Toast the Season


City Winery Beverage Director Rachel Driver Speckan reinforces the fact that there’s no better pairing than wine and the holidays.

‘Tis the season for indecision. With wine shops offering endless shelves of options, buying wine has become an experience fraught with uncertainty. But before reaching for that trusty bottle, City Winery Beverage Director Rachel Driver Speckan suggests getting out of your comfort zone. So whether your preference is red, white or something bubbly, Ms. Speckan shares her holiday tips on how to eat, drink and host like a pro.

What wine would you pair with a lavish Thanksgiving spread? Thanksgiving has a very broad spectrum of flavor profiles; they’re not all wine-friendly. I recommend Champagne – it’s good with everything. When paired with food, wine should be about supporting the food – not being dramatic or demanding attention. So I tend to go for a little bit of a muted experience like Dry Riesling and heavier whites like Pinot Grigio…but nothing too oaky, full-bodied or fruit-forward. For reds, Pinot Noir and Gamay are beautiful and subtle.

How do you determine how many bottles you’ll need for a party? It’s approximately a half bottle per person per hour. So if you’re having a two or three-hour party, a bottle per person is where you’ll start and exponentially grow from there.

Glassware is important. Why? Glassware can differentiate how you experience a glass of wine. It affects how each wine develops, the aromatics (how they’re delivered to your nose) and flavors and how they open up in the glass. One universal glass that we tend to use has a straight side and smaller bowl. That’s the best glass for everything if you had to pick one. But Cabernet tends to do better with a bigger bowl and narrower neck or top, while Pinot Noir needs a very large bowl to get a lot of air. Although Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel do well in a standard glass, you’ll want to have specialized glasses for Cabernet and Pinot Noir.

With wine, how do you pick the perfect gift? A good gift is about knowing your audience and how they use wine: Do they pair wine with food or do they have it more as a cocktail? Are they into status wines or not? I tend to fit it into the recipient’s lifestyle. For example, if they like Spanish food and they’re going to Spain, I’ll get them something from there. It’s very seasonal as well. During the summer it’s a lot of Rosé and white wine and during the fall, something rustic and dusty. Winter is definitely heartier and warming so it depends.

What’s the go-to wine of the moment? In American culture right now, Pinot Noir is the best gift to give. Since the 2004 movie Sideways, Pinot Noir has really come to the forefront. But also, it’s difficult to produce properly and tends to be less available and more expensive. All those things culminate in Pinot Noir being an impressive gift because it’s a little more dramatic.

What do you recommend for Christmas? That’s a little bit different. The flavor profile tends to be richer and sweeter since there are lots of candies and cakes. This is where you go into the Zinfandels and Cabernets. While the same recommendations for Thanksgiving do hold over, you’re going to see choices get bolder, with wooded whites like Chardonnays that have a little more age on them.

How do you teach people about food and wine pairings for the holidays? We have a class at City Winery called ‘Hosting the Holiday Wine Tasting’ on November 6, where we teach you how to blend your family’s preferences so that everyone has something they can enjoy. We’ve a curated selection of eight or nine wines to show you how to pair them with different courses of the meal. We also talk about glassware and dessert wine.

And finally, what are some trends to try? People are moving toward a drier palette, even though most people like wine with a little bit of sugar. For the last few years, people have been drinking very full, forward, fruit-driven wine. But I think we’re moving toward drinking those wines with higher acid, lower sugar and slightly more earthy flavors because they pair well with food.


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