Pairing perfect wine with perfect celebration

Black-eyed peas, cooked to perfection and tossed with finely diced sweet red peppers, jalapeños, sweet corn and fresh cilantro — this year, I’ll add cubed avocado and grapefruit supremes and lightly dress it with the juice of a fresh lime, rice vinegar and olive oil.

The roasted Tri-Tip that has marinated overnight in a bit of red wine with herbs and spices will be the star of the show of course, sharing the spotlight with an Oregon Pinot noir. It’s going to be a very happy New Year.

My Jan. 1 menu was inspired by a dear friend (a Texan) who shared her “Texas Caviar” with me years ago. I love its simplicity and it’s a very pretty dish to begin the year with.

Simple matters all the time, but especially right now because we are all a bit weary, in a good way, following the holidays.

Foods that satisfy our hunger and our desire for creative and beautiful meals that don’t require hours of preparation are just the ticket for the coming winter months.

With the Internet bringing literally every cookbook and cooking show to our fingertips, it’s easy to find inspiration and ideas for trying new ingredients and simple preparations.

Pretty matters too. Food that excites the eyes, has interesting textures and tempting aromas is always more satisfying.

It’s much the same with wines. Well-made wine served at the proper temperature can have an expansive aroma and different grapes, soil types and vintage (weather) conditions influence the texture of the wine.

It’s amazing to compare wines made from a grape like Pinot gris but produced in Oregon, Alsace and Italy.  There are common characteristics, but the wines express themselves in radically different ways from each place.

Many wines, and most white wines, are meant to be enjoyed within five years.

The brightness of the fruit elements and the acidity of younger wines are often better when pairing with simple dishes and fresh ingredients.

Wines made from grapes such as Torrontes (Argentina), Albarino (Northwest Spain), Tocai (near Venice, Italy) and Viognier (France, Australia and in the Northwest) are exceptional. They have lovely, complex aromas and are exciting wines to try when you find yourself a bit bored with the “same old Chardonnay.”

The news from Oregon vineyards was good for the second harvest in a row. While the drought has severely affected both yields and quality in California and Washington, the warmer temperatures were welcomed by Pinot noir growers. Younger vineyards have matured and the overall harvest in 2014 was both plentiful and very good quality.

The weather was even more
Pinot perfect in 2015 — not too hot and not too cool, producing slightly larger grapes and another year of great yields and richer flavors.

All this good news should mean there will be more wines, of better quality and consistency, as well as many more affordable options in the market.

While it’s traditional to end and then begin the year with sparkling wines like Champagne, Prosecco or Cava, I always suggest keeping a bottle in the cooler.

You’re more likely to find something to celebrate if there’s a chilled bottle at the ready. Sparkling wines are also wonderful to serve with a variety of foods including red meats, shellfish and spicy foods.

One thing to look for on a label when purchasing a bubbly wine is “methode champenoise” or for a specified appellation such as
Limoux.  There are many excellent quality sparkling wines available in the $10-15 range.

The beginning of the year is a great time to start new projects, develop new skills, and expand horizons.

Expanding culinary horizons is both one of the easiest things to do and most enjoyable as it’s something we do with others.

Consider starting a wine or beer tasting group. Gather a group of friends together once a month for a themed dinner. It’s as easy as setting the date and picking a grape or a country to be the focus.

Explore the world through the vineyards and cuisine — it’s something you do on any given Thursday, without booking hotels and flights.

 — Beverly Calder, owner of Bella

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