Pro Choices

Expert advice on holiday food and wine pairings

Three Feathers Estate & Vineyard holiday table.##Photo provided by Three Feathers Estate & Vineyard
Elephants Delicatessen holiday charcuterie & cheese tray.##Photo provided by Elephants Delicatessen

By Jessica Zimmer

The holiday season is an opportunity to showcase new and perennial favorites at special dinners, holiday parties and family gatherings. To ensure your chosen bottles arrive on time and in the best condition, place your shipped and pick-up orders soon. Consult your favorite caterers, restaurants and wine stores for suggestions. Read on to learn tips from some of Oregon’s pros.

“Local wineries visit when they’re in Portland to showcase new vintages and products. Customers who haven’t traveled to wine regions recently can look to us for what’s coming next,” said Travis Motter, co-owner of The Portland Bottle Shop, a beer, cider and wine bottle shop.

Motter encourages hosts to include at least one traditional choice, like an Oregon Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, a sparkling wine for toasts and appetizers, and one or two unconventional selections.

Two of Motter’s favorites are an Auxerrois from Shiba Wichern Cellars and Lady Hill Winery’s Cuvée Etienne Lucier, a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet. “Another idea is sharing a few Pinot Noirs from different Oregon appellations, each with different flavor profiles. The host can play sommelier,” said Motter.

Always start with food

When planning a holiday menu, remember that wine is more flexible than food. A host serving mainly small bites should follow these suggestions when selecting wines.

“Low alcohol, highly acidic white wines are great because they go with creamy, crispy and spicy hors d’oeuvres. You want to avoid wines that are esoteric, like light-bodied red wines with high acidity or big, tannic time bombs,” said Nicolas Doughty, food and beverage director for Portland’s Elephants Delicatessen.
Doughty encourages hosts to consider pairing a white wine with cold appetizers, like meats and cheeses on a charcuterie board. His pick is Ovum Wine’s “Big Salt,” described as capturing a day at the beach in a bottle.

“Then think of a playful red, like Portland-based Division-Villages’ Béton, a ‘kitchen sink’ blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay and Pinot Noir. I also like Ayres Vineyard & Winery Perspective Pinot Noir, from the Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge. It tastes of cherry and plum, with notes of cinnamon and dried tobacco,” said Doughty.

“We educate our servers with a tasting of the wines included in our holiday meals so everyone learns the stories and places behind the wines,” said Doughty.

Winemakers share recipes and inside information

Cathedral Ridge Winery provides pre-printed recipes matched with holiday wine collections including their “Ho, Ho, Ho Bordeaux! package.” This six-pack contains the winery’s Cabernet Franc Reserve, Malbec Reserve, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet/Merlot blend and “The Last Best Wife” Petit Verdot.
“People can also call and tell us what they’re cooking so we can make suggestions on which wines will work,” said Robb Bell, Cathedral Ridge’s cellar master and owner.

Cathedral Ridge also allows winery guests a chance to sample a 10-to-15-year-old library wine every day. “One reason we share a distinguished, aged wine is so guests learn through tasting. That way they understand the power and value of sharing a jewel today and 10 years from now,” said Bell.

Brianne Day, winemaker and owner of Day Wines, recommends her 2021 “Infinite Air Castles,” a Willamette Valley blend of Dolcetto and Gamay. “This is a rosy, fruity wine with notes of strawberries and grilled plums. I also recommend the 2021 “100 Years a Lady,” a Pinot Meunier primarily from Left Coast Estate in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA. It tastes of strawberry and rose, with tart cherry and flint-like stone on the palate,” said Day.

Wayne Bailey, owner and winemaker at McMinnville’s Youngberg Hill Winery says he relies on Bailey Family Chardonnay during the holidays. “This year, we’re releasing our 2019 vintage with minerality and ‘wet stone’ characteristics resulting from a cooler ripening season. We let the grapes hang until October that year,” said Bailey.

Bailey added that sparkling wine, like the 2020 Youngberg Hill Extended Triage Sparkling, is an excellent choice for New Year’s. “This wine tastes of so many fruits, including lemon, green apple and grilled pineapple, finishing with a hint of brioche,” said Bailey.

Bailey’s tip for hosts: serve white wines warmer than expected, at 55° rather than 40°. “That’ll make them much more approachable, rather than icy and biting. It’s also a good idea to serve red wines at 65° rather than 75°. Don’t let reds warm up in the kitchen. Bring them out of the cellar right before the meal,” advises Bailey.

Hosts seeking a wine that “packs a punch” and goes well with a variety of dishes, from poultry to seafood, should consider Pinot Gris.

“Our 2021 Pinot Gris is full-bodied, crisp and fruity, excellent on its own or paired with a starter, entrée or dessert. This wine is a showstopper,” said Elise Prudhomme, partner and marketing director at Three Feathers Estate & Vineyard in Hillsboro.

Prudhomme also recommends Pinot POP, a lightly sparkling red wine from the Pommard clone of Pinot Noir, and the Three Feathers 2018 Reserve 667 Oregon Pinot Noir. “Pinot POP goes well with everything, from fruit salad to BBQ and beyond. Reserve 667, with peppery notes of deep cherry and blackberry pairs well with more intense foods, such as rabbit pâté and dark chocolate,” said Prudhomme.

Mark Vlossak, founder, winemaker and president of St. Innocent Winery, has unique advice: become familiar with a single vineyard when choosing holiday wines.

He is a fan of Freedom Hill Vineyard, located in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range northwest of Monmouth. “This vineyard is far west and gets a lot of heat rising from the low elevations to the east. In the evening, the cold winds come in off the coast into the Valley. This produces beautifully structured wines with ripe fruit. I’ve been making wine from grapes grown in this vineyard since 1992,” said Vlossak.

Because the vineyard has very old ocean-floor soils, wines made from grapes grown here express minerality. St. Innocent handles the wine minimally, fermenting it with indigenous yeast in very old barrels. “The 2019 Chardonnay Freedom Hill Vineyard has lovely peach-pear fruit. It is a great choice for rich flavors and vegetarian dishes,” said Vlossak. He also recommends the 2018 Pinot Noir Freedom Hill Vineyard. Its structure pairs well with red meats. “We joke that this is a Pinot Noir vineyard for Cabernet lovers.”

“St. Innocent’s 2022 Pinot Blanc Freedom Hill Vineyard is also a good choice, especially with appetizers and shellfish. It has fall fruit flavors and saline minerality,” said Vlossak.

Another favorite choice is the 2020 Crémant d’Innocènt sparkling wine, made from Pinot Blanc grown at Freedom Hill. Explains Vlossak, “It’s the perfect way to start a party. A sparkling wine tells everyone, ‘We’re going to have a good time tonight.’”

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable