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Versatility for the holidays

Less traditional Easter menus call for different accompaniments

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'What wine goes well with my ____ dinner?"

It's a question that comes up throughout the year as any of the big holiday meals approaches -- most often Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Overall, the latter two meals are fairly similar -- turkey, stuffing, potatoes, some other root veggies and dessert. They're both late-season meals, meaning there are plenty of locally sourced produce (potatoes, squash, beets, and so on) to be used in savoury, hearty mains and side dishes. As such, wine pairing's a breeze.

Easter dinner, however, is a different story. While it's easy enough to pair wine with ham, a traditional main course at Easter, I get the feeling people are moving away from ham for whatever reason. Lamb, veal, fish, turkey or vegetarian mains are gaining in popularity when it comes to Easter meals.

There's also the conundrum that nothing's in season in Manitoba in late March/early April, so Easter dinner often revolves around whatever's on grocery store shelves. Produce that is in season isn't always the easiest to pair with wine either -- take asparagus, as an example. It's typically in season in early spring, but is a notorious "wine killer" -- its pungent flavours often overwhelm or confuse a wine's flavours, to the point where both wine and food taste a bit nasty.

So with a clean slate to plan your Easter meal, consider introducing some new drinks to your repertoire. While the drinks reviewed here will work well with the traditional Easter dinner, they're also fairly versatile. I went with relatively light products in the hopes spring will soon be sprung.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut (Columbia Valley, Wash. -- around $19, private wine stores)

Fairly deep gold in colour, this American bubbly made in the traditional Champagne method shows big bread dough, red apple skin, perfume and pear aromas. There's a hint more sweetness here than in French Champagne or Spanish Cava, with bruised apple, honey and strawberry flavours bringing a hint of sugar on the viscous, light-bodied palate. Some toasted nut and citrus comes through on the finish; it tastes more like a mature bubbly than a young, lively sparkling wine. Nice stuff. 88/100

Waimea 2011 Pinot Gris (Nelson, New Zealand -- $19.95, Liquor Marts and beyond)

This certified sustainable New Zealand white offers a slightly waxy nose of peach, tangerine and fresh-cut flowers. While fermented bone-dry, there's fresh ripe peach and red apple flavours on the light-bodied palate hint at sweetness; the spice and light acidity on the finish is a nice touch as well. Don't confuse this Pinot Gris with the lighter, often-uninteresting Pinot Grigio -- this has loads of character, and will do well with a ham, most poultry, creamier dishes, and light cheeses. 90/100

Zenato 2011 Bardolino Chiaretto (Verona, Italy -- around $15, private wine stores)

Perfume, cranberry, strawberry and a hint of smoke come through on the nose, showing decidedly less up-front fruit than most New World rosés. While it's dry, there's a touch of ripe red berries on the light-bodied palate that brighten up the fruit. A hint of that smoke and some fresh floral notes come through as well -- it's a pleasant, straightforward rosé that's as drinkable on its own as it is food-friendly. I picked this up at La Boutique Del Vino. 86/100

Malivoire 2010 Gamay (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario -- $16.30, Liquor Marts and beyond)

There's some brilliant Gamay, the red grape of Beaujolais, coming from Ontario made by producers willing to embrace the region's cooler climate and bypass trying to make big, dense Syrah. Perfume, cola, ripe cherries, blackcurrant, raspberry and clove are delicate on the nose. It's a light-plus bodied, juicy red that manages to balance ripe red berry flavours with an earthy undercurrent and a splash of cool-climate acidity. It could work with salmon, pizza, medium cheeses and, yes, ham. 89/100

Muskoka 2013 Legendary Oddity (Bracebridge, Ont. -- $9.87/750ml bottle, Liquor Marts)

This Belgian-style ale includes an infusion of juniper berries, heather tips, sweet and sour orange peels as well as Trappist yeast and two types of hops -- an oddity indeed. Hazy and copper in colour, the orange peel and yeast come through big time on the nose, with lighter herbal/floral and anise notes in there as well. It's a whopping eight per cent alcohol, meaning this strong beer packs a punch. Flavour-wise, there's delicious orange peel, banana candy, anise and malt notes that come across with a touch of sweetness. The peppery, herbal/bitter note on the finish and a lovely creamy texture add incredible complexity. This is a fantastic brew -- and yes, very ham-friendly.

Twitter: @bensigurdson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 E4

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