Photo on Unsplash
By Liz Crowe
If you’re reading this…congratulations! You deserve a pat on the back — or, dare I say, a drink.
It’s been a long nine months. If you’re like me, you’ve gone through several stages of grief and/or semi-acceptance since March 16, 2020. Mine look like this: 1) Terror, 2) More terror, 3) Uncertainty, 4) Boredom, 5) Frustration, and 6) Ongoing ennui.
Each of these stages correlated to a level of alcohol consumption that left my wine cellar completely empty and my tolerance level even higher than before — which is saying something that I probably shouldn’t admit. But there it is.
Now, here we are, facing the end of the Year That Was Like That Curse About Living In Interesting Times. And it’s time to think about the holidays — food, drinks, Zooming with your daughter on Christmas Day because she lives in Toronto for grad school and can’t cross the border. You know, the usual.
I’m pondering something new for a holiday meal. There was this experiment we undertook one year when the Crowe House went all vegetarian for health reasons, but managed we to end it by December for other obvious reasons. I’m thinking about this stage in our family diet again, mainly because I’m bored with the usual holiday meal fare, and there’s the fact that two members of the Crowe Murder (i.e. spawn) will not be at the table this year. I won’t need to make as huge a repast. So why not change it up?
And because I’m me, I’m also pondering how to match up things like cranberry brie bites, holiday roasted cauliflower, mushroom risotto, roasted spicy squash, and smashed Brussels sprouts with a decent beer and wine list. As for cocktails, well, drink some good bourbon. That’s pretty much my whole advice.
As we’ve already discussed, pairing wine or beer with food is a purely subjective exercise, but if you like following rules based on chemistry and how your own palate reacts to certain flavors and tastes, I’ve got a few suggestions for you.
By way of a quick review: If you like to think about the wine or beer as something that matches your food, you’ll want to keep them of the same robustness. In other words, if you’re going with a strong flavor in your food, then pairing with something similar is best. The other way to pair is to think in terms of opposites — matching by finding something that will complement a dish by providing a contrast or balance.
Using the menu I listed above, let’s start with the cranberry brie bites. Brie, the cheese given as tribute to French kings, is a combination of nutty, earthy, grassy, and mushroomy flavors. The recipe I found calls for puff pastry and cranberry sauce, which will add a sharpness/tartness and some breadiness to the whole thing. So I’m thinking of offering either a bubbly Moscato wine or a nice, crisp Czech Pilsner by way of providing contrast. To pair in a more congruent fashion, I’d choose a Shiraz wine or a English Pale Ale (not an American IPA), neither of which will overwhelm the many flavors of this appetizer but will provide a nice, smooth partnering sensation.
As for my holiday roasted cauliflower, if I keep it less spicy, I’m going to offer something with stone fruit or tropical backbone and acidity, like a dry Chenin Blanc wine, or a well-executed hazy IPA, which will have that “citrusy” note as a nice complement. If I decide to spice up my Roasty Cauli, I’ll reach for a Gewurztraminer, a German style with residual sugar to counterbalance the spice. A light pear cider will do the same on the beer side.
If I’m determined to ensure that my guests keep matching courses to booze, I’ll definitely want to pull out a smoked porter for the mushroom risotto. The richness of a dish like that demands something equally hearty and powerful. All that umami — yum! An earthy Pinot noir would be ideal as well.
Dishes like the spicy acorn squash I’m contemplating really do best with something contrasting that will help you enjoy the best in both. A solid American IPA is a classic pairing with spicy food, while an oaked California chardonnay or even bubbly Champagne works great on the wine side. This dish’s spice is of the Indian variety, so there’s a sweetness in the cardamom, ginger, and coriander, which means I want to be a bit more specific with my drink offerings. For a beer I’ll offer up a well-balanced amber ale, and the wine option will be a Grüner Veltliner, an Austrian version of my favorite white, Sauvignon Blanc, but with a lime and pepperiness that is perfect for the dish.
Finally, for the smashed Brussels sprouts, we’ll quaff a classic dry Irish stout, the creamy mouthfeel of which will be a lovely complement to the dish. The wine option will be a dry Chablis, because it won’t conflict with the Brussel-sprouty-ness of it. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Oh, and for dessert we’re going to skip the heavy pies and cakes. Instead, I’m going to create an English-style fruit and cheese board and serve it up with some of my new favorite wine styles — the fortified ones. Port, sherry, madeira, marsala, and even perhaps a good ice wine, if I can find one, would be a lovely way to end a good veggie meal. A “fortified” wine is something that’s had a distilled spirit (usually brandy) added to it. It results in a rich dark-red-to-brown beverage that’s stone-fruit rich (I would say “pruney,” but that sounds gross and it’s not) and a perfect complement to some rich, blue, or (dare I say) stinky cheeses. Ice wine is strong not from the addition of brandy, but because the grapes used to make it were frozen on the vine, which results in a super-sweet yet strong beverage that is perfect with fruit and cheese.
Leave it to 2020 to force me down a holiday vegetarian road, am I right? But in the scheme of things, it feels like a good way to end one year that felt like it would never end, while welcoming in 2021. And we can always grill a steak for New Year’s Eve.
Amazon best-selling author, mom of three, brewery founder, beer and wine consultant, and avid sports fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales, public relations, and fundraising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse, all of which provide ongoing idea fodder for novels and other projects. She helped found and is the current president of Fermenta Michigan, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and employment of women in the fermented industries.
http://www.facebook.com/lizcroweauthor (fan page)