GO-TO ADVICE FOR WINNING WINES AND COCKTAILS
My friends, here we are again. Another year has flown by and we are staring down the barrel of the holiday season. So many presents to buy and wrap, so many meals to plan and prepare… It can be daunting, especially without the benefits of a festive tipple. But what should we drink? Here are a few tips to get you in the holiday spirit:
Don’t pick something expected
If Aunt Jenny loves it, Cousin Mary hates it. Try to find a crowd-pleaser. Sauvignon blanc is an excellent choice for holiday meals: It’s a great for a cocktail wine, and it’s perfect to cut the richness of dark-meat turkey yet light enough to pair with oyster stuffing. Instead of a wine from New Zealand, choose Sancerre, a classic style from northern France that is said to be “the sommelier’s helper” because it goes with everything — unlike Cousin Mary. Or try a fume blanc from Washington state. Barnard Griffin makes a delicious one, and it won’t break the bank.
Always have a solid “utility” red wine
It is imperative to have a red wine that is neither too heavy nor too light. The classic option would be pinot noir, but we want to make sure no one feels left out. And let’s face it: Pinot can be a divisive wine. Skip the pinot problem by pouring a Rioja. Primarily made from the Tempranillo grape in Spain, this varietal is medium-bodied and fairly acidic, with a delicious aroma of tart cherries and dried autumn leaves. It’s perfect with poultry and ham, and even pairs well with beef or lamb.
Have a big, bold option
Even if you are serving delicate cucumber sandwiches, someone will inevitably want a big, bold red wine like cabernet or zinfandel. Offer something a little different: syrah — dark and inky, with rich, velvety aromas of dark fruit, smoked meat and freshly cracked black pepper. Choose something from California’s Central Coast, like a bottle by Melville Vineyards or Qupé. Or turn to producers from Washington state, including labels Owen Roe and L’ Ecole No. 41. If you’re feeling adventurous, go old-school French with Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe and Domaine du Vieux Lazeret, long considered two of the finest. Just make sure to bring your wallet — or, better yet, somebody else’s if you choose the French. It is, after all, the holiday season. Live a little.
Have a pre-made, batch cocktail
Choose something that you would only serve once a year. Most people have very strong feelings about eggnog: They love it or hate it. Some believe eggnog must be cooked like a custard, while others argue it should never be heated. Don’t spend your holiday with your uncles brawling over the punch bowl. Instead, I suggest a classic milk punch. It’s quick, easy and the beverage equivalent of a blanket knitted by your grandmother.
Build a relationship with a professional
The Lowcountry is home to some really wonderful wine nerds, cork dorks and bottle jockeys. Take some time to introduce yourself. We are happy to help. It’s our favorite thing. By starting a dialogue, you can diminish your frustration level when shopping for a daily drinker, or for the next truly amazing dinner party gift. The conversation doesn’t have to be formal or arduous. It would be my pleasure to make the world of wine less intimidating and a lot more fun.
- Half-gallon whole milk
- Half-gallon heavy whipping cream
- 1 quart cinnamon simple syrup (directions below)
- 1 750ml-bottle of Denizen 8-yr.-old rum
To make the cinnamon simple syrup: Bring 1 pint of water to a boil, and then stir in 2 cups of granulated sugar. Add 6 heaping tablespoons of cinnamon and remove from heat. Cool for an hour, uncovered, in the refrigerator.
To make the milk punch: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and whisk thoroughly. Chill in the refrigerator. Serve in chilled glasses or over ice. Garnish with fresh nutmeg. You can substitute bourbon or rye if you wish. I prefer the round, vanilla tones of the Denizen rum. And yes, you could just use a gallon of half-and-half.
Sommelier Thaddeus Miller captains the bar at FARM in Old Town Bluffton five nights a week. He also coordinates monthly wine tastings and wine dinners, where everything served is available for sale. For more information, go to farmbluffton.com.