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Wine Pairing for a Holiday Feast

...Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine;

Pablo Neruda, Ode to Wine

With the holiday season coming, your festivity menus may include oysters, salmon roe or foie gras. We recently had a couple of dinners featuring these delicacies assorted with wines that we believed would work well with the food. Here is what we tried and liked.

Oysters on the half shell

With fresh oysters on the half shell, we chose to drink a Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine, an appellation that produces a crisp and fresh wine and is usually a classic pairing for oysters. Oysters have a distinctive seaweedy, salty and mineral taste and some of them could also be fat and sweet. The 2003 Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Domaine de la Pepière Clos des Briords Cuvée Vieilles Vignes is aged on its lees to increase the flavors and comes from low-yielding old vines. It had a citrusy and mineral character that worked very well with the saltiness of the oysters. On the palate, it showed a great deal of concentration and richness that nicely balanced the sweet taste of the more meaty oysters.

Blini with Salmon Roe

Following the oysters, we had some delicious blini served with cream and salmon roe. Sparkling wine or Vodka make a classic match with this dish but this time, we tried a Riesling from Alsace. The 2002 Domaine Ehrhart Riesling Herrenweg was originally planned for the oysters but it ended up being a suberb pairing for the salmon roe. Exhibiting a very aromatic bouquet, somehow more characteristic of a Gewürztraminer, with aromas of rose petal and blossom, it had a light sweetness and a balanced acidity that worked very well with the fat saltiness of the salmon roe.

Foie Gras Terrine with figs

Sweet wines like Sauternes are classic accompaniments for foie gras. In Alsace, the tradition is to pair foie gras with a sweet Pinot Gris, a varietal known for its concentration and elegance. The 2001 Domaine Ehrhart Pinot Gris Grand Cru Brand comes from the Grand Cru Brand, a vineyard renowned for its sunny exposure and granitic soil particularly favourable to Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. This wine offered a subtle mineral nose and on the palate, it was sweet without being sirupy with a concentrated mouthfeel, a refreshing acidity and a finish full of finesse. This elegant wine was wonderful with the creamy and delicate flavors of our foie gras terrine and the additional sweetness brought by the fig puree.

Seared Foie Gras with wild mushroons

Our second foie gras dish was a seared slice of foie gras with wild mushrooms in puff pastry. The stronger flavors of the dish called for a red wine. We started with a wine from Pauillac. The excellent 1999 Château d'Armailhac worked perfectly with the dish. The nose offered notes of blackberries and some earthy flavors that nicely echoed the woodsy aromas of the mushrooms. On the palate, the wine was full-bodied with a great balance. softened tannins and a lingering finish.

Our second red wine was a Bordeaux blend from California. The 2001 Miner Family The Oracle Napa Valley Red Wine was delicious, full-bodied, with a round feel in the mouth and a young fruity character that, in my opinion, did not worked as well as the Armailhac for this particular dish. I think that an older California Cabernet Sauvignon might have been a better combination.

See our other tasting reports.