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Published: Tuesday, 3/22/2005

Wines for holiday dinners

There's still ample time to pick out a bottle or two of wine for Easter dinner, and much more time for finding a Passover wine that is both good wine and kosher.

Look for Passover and Orthodox Easter suggestions late next month. (Passover begins April 24. Orthodox Easter is May 1.) Today, we look at wines for Easter of the Western church, which is celebrated Sunday.

What's the special menu? That's the first question as you think through the offerings on the wine retailer's shelves, looking for a wine that will fit comfortably into a special dinner. A baked ham centerpiece, for instance, will wipe out a delicate white - a verdicchio, say - while an aglianico, for instance, will very nearly do to the sweet scented ham what the ham will do to the verdicchio.

If you have an in-memory cellar, go by your own instinct; you're not obliged to follow a writer's rule of thumb. A German kabinett, a white, will flatter a slice of ham as well as a spoonful of rich goose, chicken, or turkey stuffing.

Where white wine demands to be at least considered, though, is with the meat of the fowl: Think of a viscous, buttery California chardonnay; I would still go with the riesling, German or domestic; a Lake Erie riesling from Firelands or Chalet Debonne will fit in as if made for the role.

Occasionally, I've been asked about a poached North Atlantic fillet of salmon or a great stuffed lake trout, French style, with a pungent dill sauce; biblically valid piece de resistance, it may at first seem far out of the ordinary, but in reality it's well able to dominate a grand dinner. For this, I'd want a bottle from Burgundy, a puligny or chassagne montrachet (or simply a montrachet, if I could afford it).

ONE OF THE MOST illuminating observations about regional characteristics I've ever heard was a winemaker's explanation of the resemblance between californians and chileans. If the northern hemisphere, he said, were folded over along the equator, California would lie atop of Chile, and each would make wines alike and akin to one another - as they do.

AND CONSOLIDATION is the big story in the contemporary world of wine: giant corporations sweeping up small wineries, boutique wines, labels that enjoy customer loyalties. Even as you read, the familiar ground beneath your feet if you've been a wine customer for 20 to 25 years is eroding.

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