NOTE: I have several irons in the fire when it comes to wine writing. I am about to write my third column for Madison Magazine, a publication of the Anderson Herald-Bulletin. The magazine is a quarterly publication aimed at higher incomme residents in Madison County. Below is the second column I wrote for them, published in November.

The holiday season is jammed with office parties, family gatherings, and friends celebrating the season.

While much is written about wine and food pairings for the main course, wine is an enjoyable cocktail or aperitif. Many people struggle pairing wine with appetizers and hors d’ oeuvres far more than they do counting on the old red-with-beef and white-with-chicken axiom.

There are some rules to making wine your cocktail of choice. There is also the practical matter of serving two or three different bottles of wine instead of trying to stock a full bar for your guests.

Let’s start with easy to match white wine pairings. You want a lighter style white wine that is easy to sip, low in alcohol, and still pairs with the goodies. To really impress your guests, match up a nice semi-sweet Chenin Blanc with goat cheese.
Most wine shops usually carry a Chenin Blanc. But if you want to do something special seek out a bottle of French Vouvray. The French treatment of Chenin Blanc comes in a dry, semi-dry, and sweeter style. Look for “sec” or “demi-sec” on the label. There are lots of options on the goat cheese. I like the soft, funky ones which guests can spread on a plain cocktail cracker.

Buy the sweeter version of the Vouvray and serve it with “Pur chevre” which is 100 percent French goat’s milk cheese. The pairing has a “ying and yang” effect which will impress your guests. There is something about the light sweet wine and the earthy goat cheese that makes a perfect pairing! You will be the hors d oeuvres/wine maven in your neighborhood.

If you’re more jingoistic in your approach to wine and insist on buying U.S. juice, here is another great one. Seek out a nice California Sauvignon Blanc. You’re going to want a wine with that nice lemon, grapefruit taste and some zing on the finish. Try Provenance Sauv Blanc that is widely distributed in Central Indiana at about $15-$18 a bottle.

There are many Sauv Blancs on most wine shop shelves. Just ask your favorite wine shop sales person for one that isn’t as acidic or “grassy” as most New Zealand bottlings.

And here is your treat to pair with that white wine. Using a plain cocktail cracker, place a nice piece of smoked salmon, a little dollop of sour cream seasoned with dill. Then top it off with a few capers and your guests are sure to be all smiles.
Pinot Noir is always a great cocktail red wine and pairs with almost any party snack. I wrote about several really nice Pinot options in the first issue of Madison Magazine.

I’d recommend staying away from the bigger red varietals like Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel, and even Merlot. They really coat the palate and they are usually high in alcohol. Try a nice Spanish Tempranillo which is smooth and lighter in style. French Cotes do Rhone wines are also a fantastic option featuring the versatile Grenache grape. Many Argentinian Malbecs would work as a cocktail as well.

These milder red wines work great with meat balls, salsa, and bolder foods. These food flavors normally call for a bigger wine but keep in mind you’re looking for lower alcohol and something the guest can enjoy sipping throughout the festivities.
My absolute favorite red wine pairing is chocolate. Nice chocolates and delightful truffles are easy to find. Don’t rely on those on grocery shelves, though. There are many specialty shops doing handmade truffles including right here in Madison County.

Some of the basic rules of pairing chocolate with wine mirror those with regular meals. Chocolates or chocolate desserts/goodies at the 60 percent cacao level are going to pair best with the lighter style red wines. When approaching the 70 percent cacao level in your chocolate, you should move to a Zinfandel or Syrah for a great pairing. I’d also recommend you stay with dark chocolates for all your wine pairings instead of milk chocolate.

The best idea is buy some wine, cheese, and chocolate and try the combinations out.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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