Holidays are best times to enjoy New York wines

November 16, 2012

Now is the time for New York wines to shine.

“When it comes to the holiday season, they are the best choice, no question about it,” says certified sommelier Holly Howell, the Democrat and Chronicle’s wine columnist.


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Howell says cool-climate wines such as New York’s bring the same thing to the table that cranberry sauce does for a typical Thanksgiving meal: fruitiness and acidity. “Food needs tartness (for you) to really be able to taste it.”

Those wines “make your mouth water … and clean off everything on your tongue,” preparing you to take the next sip or bite, explains Lorraine Hems, a lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of International Hospitality and Service Innovation.

Howell says she urges people to put a red, a white and a rosé on the Thanksgiving table, “but go for the acidity” in all of them. Also, “you can drink sparkling wines from appetizers through dessert. It’s hard to find a food that doesn’t go with sparkling wine.”

Hems says to serve dry wines first and then go to sweeter ones. If you do it the other way around — drink, for example, a sweet Riesling and then go to a dry red wine — the red will taste “out of balance, too dry and acidic,” she says.


Even if you choose just New York wines, the sheer number can confuse shoppers. But pairing wine with food is not as hard as some people think.

“All too often, people are intimidated for no good reason,” says Ryan Baldick, tasting room coordinator for the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua. So he starts with this reminder: “The first rule of pairing is to like the wine.”

Baldick says to match the body of the wine with the body of the meal. To understand that, Baldick offers a comparison to milk: Skim milk is light-bodied, 2 percent is medium-bodied and whole milk is heavy-bodied. He considers turkey and ham to be medium-bodied foods.

Cooking methods also must be considered, says Hems. Turkey that’s been smoked or deep-fried in peanut oil “needs something less delicate” than what you pair with roast turkey.

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Among the most popular recommendations for Thanksgiving wines are Gewürztraminer and Riesling, both white wines, and Pinot noir, a red wine. Traminette, a Cornell-developed hybrid grape that was bred from Gewürztraminer, is often recommended, as well.

“I like to suggest ... versatile wines with good acidity for meals that have so many different flavors, with a number of veggies, sauces, etc.,” says Dave Peterson, chief executive officer of Swedish Hill, Goose Watch and Penguin Bay wineries. “Rieslings, Gewürzs and aromatic whites in general fit this profile better than oaky Chardonnays or tannic reds. My red suggestions usually go in the less tannic direction, again with good fruit.”

Gewürztraminer and Pinot noir “pair phenomenally with this season’s kind of food,” Baldick says, while “Riesling is one of the best food-pairing wines out there.”

Red adventure

But part of the fun of pairing is to be adventurous, he says. Red wine fans might like to try something like a Dornfelder or a Gamay noir, which are “slightly different and will get people talking.”

“I’ve recommended a (Fulkerson Winery) Dornfielder. … That’s a very different grape,” Hems agrees. She described the flavor as “almost Beaujolais-like,” a French wine that’s often recommended as a pairing with Thanksgiving meals.

Red wine fans also might like Lemberger, which “can have a smoky character,” or Cabernet Franc-Lemberger blends, Hems says. Among hybrid grape wines, she recommends Chambourcin, also for its smoky nature.

Jason Wallace, co-owner of Hollywood Wine and Spirits and The Malt and Market on Monroe Avenue, recommends Baco Noir by Bully Hill Vineyards or Castel Grisch Winery, which feature fruit aromas and peppery spice flavors.

Pairing flavors

A wine should complement or contrast with a meal’s flavors. For example, white wines with pineapple flavors, such as Lucas Vineyards’ Miss Chevious, recommended by Baldick, or Bully Hill’s Ravat 51, recommended by Wallace, would pair well with ham, which often is cooked with pineapple.

Fruity Cayuga White wines or blends, such as Lakewood’s Carpe Vinum, can pair well with Thanksgiving meals, too, Hems says.

Beautiful rosé

For rosé wines, choose one “that has a little more depth” than the average rosé, such as Chateau Lafayette Reneau Winery’s Emperor’s Blush, “a real crowd pleaser” that’s a hybrid grape blend, or its Pinot Noir Blanc, which is a little bit drier, Hems says. She also likes McGregor’s, Anthony Road’s and Hosmer’s rosés.

“I love dry rosés with ham. It’s just a beautiful combination,” Howell says. Besides those Hems mentions, Howell likes Casa Larga Vineyards’ Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon (“definitely a European-style wine”) and rosés from Sheldrake Point Winery, Ravines Wine Cellars and Zugibe Vineyards.

And don’t forget about wines made from other fruits, Baldick says. He recommends Earle Estates Cherry Charisma, a blend of honey mead and cherry wine, while Wallace suggests Montezuma Winery’s Cranberry Bog or Arbor Hill Winery’s Mrs. Brahm’s Very Cranberry.

Other choices

For a cheese course, Baldick recommends late-harvest or dessert wines or sparkling wines that “complement or contrast with the cheese.” Suggested pairings also include port and blue cheese or aged Riesling with Camembert or Brie.

The key to pairing wine with desserts is to choose one that is “as sweet as, if not sweeter, than dessert,” Howell says.

Hems recommends Sheldrake Point Winery’s Riesling Ice Wine. “It’s one of the best I’ve ever had,” she said.

What if, despite all your care, you don’t like the way the wine tastes with the food?

“A bad pairing is not going to hurt you,” Baldick says. You still have good food and good wine. Just enjoy them separately.