Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday wine and food pairings: guest post by Deborah Gray

I'm very pleased to be bringing you today the first of an occasional guest series, covering a topic that goes ever so well with good food--good wine. It's written by wine expert Deborah Gray. Deborah, an Australian native, has spent the last twenty years importing Australian wines into the U.S., focusing on bringing small, high quality, family-owned brands to distributors, retailers and restaurants across the States. Her first book, How to Import Wine – an Insider’s Guide (Wine Appreciation Guild) published in August, 2011, has just been named “Best US Professional Wine Book 2011” by Gourmand Magazine. Her websites are at: and she blogs at

Her post today is on holiday food and wine pairings, and also includes a delicious mussels recipe.

Holiday Wine and Food Pairings
Conventional thinking used to say red wine with meat, white wine with fish, but we’ve moved far beyond that these days. The primary goal in enjoying wine and food together is to have the flavours play off one another, allowing each to show to best advantage. At their most sublime, food ingredients taste much more piquant and appetizing and wine will shine as its perfect complement. At its worst, wine can taste bitter and unbalanced and food is overwhelmed and tasteless.

Consider not just the main element, but also the way the dish is prepared. White fish with hearty ingredients, such as mushrooms and tomato based sauces can be overpowered by a light wine. In addition, if the dish is to be prepared with wine as an ingredient, a wine pairing of that same wine is often a great choice.

Salmon is a prime example of a food that can pair with quite diverse wines.

• With a béarnaise sauce, a Chardonnay aged in oak is heaven.
• Poached in good quality Sauvignon Blanc would fit hand in glove with the same Sauvignon Blanc.
• Grilled with a mustard glaze, cherry sauce or mushroom side picks up the classic flavours of Pinot Noir or Merlot.

Now to the holidays...I’m not going to make any one turkey wine pairing suggestion, because the Christmas holiday meal is chock full of incredibly diverse flavours – white and dark turkey meat, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetable with creamy sauces, casseroles and gravy. An assortment of reds and whites will go well with it all, depending upon your tastes and preferences: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Beaujolais Nouveau, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to name a few.

What I’d like to do is suggest some holiday bubbles that may not have come to mind before and makes a festive event of any occasion.

Prosecco, an Italian grape, made into a dry, sparkling wine is not only a less expensive alternative to Champagne, but absolutely delicious and fun its in own right. It can be enjoyed as an aperitif prior to the meal, served with a cheese platter, or paired with many of the same dishes as any brut white sparkling.

A particular favourite of mine is ceviche, a dish common to Latin American countries, where each region gives it its own flair utilizing lime, lemon or bitter orange to marinade fresh fish or shrimp. Ingredients are few, always fresh and usually include some form of chili pepper. In Mexico, street vendors serve it in paper cups from carts. The bright fresh flavours of Prosecco are the perfect accompaniment.

Sparkling Rosé, also brut (dry), is a versatile choice for many foods. I’ve included a recipe here that is not necessarily traditionally holiday, but illustrates that while mussels are the main ingredient, tomatoes and garlic give the Rosé its ideal pairing.

Mussels Steamed with Leeks, Tomatoes & Garlic

2 medium leeks
3 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
14.5oz can petite-diced tomatoes
2 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 lb. mussels, scrubbed well

Trim dark leaves and root ends from the leeks. Split the leeks lengthwise and rinse them well under cold running water. Slice them crosswise into about ½ inch thick half-moons.

In a large, heavy pot, cook leeks, garlic and bay leaf in the oil over medium heat, stirring often, until the leeks begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Sir in the tomatoes and their juices, tarragon and pepper flakes and simmer to meld flavours for 5 minutes. (This mixture can be prepared up to 3 hours ahead and left out at room temperature.)

When you’re ready to cook the mussels, return the leek mixture to a boil over high heat. Add the mussels, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mussels open, 3 to 8 minutes. Spoon the mussels, broth and vegetables into large bowls and serve with crusty artisan-style bread, sliced, for dipping in the broth. Serves four.

If I’m to continue the theme, may I throw out all the other turkey/wine matches and suggest a magnificent and inimitable Aussie Sparkling Shiraz?


  1. I haven't had breakfast and my mouth is watering, Deborah.

    Congrats on the award! What a wonderful affirmation of your hard work and talent.

  2. Thank you, Jan!

    This was a fun post because I'm normally preoccupied with customs clearance and market share, and this allowed me reflect on the much more pleasurable aspects of wine - its consumption!