Sunday, December 16, 2012

From the Christmas Kitchen: Host Your Own Holiday Wine Tasting!

Our festive table!
The spirit of the holidays lends itself to catching up with family and friends, old and new. What better way to celebrate this festive time of year than enjoying each other's company over a Holiday Wine Tasting? 

Recently, I had some friends over to kick off the holiday season as well as celebrate the opening of my retail wine boutique, The Wine Atelier. We enjoyed catching up and getting to know each other over a menu of light bites paired with some wonderful wines at a variety of price points. I based my menu on the preferences of my friend Christina Price, proprietor of the Linen Closet, whose birthday we were (unofficially) also celebrating that night. We had lots of fun discussing each pairing and which dishes and wines were everyone's favorites. This menu allows for preparing some of the dishes in advance as well as purchasing some of the items in order to ease the load on the host or hostess. Alternatively you could have each couple or guest bring a pairing to the party. No matter how you choose to do it, I hope you enjoy this menu as much as we did!

Holiday Wine Tasting Menu

Gruyere Cheese Straws
Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Brut NV Champagne

Lobster Mac & Cheese
2010 Concha y Toro Marques de Concha Casa Chardonnay

Gaucho Grilled Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
2010 Alta Vista Premium Malbec

Meatballs with Marinara Sauce & Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
2010 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto IGT

Chocolate Birthday Cake
Quady Red Electra 

Helene, Moi, Christina & Ana
Tips for the Holiday Hostess!
- It's good to have some help the evening of your party so you too can enjoy your friends. Either arrange with a friend in advance to help out or hire someone to have on hand.
- Plan your serving ware in advance so you're not caught off guard when plating each dish. The Mac & Cheese can be served in porcelain ramekins (I like Williams Sonomas Apilco line), while the steak can be served on  small hors d'oeuvres plates (I like these 6" white ones from Crate and Barrel) and the meatballs can be served in small white bowls. 
- Because it is a tasting, guests can use the same glass for each wine, or you may want to give them one for red and one for white depending on how many you have. Just be sure to put out buckets and pitchers of water so your guests can rinse their glasses between wines. I do recommend having flutes on hand for the bubbly which are easy to rent from a local party rental store.
- When hosting a wine tasting it's always nice to print out the menu with wine pairings for your guests so they can follow along and make notes to take home.
- Keep floral arrangements simple and low in height so that you can enjoy the company of your guests. I like to use flowers from my local market and use versatile silver julep cups as vases.
The Recipes
Cheese Straws
1st Course: For the Gruyere Cheese Straws, I absolutely love the Barefoot Contessa's recipe! It's from her delightful cookbook Barefoot in Paris (also a favorite!) and if you pick one thing to make the day of your party, let this recipe be it. For the link to her recipe, click here! While they are a bit time consuming, they are entirely worth it! We have come to call them simply "Champagne Sticks" because I think they pair perfectly with the toasty, yeasty nature of Champagne. They pair particularly well with the delicious Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Brut ($38) which is made predominantly of Pinot Noir grapes and has aromas and flavors of apple tarte tatin, ginger and toasted brioche with a bright acidity and lovely minerality. The red and gold bottle also looks so festive for the holidays!

Lobster Mac & Cheese
2nd Course: For the Lobster Mac and Cheese I tried a recipe I had not tried before. It had gotten so many positive reviews on the Food Network website I had to see what all the hype was about. It turned out to be delicious and it had the perfect level of creamy decadence I was looking for to pair with the 2010 Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay ($18). I would caution you to make sure you season the dish with enough salt otherwise it might be a bit bland, which brings to light an important tenet of cooking - always taste as you cook. Also, because you are serving smaller portions, don't worry about skimping on the heavy cream - go ahead, it's the holidays after all, so the calories don't count! The Chardonnay had lovely notes of citrus, hazelnut and spice as well as a food friendly acidity and creamy texture. This year the wine also became the first Chilean Chardonnay to ever appear in Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year and represents a deliciously great value!

Piper, Puppy & Hubby!
3rd Course: Our next course beautifully demonstrated the concept, "if it grows together it goes together." Argentine style skirt steak is a natural match for the country's signature grape variety, Malbec. For the recipe, I went with Tyler Florence's rendition of Gaucho Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce. In addition to  being adorable, his recipes are always really amazing! Skirt steak has such fabulous texture and flavor and the Chimichurri sauce is delicious and also makes a nice dressing the next day for some freshly sliced heirloom tomatoes. As far as cooking the steaks, you can grill them off up to 2 hours before your party and keep them wrapped in foil in a warming drawer or in your oven on a low, low temp. Luckily I don't always have to head outside into the elements to grill them thanks to my handy Calphalon Nonstick Grill Pan from Williams Sonoma! It is so convenient and does such a great job everyone thought I had grilled them on the outdoor grill! The 2010 Alta Vista Premium Malbec was delicious with notes of blackberry, plum, pepper and spice and very well-integrated tannins; it complemented the skirt steak beautifully. For amazing Argentine, grass-fed beef which has remarkable texture and incredible flavor, please visit Pablo, at Gaucho Ranch in Miami.

These Ann Taintor Napkins are so cheeky!
4th Course: For the next course I must confess I purchased the meatballs to save myself some time. Lucky for me Marianne's Gourmet Shop in Delray Beach does a fabulous job! I just heated then up, spooned some extra marinara sauce over them along with some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped parsley and they were good to go. They were a lovely pairing with our fabulous Super Tuscan, the 2010 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto ($49), the second label from the makers of the legendary Sassicaia. This wine's first vintage was in 2000 and is a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese aged in both French and American oak barrels. Unlike Sassicaia which generally requires substantial bottle aging prior to drinking, Guidalberto is crafted to be approachable at a much younger ago. Based on the reactions of our guests, I think they definitely agreed! The 2010 was remarkably approachable with complex notes of black currant, plum and spice with layers and layers of flavor. This elegant wine had beautifully silky tannins and was definitely a hit with our crowd!

The Lineup!
For dessert, Christina's husband Eric brought a delicious chocolate cake which I paired with the quirky and tasty Quady Red Electra ($14). Located in Madera in California's San Joaquin Valley, Quady Winery was founded by Andrew and Laurel Quady in 1977. They specialize in making dessert wines crafted from the Muscat grape variety. Their Red Electra is a blend of Black and Orange Muscat which has a beautiful raspberry-tinged color, delightful effervescence, as well as fruity flavors of raspberry, cranberry and a hint of orange zest. The interesting bottle features an angel in a red dress framed in gold against a black background and the narrative on the Quady website states, "there's an angel soaring in a red dress and it is after dark. She could be going to a party. There is something exciting about an angel wearing a red dress going to a party after dark. This will be a very good party. [Red Electra] is a good wine for angels to drink when they party." With only 5% alcohol, it also can't do too much damage! The wine's ripe, fruity flavors paired nicely with the delicious chocolate cake.

To purchase any of the wines mentioned in this or a previous post please call us at 561-317-6663 or send us an e-mail at everydaywinegirl@aol.com.  You can either pick up locally or we deliver orders over $150. We can also ship in case you need to send any gifts to the wine lover(s) in your life - don't forget about The Wine Atelier Monthly Wine Club! Thanks again and we greatly appreciate your support.

Cheers,

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