Wine Pairings for Home for the Holidays #SundaySupper

This week’s #SundaySupper theme “Home for the Holidays”, and is all about holiday traditions. Americans are such a diverse people.  As such, we have diverse holiday traditions that reflect our multitude of heritages. I prefer to focus on the common threads that run through the our diverse national fabric.  Among those common threads are family and tradition, and that’s  #SundaySupper movement is all about.

Our family tradition is to gather on Christmas Eve for our holiday meal and opening gifts (it used to be one gift when I was a kid, and when my kids were small – since we all adults now, and getting together can be like herding cats, we just open all the gifts on Christmas Eve). We’ve enjoyed Prime Rib, the last couple of years, but don’t really have a long-standing standard holiday meal. I guess, it’s more about getting together than what we eat.

Wine Lights Candles

Image courtesy of

For this week’s “Home for the Holidays” theme, as best as I can, my wine pairing recommendations will reflect our diversity.  Aside from wanting to make my wine pairing recommendations congruent with this week’s theme, my reason for doing so also reflects some pragmatic food and wine pairing advice…that is pair the foods of a place with the wines of that place (Spanish wines with Spanish food, German wine with German food, etc).The flavors of food and wines that have “grown up” together over centuries (at least primarily in the case of the European “Old World” countries) are almost always a natural match. So where I could readily discern a heritage of the dish, my wine pairing recommendation(s) will be for a wine from that country. Of course, there are exceptions, but keeping this guideline in mind is a great place to start.

Here is this week’s stellar line-up of dishes.  My wine pairing recommendations are italicized.


Pair these breakfast dishes (except the coffee cake) with sparkling wine. Nothing like adding some sparkle to your morning to start the day!.  Look for Scharffenberger Brut Excellence, a California sparkling wine from Mendocino County.  It’s a blend of Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir with a lovely red fruit, apple, citrus and a touch of honey character.  

Pair the coffee cake with the Broadbent 10 year Malmsey Madeira. One of the things I appreciate about Madeira is that it’s relatively indestructible.  Once opened, it will keep for at least 6 months.  It’s a great dessert wine to keep on hand because it has a backbone of natural acidity.  It a great match for fruitcake, or rich desserts made with cream or chocolate. Or it can be the dessert in and of itself (If you have a sweet tooth, Madeira can satisfy it, and it has few calories too most other dessert choices!;-) 

Appetizers & Snacks

Pair these dishes with the Scharffenberger Brut Excellence

Main Dishes and Sides

Pair this dishes with a white Rhone blend. What’s great about blends is that the combination of grape varietals creates vinous synergy – a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. Look for the 2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc. It’s a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. It’s a crisp and aromatic wine with honeysuckle and stone fruit aromas that follow onto the palate. It also has very good acidity and an appealing minerality that make it versatile food partner.

Pair the following dishes with the 2011 Burgáns Albariño Rias Baixas a crisp, fresh food-friendly white wine from Spain with a crisp apple, apricot and peach character. 

Pair these dishes with Gruner Vetliner (Groo-ner Velt-Leen-er), the primary white grape variety of Austria.  It is typically medium-bodied, high-acid mineral driven wine that is very food friendly.  Look for the 2011 Laurenz V. Singing Gruner Veltliner. 

Pair these dishes with Sangiovese (that is if you prefer wine over the delightful Martinis;-). I recommend the 2010 La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano. It’s a “Super-Tuscan blend of 85% Sangiovese, 5% Syrah, 5% Alicante, 2% Colorino and 3% Ciliegiolo.  It shows a wonderful mixed berry, and spice character with a bit of smoky tobacco, and licorice aromas. 

Pair this dish with the Scharffenberger Brut Excellence sparkling wine:

Pair these dishes with Torrontes, a white Argentine wine grape variety that produces delightful, spicy, perfumed wines.  Look for the 2011 Bodega Colome Torrontes. It’s off-dry with an aromatic fresh citrus, kiwi, and white flower character. 

Pair these dishes with a Riesling.  One of my favorites is the 2011 Josef Leitz Rüdesheimer Drachenstein “Dragonstone” Riesling. It’s an off-dry Riesling with an apple, pear, citrus, and mineral character with great acidity. 

Pair this dish with the 2009 Boas Vinhas Tinto Dao, a red wine from Portugal that is a blend of the indigenous Portuguese grapes Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz with a  plum, dried berry, blackberry and spice character that is layered with supple tannins and good acidity.

Pair this dish with a Moscato d’Asti Moscato d’Asti from Italy.  Look for the 2011 Saracco Moscato d’Asti. It shows a sweet, fragrant, delicate, floral, tropical fruit, and a hint of honey character.  It’s “frizzante”, which means it’s not as effervescent as most sparkling wines. It’s also a wonderful example of why I love sparkling wines, they can work with all the courses of a meal from appetizers through dessert. 


Pair these desserts with a Sauternes,  a sweet wine from the Sauternais region of the Graves section of Bordeaux. They are made from  SémillonSauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes affected by noble rot.  Look for the 2005 Guiraud Sauternes.  It has a full-bodied, honeyed, lemon tart, baked apple, baking spice, and  vanilla cream character

Pair these desserts with an Oloroso Sherry, a denser richer style of Sherry.  Look for the Lustau East Indian Solera. It’s a provocative sweet creamy Sherry with a toffee, fig, caramel, raisin, and baking spice  (cinnamon and clove) character. 

Pair these Italian desserts with the 2011 Saracco Moscato d’Asti.

Pair this dish with a late harvest Riesling.  Look for the  2011 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese. It’s a has an elegant, floral, spicy, exotic, and tropical fruit character. 

Pair this dish with an a German Red wine made from the Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) grape variety. Look for the 2009 Friedrich Becker Estate Pinot Noir.  It’s a spicy treat with a strawberry, cherry, and earthy character that will stand up to having the Pfeffernusse dipped in it, or used as a based for gluhwein, a spiced red wine drink!


What does it mean for you to be Home for the Holidays?  Please join on us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper on December 23rd.  In the evening we will meet at 7pm EST for our #SundaySupper to talk about our Holiday Traditions.  We are so excited to have you join us.  All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag or you can follow us through TweetChat.

Please feel free to share with us and our followers your favorite Holiday recipe on our #SundaySupper Pinterest Board.  We are excited to have you!

How Port Is Made

From the “A picture (or moving pictures) is worth a thousand words” file, is this short that is the final installment in my dessert wine series.  The video explains how Port wine is made.

This video is a one of the finalists in the Wine Spectator 2011 Video Contest.  Click here to check out the rest!

If you missed any of the previous 4 installments in the series click the links below:

Dessert Wine Primer; Part 1 – Fortified Dessert Wines

Dessert Wine Primer; Part 2 – Late Harvest Dessert Wines

Sweet Sticky Things…Unique Dessert Wines From Around The World Tasting

How to Choose Dessert Wines To Pair With Treats

Dessert Wine Primer; Part I – Fortified Dessert Wines

A glass of port wine.

Image via Wikipedia

Dessert wines are sweet wines served with, or instead of dessert.  Dessert wines are also known as “stickies” because picking the grapes makes the workers hands sticky.  The term originated in Australia, but has become ubiquitously synonymous with dessert wines around the world. There are essentially two types of dessert wines, fortified and late harvest.  In Part One of this series, I will introduce you to fortified dessert wines.  In Part Two, I’ll introduce you to late harvest dessert wines. Fortified wines are wines to which a distilled beverage (usually grape brandy) has been added. Adding a distilled beverage does two things to the wine.  First, when a distilled beverage is added to wine before fermentation is complete, the alcohol in the distilled beverage kills the yeast and leaves residual sugar behind which make the wine sweeter.  Secondly, it increases the alcohol content of the wine, which is why dessert wines are served in small quantities (typically a 2 ounce pour).  Dessert wines are typically unctuous, but don’t let the smooth taste fool you, the higher alcohol levels can loosen inhibitions quickly! There are many different styles of fortified wines.  The three major styles are PortSherry, and Madeira.  Other styles include Marsala, which is similar to Port, but made in Italy, and vermouth which is primarily used for cocktails and cooking, and Vins doux naturels, which I will touch on later


Port is the most famous wine of Portugal, where it is known as Porto.  It is widely considered one of the most unique, delicious dessert wines in the world and, as such, it’s the most consumed dessert wine.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen “The Most Interesting Man In The World” sipping Port!  It’s got that kind of swag.  True “Port” is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in Portugal. However, port-style wines fortified wines are produced in California, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and Argentina.  Ports are typically red wines. There are many styles of Port, which can be divided into two broad categories, barrel-aged Ports, and bottle-aged Ports.  Barrel aged ports are predominately aged in wood, and are ready to drink right after they are bottled and shipped. They should be consumed within a couple of year of bottling.  On the other hand bottle-aged ports start out in wooden barrels for a brief period of time, but are matured in bottles for a much longer period of time. Barrel aged ports include:

  • Ruby Port – Aged in oak 3 years – approachable, vibrant
  • Tawny Port – Basic, easy Port aged 3 years in oak.  Pale onion skin color, usually consumed as an aperitif.
  • Aged Tawny Port – Designated as 10,20, 30,>40 years old. Tawny colored with nutty, brown sugar and vanilla flavors. Soft silky texture.
  • Colheita – An aged tawny port from a single vintage. Minimum of 7 years age. The rarest of all ports.
  • LBV – Late Bottle Vintage – Aged 4-6 years in oak.  Vintage dated. Lack the richness, and complexity of Vintage Ports, but offer good value.
  • Vintage Character – Aged 4-6 years in oak.  Cross-Ruby Blend

Bottle Aged Ports include:

  • Vintage
  • Single Quinta Vintage

Classic pairings with Port are roasted nuts, and Stilton (along with other blue cheeses).   My favorite pairing with Port, so far, is dark chocolate.


Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that originated in Jerez, Spain.  It is, arguably, Spain’s greatest wine, and certainly its most complex and labor-intensive wine.   That’s because of the way it’s made.  It is progressively blended and aged in a complex network of old barrels, called soleras.  The solera system is comprised of 500 litre casks made of American oak stacked one on top of another.   Periodically the newer wine is moved down to the next barrel containing older wine, some of which has evaporated.  How the wine moves through the solera determines which type/style is of sherry produced.

Sherry Solera

The styles range from bone-dry to super sweet.  There are two broad categories of Sherry, finos and olorosos.  I’ll focus on the olorosos, which may be produced into dessert wines. Unlike finos which are aged under what is called a “flor”, which is a complex strain of yeast that blooms spontaneously in Jerez’ humid air, olorosos are fortified such that a flor does not form.  Because a flor doesn’t form, olorosos are exposed to oxygen, and its oxidizing effects, which results in making the sherry darker fuller textured than finos with a deep, caramel-toffee richness. The other difference between oloroso, and finos is that olorosos are moved more slowly through the solera system.  Sherry is aged in the solera for a minimum of 3 years.

Once the oloroso is removed from the solera it is ready to be bottled as dry wine.  Or it may be sweetened with the ultra-sweet juice of Pedro Ximénez (“PX”) grapes. Depending on how much PX is added the sherry may be medium sweet, or if PX makes up about 15% of the final blend, the oloroso is deemed to be a cream Sherry.  Finally, PX is also made into a rare Sherry of its own.  PX’s are nearly black in color and have a very thick texture.  It’s so sweet, it IS the dessert, or, as in Spain, it may be used to top ice cream.

My favorite dessert and wine pairing with Sherry, so far, was a Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Chantilly with NV Gonzales Byass, Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce Sherry.


Madeira is a fortified wine made on the island of the same name off the coast of Portugal. As with Sherry there are sweet and dry style Madeira.  It is believed to be the wine used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

To make Madeira, clear Brandy is added to wine before it has completed fermentation.  Unlike Port or Sherry, Madeira is essentially baked naturally by the hot Madeiran sun in huge casks in the attics via a process called estufagem, or by heating it to 120 degrees for at least 3 months.  After the heating process is complete, the wine is carefully cooled and allowed to rest for at least a year to recover from the shock.  After that, depending on the style and quality level, it is further aged.  Like Sherry, Madeira may be made using the solera system.

The two styles of Madeira considered to be dessert wines are Bual, which is a dark amber color and medium-sweet, and Malmsey which is also a dark amber color, but sweeter.  Both are made from white grapes.  Like Port, Madeira is made at various quality levels ranging from 3 years to 20, or more years.  The highest quality is labeled Vintage and must be from a single year, or a single grape variety and aged at least twenty years.

My favorite Madeira dessert wine pairing, so far, was Triple Bittersweet Chocolate Ice Cream, Hot Fudge, Caramel Cream, Pecan Praline & Caramel Brownies with a 1997 Cossart Gordon Madeira Bual Colheita.

Vin Doux Naturel

Vin Doux Naturels (“VDN”) are sweet dessert wines from France that are made in a similar process to Port. Like Port, extremely ripe grapes are fermented to a point where the residual sugar level is approximately 10%, before fermentation is halted through the addition of neutral grape spirit, fortifying the wine to 18% to 21% alcohol by volume.  VDN are made from both red and white grapes, primarily in the South of France.  The white versions are typically made from the Muscat grape, while the red versions are typically made from Grenache.

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T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…2009 Luis Pato Baga Espumante Beiras

If it’s Friday, that must mean there’s Champagne and the like to be had!   If you’re new to this series of blog posts, it came to be because my wife suggested we drink “Champagne” at least once a week.  We decided on Fridays so we could bid farewell to the work week and kick off the weekend!

This week’s sparkling wine is a Rosé, the 2009 Luis Pato Baga Espumante Beiras, which I stumbled across while poking around the K&L Wine Merchants website.   I decided to give it a try , and go where no man, or woman has gone before – well at least on Cellar Tracker.  This one was interesting to me on two levels, first I wasn’t aware that sparkling wines were produced in Portugal (where they are known as “Espumante”- click here for a great primer on Portuguese Sparkling Wine), and secondly this sparkler is made from the Baga grape, with which I was completely unfamiliar. Of course, Portugal mostly know for Port, and is up and coming in mostly red and some white wines, and finally “grown folk” may remember Mateus Rose.

Baga is a red grape that produces very tannic wine with high acidity.  While there are red grapes (most notably Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) used in the production of Champagne and sparkling wines, they are grapes that are not very tannic.

Luis Pato Espumante

2009 Luis Pato Baga Espumante

Region: Portugal; Bairrada

Variety – 100% Baga

Dosage – Unknown

$15, 12% abv

Production method: Méthode Champenoise; S/S fermentation

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Light crimson.

Aromas: Yeast, strawberries and spice

Body: Tiny, dispersed bubbles, minimal mousse with course texture that dissipated quickly.  Light bodied, fruity, yet very dry with good acidity. 

Taste: Tart raspberries, red currant and minerals

Finish: Short

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food. We enjoyed this with grilled salmon, accompanied by an avocado/tomato salsa my wife put together. It would pair well with non-beef roasted meats,  grilled or roasted seafood, and shellfish.

This was a good sparkling Rosé, that was drier than most.  I didn’t particularly care for it on as an aperitif, but it was definitely better with food. Setting aside the novelty factor, I wouldn’t purchase again. (83pts)

Cookies and Wine?

I know!  Sounds weird right?!  On the contrary –  I had a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie with Madeira, and they played well together!

There’s a good chance you’re not familiar with Madeira.  I know I wasn’t.  I’ve seen it called for in a few recipes, and occasionally I’ve seen it listed among the dessert wines when dining in a restaurant, but I’d never tried it.

Madeira falls into the category of fortified dessert wines (the other two broad categories of dessert wine being late harvest dessert wines, and ice wines.  I’ll share my late harvest and ice wine experiences another time). A fortified wine is wine to which a distilled beverage (usually brandy) is added.  Aside from Madeira, other fortified wines include Port, sherry, Marsala, and vermouth.   The addition of brandy brings the alcohol level up to 17-20% (most wine is between 10-15% by comparison).  Like most wines, it’s made in a variety of styles ranging from dry, which can be consumed on it’s own as an aperitif, to sweet wines consumed with dessert.

To make Madeira, depending on the level of sweetness desired, fermentation of the wine is halted at some point by the addition of brandy leaving a fortified wine.

Madeira aging in the sun

While most wine is aged under carefully maintained cool temperatures indoor is cellars, what makes Madeira unique toffee-caramel like character  is that the wine is heated.  The most basic (and least expensive) Madeira is made by placing the fortified wine in containers (casks, vat, or even cement tank) that are then heated to an average of 105 degrees for 3-6 months.  However, better Madeiras are heated naturally.  Casks of the best wine are stored in attics of the producer’s warehouses, which sit in the hot Madeiran sun (Madeira is a small volcanic island that is part of Africa, but is a province of Portugal), which creates tremendous heat.  The casks remain undisturbed in the sun for as long as 20 years.  After the heating process is complete, the wine is cooled, and allowed to rest a year or more to recover from the shock.  Thereafter,  the wine further aged.  The additional aging can be very involved process involving aging the wine in casks made of various types of wood, and can take place over a 3-20 year period.  Do the math and some of the great Madeiras can take 40 years, or longer to make!

Properly sealed in bottles, Madeira is one of the longest lasting wines; Madeiras have been known to survive over 150 years in excellent condition. No wonder, after years of sitting in the hot sun, being stored at room temp is a piece of cake.

I had a 5-year Malmsey Madeira, which means the youngest component in the blend is aged at least 5 years in casks.  Other types of Madeira are 3, 10, 15 year Madeira, and Vintage Madeira (unlike virtually all other Madeiras which are blend of grapes from different years – vintage Madeira is made from grapes from a single year.  And like other wines Madeira is made from a variety of grapes.  Malmsey Madeira is made from Malvasia grapes, and is the sweetest style Madeira.

All Madeira has great natural acidity which make then refreshing to drink on their own.  But as I discovered, they can also make a wonderful juxtaposition to the richness of desserts made with cream or chocolate.  And that’s what gave me the idea to try Madeira with a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie.  I felt the toffee/caramel character would complement the peanut butter, while at the same time providing a wonderful counterbalance  to the chocolate.  And this time I was right!  It was also good with a Hershey Kiss with Almonds!

Madeira would work well with nutty cheeses such as Gruyere, and blue cheeses. For those with a sweet tooth, try it with  dark chocolate desserts, and pecan, or pumpkin pie.   Just keep in mind, that as a general rule, the wine should be somewhat sweeter than the dessert.