Bring out Your Best Wine (And Food) for the Holiday

Each year, I get the same question: “Doc, which wine should I buy for my holiday dinner?”

The answer isn’t so simple. But I’m going to let you in on a secret – the traditional wine pairing rules are meant to be broken.

There’s a lot of science behind picking which wine to go with which meal, but I’ve gotten it down to three tried-and-true tips that will help you find the best wine to make your holiday meal complete.

Doc Rule No. 1: Focus on your taste and what you imagine it tastes like.

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And every single time, I start my tastings with this simple thought… my opening line, which is also on the back of my Eifrig Cabernet label: “The wine tastes like you imagine it tastes.”

If you follow this one rule, you’ll take most of the worry out of picking a wine. That’s because all you need to do is “own” your taste buds. Commit to picking a wine, try it with a food, and be honest with yourself. Does it satisfy, is it heavenly, or is it just so-so?

By the way, when you blindfold them, most people have only a 50-50 chance of telling the difference between a room-temperature white and a red. So stop worrying…

Once you recognize that it’s your taste buds that matter most, focusing on trying to please ’em won’t take that long and you’ll learn how to choose the perfect wine.

Doc Rule No. 2: Make a guess as to how much tannins are in the wine. Pair heavy tannins with fattier, meatier meals.

White wines typically don’t contain much tannins. However, some whites that age in barrels instead of stainless-steel tanks pick up low levels of tannins from the wood. That’s why oaked chardonnays typically have a fuller mouthfeel and are a bit more acidic than unoaked.

And if you pair white wine with fish, a touch of acid (even if it’s from the wood tannins) makes the fish taste less “fishy.” That’s because the acids cause a chemical reaction with molecules in the fish called amines. The amines are what make fish smell fishy. Acids from white wines bring out the other flavors of the fish as well. And lemon acid does the same thing… It complements the fish.

Harvey Steiman, editor at large of Wine Spectator, recently wrote that a good approach when pairing wines is to match the acidity of the wine with the acidity of the dish. That’s because you don’t want the acidity of the food to overpower the wine. Acidic wines feel crisp, fresh, and tart.

Remember, white wines can be acidic as well.

Some foods, like chicken and pork, can go with either white or red depending on how they’re prepared. Generally, I suggest a white wine for either, and maybe a rosé or light red, depending on the overall flavor.

And remember that with red wines, the lighter the wine color, the lower the tannins. That’s why there’s quite a spectrum. Fatty foods like steak require heavy tannin reds like cabernets and merlots. Meanwhile, light to moderate fatty foods like salmon or pork can pair well with a light red like a pinot or Chianti.

Doc Rule No. 3: Pair sweet with spicy.

Sweeter wines, especially whites like riesling, tend to pair better with spicier foods…

That’s because sweeter wines help coat your tongue, which is likely burning from the spice. Keep in mind, lower alcohol wines, like riesling and moscato, are also gentler on your palate as you enjoy spicy foods. Wine Folly has a handy reference of wines by alcohol content right here.

Remember… The best part of learning about wine is trying and discovering what you like!

The most important thing is that the value of wine tasting lies with you, the individual taster. Spending hundreds of dollars on a “good” bottle of wine doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it (unless it’s mine of course).

And when considering your pairing, don’t forget to check the Dirty Dozen list to make sure you spend your money wisely on the right produce.

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a list of their findings for foods that are most contaminated by pesticides. The top 12 offenders receive the label of the “Dirty Dozen.”

At the top of the 2019 list: Strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, and grapes. But holiday staples like potatoes, pears, and celery (for your stuffing!) are all on the list too. Check it out here.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to use the Dirty Dozen list to help me shop… If a fruit or veggie is on the Dirty Dozen, I’ll just buy the organic version. If it’s on the “clean” list, I save a few bucks and skip the organic offerings.

So don’t stop buying these foods… just try and buy the organic kinds. Then pop open some wine and have a healthy, happy holiday.

Editor’s note: Our offices are closed for the Christmas holiday this Tuesday and Wednesday. Expect your next Health & Wealth Bulletin issue on Thursday, December 26.

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Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
December 23, 2019