Try some non-traditional wine pairing for holiday feasts

Benjamin Howard is a BC-born Sommelier who recently moved to Trail

The Trail Times is introducing a new column. Benjamin Howard recently moved to Trail and, with a background as a sommelier, will be writing about his passion – wine – and exploring all its aspects from pairings to productions and everything in between. Salute!


Aristotle was a reasonably clever chap. He famously articulated, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” While he may not have been speaking specifically about supper, he nevertheless laid the foundation for pairing food with fermented grape juice, and should be celebrated as the patron saint of amplified flavour.

This Christmas, as friends and family gravitate towards your dining room to celebrate Aristotle’s wisdom, let us heed his words and make two plus two equal five.

There’s more than one way to skin a grape. Food and wine pairing, like engaging conversation, begins with the discovery of common ground. How we choose to explore that common ground will dictate the ease or excitement of the conversation.

The fifteen shades of beige that comprise the traditional holiday repast provide the perfect playground to practice the two approaches to wine pairing.

The traditional approach is the parallel pairing, where we are looking to match like with like. Rich, buttery Chardonnay paired with turkey gravy is a deviously decadent duo. Earthy, peppery Syrah is a fantastic foil for herb and sausage-laden stuffing. Those goat-cheese tartelettes that Auntie brings won’t sing without a snappy Sauvignon Blanc, and sweet potato pie without Pinot Noir should simply not be permitted.

These options are all traditional and delicious, if not predictable, but are often accompanied by a price tag that doesn’t understand the true meaning of Christmas.

This year, let your holiday wine selections be as bold as your nephew’s new boyfriend’s face tattoo. He’s sensitive to gluten and never misses an opportunity to remind us of the benefits of veganism. He’s brought his own kale-stuffed tofurkey, quinoa croquettes and organic hand-harvested green beans.

A traditional wine pairing will simply not suffice for this level of wokeness. Non-traditional company is accompanied by non-traditional recipes, which demand non-traditional wine pairings. These are perpendicular pairings, contrasting or cutting through the richness of your food with freshness. By cleansing your palate with lively wines, you’ll be able to overindulge with greater ease, while bringing new life to those beans.

Instead of Pinot Noir, try its hip younger cousin, Gamay. It’s light-bodied, full of jazzy cherry and berry fruit, but brings a brighter acidity, a spicier finish and a far friendlier fee.

Anything but Chardonnay? BC produces world-class dry Rieslings, which can be so tightly wound with electric acidity that you’ll almost forget you ate a whole ham.

The wines of Italy are generally less fruity and oak-driven than their French counterparts, with higher levels of acidity and unequalled rustic charm. Barbera, Dolcetto and Nero d’Avola are all gravy-groovy, while Vermentino, Verdicchio and Greco di Tufo provide exciting alternatives to the Pinot-blahs.

Spanish reds made from Tempranillo and Garnacha or whites like Albariño and Verdejo never cease to impress.

Finally, let’s not forget the food-pairing prowess of sparkling wine. Bubbles are like blue jeans, they pretty much go with everything. Prosecco, Lambrusco and Cava are cheap n’ cheerful Champagne alternatives, along with the myriad effervescent offerings found in our own backyard. No single bottle of wine will pair perfectly with everything, but we’re talking turkey here- a humble blank slate, a platform for play, a launching pad for unexpected new traditions.

The road to the Christmas dinner table is paved with tradition. The downhill slope from Monster Mash to Frosty the Snowman seems steeper every year, which activates the anxiety that accompanies the filling of empty spaces, under the tree and in the bellies of our loved ones.

The responsibility of carrying forth the warm, nostalgic glow of our childhood holiday memories has now fallen to us, the next generation.

The colourful evolution of the flavours found at your feast will present plenty of opportunities to celebrate common ground, while adventuring into uncharted territory. Brought to you by the timeless old traditions of generosity, acceptance & togetherness.

Cheers, to that holly jolly feeling that rises inside as we look around the table and appreciate that the sum of all these parts is what makes us whole.

Benjamin Howard is a BC-born Sommelier who recently moved to Trail to continue sharing his enthusiasm for the magic of the grapevine.

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