Feature photo by machinesofgod

Several years ago, I hosted my first cheese and wine pairing party. I provided four different wines I was very familiar with, and the guests provided cheese and accoutrements. Music, lighting, seating – everything spelled success. Things started, as they say, swimmingly.

About an hour later, the party ended abruptly over a comment I made about how the food was getting eaten too quickly leaving the wine without anything to pair with. I can still feel my face redden as I relive that moment. Wisdom sometimes comes at the expense of, well, dignity. In this case, the dignity was lost for both my guest and the host, me.

Whether holiday parties or even parties intending to be educational to your guests, concerns over the right wine or the right cheese evaporate like morning fog under the midday sun when great conversation or dancing or – if you’re lucky – singing happens. This is the point. After all, humans are inherently social, and although social lubricant is sometimes helpful, it is still a means to an end. And what is that end? To satiate thirst?  Sure.  But more to the point, wine (or whatever you’re choosing) pairs with what was once alone. Yes, wine is an entity that often needs company. This is all well and fine, but the question still remains: What pairs best with Christmas?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow created what’s now known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Shown as a pyramid, the shape finds value with the bottom representing the basic needs of a human: food, water, shelter, safety, and so on. Moving up the pyramid tells a story of refinement happening with the top of the pyramid referred to as “self-actualization,” a condition referencing all of the needs of a human being met allowing them to live out the best version of themself. Think of party prep as you would the lowest part of the pyramid; basic needs translate to volume as well as simple drinkability.

Most people are not wine drinkers save for special occasions like the party you’re throwing or communion. That you don’t have to worry about transubstantiation should make you feel better already. For those guests that are winos or even wine snobs, they are still guests at a party and appreciate that fact. And so, stick to basics: a white, a red, and perhaps, a sparkling. Folks at a wine shop will be more than happy to help you choose wisely.

For those of you who are wanting some ideas before you venture out amidst the throngs, I took detailed notes at one of the Friday night complimentary tastings hosted by Marion Street Cheese Market. Yes, every single Friday evening there is free wine at this wonderful bistro and retail shop.

Graham Beck Brut N/V From South Africa, this bubbly Brut is “more generous than austere with ripe fruit indicative of a New World wine. Texture-wise, there’s also a nice creaminess,” described the wine representative who so graciously spoke at length about not only the wines but the regions from where they originated. I almost asked him to my own party. This wine retails for less than $15.

2006 Savary Chablis is a Chardonnay from the Chablis wine district in France. Without having smelled or tasted this wine, the textbook definition of a Chablis indicates it should not be smothered with oak and more to the point, butter.  Instead, it should have white wine fruits (e.g. apples, pears, melon), minerals, and possibly wonderful complexity making it a handy go-to place for when there’s a lull in the conversation.  You’re boring?  Smell the wine.  Awkward pause?  Smell the wine.

In the case of this Chablis, it has wonderful complexity. The bouquet hinted at smoke, minerals, starfruit, and just a smidge of earthy funk. On the palette, mouth-watering acidity with the bouquet realized along with tempered lemon. This Chardonnay prices around $20 but the new vintages tend closer to $30.

2009 Canaletto Pinot Noir is Italian, under $10, and drinks very well! Need I say more?  It’s very fruity with lots of acidity. I don’t think this is what Miles was talking about in Sideways, but perhaps you can turn to other sources for mystery and inspiration other than what’s in your glass. At least for the duration of a bottle.

Lini Lambrusco is red and fizzy. As I sipped, my wine host told stories about Lambrusco cuisine and how the ethereal fizz of this selection cuts through the fatty richness of the food while the red wine qualities remain for pairing, something the residents of Lambrusco know very well and use to their advantage. Available for around $20.

Things got a little strange with the 2008 Gram Beck Pinotage. Another selection from South Africa, this wine starts off with a peculiar type of funk associated with South African varietals. Smoke, raison/currant, and general funk eventually give way to the warm cherry and black fruits waiting patiently for attention. Under $15.

Lastly, I tried the 2007 Aglianico “Sacravite” by D’Angelo. This Italian wine is very complicated with all the trappings of Old World style: minerality, earthiness, dried fruit, and fine tannins. It’s also a steal at around $20.

All these wines as well as over 500 retail items and over 100 cheeses are available at Marion Street Cheese Market.

Happy Holidays!

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