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What wines and beers should you serve with all the many different flavors that make the fall and winter holidays special?… That’s the big question! If you’ve found yourself in the store staring at shelves of wine and beer only to walk out empty-handed (is that possible?!), then take heart: We tapped two local experts to guide the way in pairing wines and beers with holiday food.
We Asked the Experts
Hudson Austin is an award-winning sommelier and wine educator with The Wine Merchant. Hudson consults with numerous Delco restaurants on their wine programs (Avenue Kitchen, 333 Belrose, 30 Main, Pescatore’s, La Fava and Ariano, to name a few). He’s been in the restaurant business since he was 13-years-old, but moved from food to vino when he first tasted a 1966 Chateau Lafite Rothschild. He’s a published wine columnist, has appeared on numerous local TV shows, and Hudson is famously known for his wine dinners.
Chris “Lappy” LaPierre has been a professional brewer since 1997 at such notable establishments as Harpoon Brewery in Boston and the original Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant in Philadelphia. He’s been with Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant since 2001 and is currently a regional brewer. Lappy’s earned his share of awards over the years, but he takes the most pride in producing clean and balanced lagers.
The Meals Paired with Libations
Think traditional: Turkey, stuffing, mashies, gramma’s sides (yup, the green bean casserole), roasted root veggies, cranberry sauce, candied yams, breads, pies — the works!
The best overall pairings to me for Thanksgiving dinner are often very aromatic whites and very light reds. These often seem obvious, but you can’t miss with white wines, such as gewurztraminer (don’t be afraid of saying it: geh – vurts – tra – meaner), riesling, viognier and red wines, such as pinot noir, beaujolais, syrah.
I’m a big fan of amber lagers for Thanksgiving. The caramelization and maltiness these beers offer are key to the pairing. Thanksgiving tables are usually covered with dishes that have some caramelization, and there’s usually more sweetness on the menu than there is for most dinners. Despite the caramel notes in these beers, they’re still dry and refreshing enough to act as a thirst-quencher without filling your already stuffed belly. It’s the tail end of Oktoberfest season, so pick one up if you can still find one. If not, you can always find a Vienna Lager in Delco whether it’s Iron Hill’s Vienna Red Lager or 2SP Brewing Company’s Delco Lager.
The star of the Christmas meal is often beef — standing rib roast, tenderloin — along with roasted taters, roasted asparagus, candied carrots, breads, cakes, pies and more.
Christmas is all about celebrating, so with big roasts and meats think big: cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec. Partial to white wines? A full-bodied chardonnay can be great, too.
Roast goes really nicely with roast. The roasted barley and black malt found in stouts and porters are nice compliments to anything roasted, whether it’s veggies or beef. Plus the body of most black beers does a nice job of standing up to the richness of beef and its accompaniments. Try a Sterling Pig Brewery Huff & Puff Oatmeal Stout, or an Iron Hill Pig Iron Porter.
This celebration tends to favor dishes with varying levels of spice, such as creoles, curries and jambalaya, but can include a wide bounty: couscous, candied yams, plantains, hoppin’ John, buttermilk biscuits, spoonbread, ambrosia, cakes and more.
Spicy — not necessarily hot, but full-flavored — dishes need higher-acid wines. Try sauvignon blanc, Albarino, and reds that have tannin, such as Sangiovese-based wines.
When I’m eating dishes that are spicy and complex, I like a beer that can match the complexity but also one that’s light in body. I’m likely to be taking many sips to put out the heat! Belgian whites and saisons are two of the few beers to carry a spicy complexity and a light body at the same time. Local examples are Iron Hill’s White Iron Wit and 2SP’s Patina Saison.
New Year’s Day
For good luck: pork! That can be a ham or any pork dish, and is often accompanied by au gratin potatoes, collards, spinach, roasted butternut squash, candied beets, breads, pies, cakes, etc.
There’s a lot on that New Year’s table! Select fruity wines that will balance out the flavors, including moscato, chenin blanc, grenache or red zinfandel.
I love a good abbey dubbel with pork, which is a sweeter meat, so the malty/chocolatey notes of a dubbel, combined with its dark fruit yeast character, dovetail nicely. As for ham, its saltiness is a nice contrast to the sweet richness of a dubbel in the same way that a little sea salt is at home on a chocolate truffle. Plus the higher ABV of a dubbel is warming and comforting on what’s likely to be one of the colder days of the year. Try Iron Hill’s Abbey Dubbel and Aston Abbey Brewing Company’s Toil and Trubbel.
For the Non-Meat-Eaters
We want to take a moment here to give a nod to our vegetarian and vegan friends! They’ll likely be eating items that are more grain-based, perhaps with tofu/tempeh/seitan as the star, plus lots of comfort-food veggies and, of course, desserts which often are even richer due to a lack of dairy in the recipes (think vegan chocolate torte).
I humorously tease my vegetarian and vegan friends because I worked in a French kitchen in the days when vegetarian dining was a plate of broccoli. But truthfully, great dishes full of flavor are great no matter what the protein. For pairings, it’s more about avoiding wines that will wash over the food, so it’s my approach to match the body of the wine to the overall body of the dish. Use the above recommendations to choose the best fit!
I love a good Pilsner with vegetables. German and Czech hops often have an herbal character that mingles nicely with the aromas of many vegetables. The reserved but noticeable bitterness is a compliment to the refreshing bitterness found in a lot of veggies too. Pilsners are also very dry and among the most refreshing beers, so they’re a nice thirst-quencher and palate reset with a rich dessert like a vegan chocolate torte. Consider Sterling Pig’s Shoat Pils, and Iron Hill’s Light Lager.
A few final words from Hudson: “It’s great to drink and support local wineries. Here in the Brandywine Valley, we’re fortunate to have a few of them that can provide some excellent examples of these varietals and some that are similar but yet not exactly the same. Plus, trying new wines is always fun. Some examples from two great wineries right here are wines from Grace Winery and Penns Woods Winery.” Here are some of the many local options:
Want to know more about everything Delco? We’re more than just your source for good eats — we’re your source for where to stay, what to do and more in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We’re Visit Delco, PA, and we’ve got you covered from Philly to the Brandywine. Find us at 1501 N. Providence Rd., Media, PA, 19063; (610) 565-3679 or online.