It's that time of the year again -- when people start planning their holiday dinners to share with family and friends. With this planning inevitably comes the task of choosing what wines will be poured to match the dishes you've painstakingly prepared.
Last year I said you couldn't go too far wrong no matter what wine you picked (big tannic reds aside), and that (again, big tannic reds aside) you should drink what you want with your holiday meal. This year I'm taking a different approach: Whether you're preparing a big bird, are ordering in or doing something in between, I'm suggesting trying white wines made from lesser-known grapes and/or regions when picking your plonk.
* Riesling and Gewürztraminer are two of my standbys for wines to pair with a typical holiday dinner with all the fixings -- they're crisp, fresh wines with a bit of spice (and sometimes a touch of sweetness) that work well with the flavours of your typical Christmas dinner.
To try something less common, get a little Grü-V on -- Grüner Veltliner, that is. Like neighbouring Germany, Austrian producers make mostly white wines because of their relatively cooler climate. Grüner Veltliner is Austria's flagship grape; wines made from Grüner Veltliner are typically dry and highly aromatic, with lots of spice notes as well as ripe stone fruit notes and a touch of acidity.
The Stift Goettweig 2012 Grüner Veltliner Messwein (Austria -- around $20, private wine stores) brings bright spice notes on the nose as well as orange peel, dried peach, lemon candy and honey aromas. This dry, light-bodied white delivers these flavours on the palate as well, adding apricot and nectarine notes that bring ripeness (rather than sweetness). It's great for the price and perfect for your turkey dinner (or Asian fare). I picked this up at The Winehouse. 4/5
* Spanish reds are red-hot right now, and for good reason -- they're rustic, well-balanced and are extremely food- and wallet-friendly. But their white counterparts are often overlooked, yet often over-deliver for the price.
The El Petit Bonhomme 2012 Blanco (Rueda, Spain -- $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond) is a crisp white wine made from the Verdejo grape. Verdejo brings plenty of ripe citrus notes when made fresh, and the El Petit Bonhomme brims with lively lime and green apple notes while offering additional complexity thanks to a portion of the wine being matured in oak barrels. It's an excellent white wine for most holiday dinners, and an admirable companion to the hugely popular (and equally well-made) red in this line. 3.5/5
* One need not look as far as Spain to find a killer wine for a holiday meal -- in fact, one of my favourite wines for Christmas dinner comes from Nova Scotia, but has only recently become available in Manitoba. The Benjamin Bridge 2012 Nova 7 (Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia -- $24.77, Liquor Marts and beyond) is a proprietary blend based on the Muscat grape. While the winery's focus is typically on dry sparkling wines (which are next to impossible to get) made in the traditional Champagne method, the Nova 7 is their least expensive, biggest-volume wine -- their bread and butter, so to speak.
Pale pinkish-orange in colour, the (slightly effervescent) Nova 7 is anything but ordinary. It's explosive on the nose, with intense fresh floral notes as well as tangerine, crisp peach, perfume and tropical aromas. At only 6.5 per cent alcohol, it's a light-bodied, medium-sweet white bursting with ripe peach, apricot, mango and tart mandarin orange flavours, bringing complex spice and slightly leafy notes on the crisp, barely effervescent palate.
I've tasted this both on its own and with food numerous times and have been consistently impressed at the quality here. A limited amount of this wine recently landed in Manitoba -- track some of this down (via liquormarts.ca) before it's all snapped up, then chill it right down before serving. It'll open your eyes to the incredible potential of Nova Scotia wine. 4.5/5
* Want to finish off dinner with something truly unique? Look no further than the Rosewood 2008 Mead Royale (Beamsville, Ont. -- $15.99/500ml, Liquor Marts and beyond). I first tried this at the 2013 Winnipeg Wine Festival, and was immediately impressed by its elegance and balance. Barrel-aged for six months in seasoned French oak barrels, the Rosewood picks up vanilla and spice notes from the wood and marries them with aromas of bright clover honey, fresh-picked violets and a waxy, almost soapy note on the nose. Unlike the intense Nova 7, the flavours of this medium-bodied, medium-sweet and slightly viscous mead are subtle, with wild honey notes and a hint of spice bringing winter warmth. You could serve this with dessert, but I'll probably serve it instead of dessert. Chill this one. 4/5