada, start with wines from the country most famous for the variety, Germany. Even if you find their wines too sweet for your taste when drunk alone, you may find they’re just the thing to match with food.
For a red, we more and more often turn to the Spanish section of the liquor store. Many Spanish wines feature a great balance of fruit and earthiness that goes well with the rich, flavorful cuts of meat we place on our plates today. You’ll find many of the vintners have already aged the wine for you, so that you can pick up a 2001 vintage right off the shelf. The Marqués de Cáceres reds, from Crianza to Reserva to Gran Reserva, are ready to go when you are.
With the festive season approaching, the need to find a great wine to match great food will grow. Surely, with all the varied flavours at the Christmas table—especially that scrumptious turkey!—a big Chardonnay or maybe one of those Rieslings we just recommended would be the way to go?
Our advice? Forget everything we just said. Holiday flavours are so complex that matching them is a terrific challenge. Many a fine bottle of wine has crashed and burned alongside our turkey or ham dinners.
But don’t give up! There is a grape that offers a way out of the holiday wine-matching dilemma: the finicky, hard-to-produce heartbreak grape known as Pinot Noir. The challenge here is finding a Pinot that tastes like it’s worth the money.
Here are two choices to consider, both fruit-forward New World-style wines: Greg Norman’s Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, California, and the Prospect Pinot from the Okanagan. As a bonus, both will also go great with salmon if you’re planning a non-traditional Christmas dinner.
Right after Christmas, of course, comes New Year’s. Champagne, Cava, Sekt…whatever you call it, sparkling wine is a tradition well worth keeping as the old year gives way to the new. Although our recommendation is French, it’s not Champagne: it’s the Saint Odile Cremant from Alsace. Not as hard on the holiday-depleted wallet, and with many more nuances of toasty yeast and fresh lemon than its counterparts at this price point can boast.
Try it! And not just on its own: its fizzy freshness effectively counters the typically salty seasoning of New Year’s appetizers. It even goes with salt and vinegar potato chips!
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get your high-wire food-and-wine act together, at the holidays or any other time. There’s more wonderful wine available in Regina than ever before, something for every taste, every budget—and every recipe you attempt.
And with every issue of Fine Lifestyles Regina, we’ll be here to point you toward more of it.
Edward and Margaret Anne Willett drink wine, buy wine, taste wine, write about wine, conduct wine tastings, belong to three different wine clubs, and have more corkscrews than they can count.
Our readers recommend…
Terre Dei Volsci Velletri Rosso Riserva
A crackling fire, a good book and a glass of wine make Regina’s cold winter nights enjoyable. Terre Dei Volsci Velletri Rosso Riserva is an Italian blend of Cesanese, Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Merlot grapes. It has a rich, dark colour, with complex tastes and a good nose (more Merlot than anything else.) Good by itself, it also complements a roast, steaks, lasagne, or spaghetti with a rich red sauce. Regina’s new Willow Park Wines & Spirits will special-order it from Alberta.
Leah McDonald is a Regina schoolteacher and past president of the German Wine Society.
Ex Nihilo Riesling
The Okanagan creates great wines! Two Okanagan Rieslings won gold medals at recent Riesling Du Monde competitions. The judges’ comments: “Beautiful colour, rich aromas and superb complexity, a Riesling of pleasure!” Even more of a pleasure: you can actually purchase one of these winners, the Ex Nihilo 2007 Riesling, here in Saskatchewan. This fall, I tasted the 2006 and 2007 vintages at the Ex Nihilo Winery. I preferred the 2006; the 2007 needs more time in the bottle.
Charles Eisbrenner is a Regina IT consultant, gourmet cook, and passionate oenophile.