The signs of spring burst upon us with fragrant flowers, warm breezes and birdsong. Memories of freezing temperatures and long dark nights fade way as we embrace the march of the seasons.
For many, a big family feast follows 40 days of Lent, with Easter a time to gather together and celebrate around the table with food and drink. With the quality and availability of good wine, there is no reason to simply pick up a large bottle of something sweetish and white to wash down dinner. The traditional choices are lamb, which matches well with red wines, and ham, a versatile meal with a number of good options.
Riesling is a popular quaff that stands up to the sweet and salty flavors of ham. The best come from the Rhine and Mosel valleys of Germany. Look for the words kabinett and spatlese for high-quality and wonderful fruit flavor. Alsace is another region that has excellent riesling in a rich and spicy style. One of the most popular actually hails from Washington state and comes in regular, dry or sweet versions. Consider this an opportunity to try a great wine.
Another Germanic white wine that will enhance your dinner is gewürztraminer. Richer and spicier than riesling, the best come from Alsace, with pungent nose and unmatched complexity. It is also the best match for Thai food that I ever found.
Pinot gris is the same grape as pinot grigio, but the wines are very much location dependent and made in different styles worldwide. The most common are from the Veneto region in Italy, where they are light and drinkable but not really notable. Alsace makes the best, with the quaff full-bodied and spicy. The new kid on the block is Oregon, already famous for it pinot noir.
There are many white wines in France. However, one of the best for our holiday feast is chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. Known as “vouvray,” this wine is complex, with fruit, acid and a racy streak that comes across as a natural match for your ham.
For centuries, lamb has been a traditional meal at this time of year. Matching red wine to this dish is relatively new, but we have more options than at any time in history.
Bordeaux red has been paired with mutton since the wine was known as “claret.” The mountains of Italy have produced big reds to match lamb for centuries. Sangiovese comes in many clones from hilly regions, but the best are brunello (the brown grape) from Tuscany, or morellino (the black grape) from Maremma. Both are absolutely wonderful for your springtime meal. My favorite is syrah from the Rhone valley north of Avignon, where the wine develops balance and nuance more than, say, its Australian equivalent, which is usually a huge fruit bomb. Your best wine should not only be drunk for Mardi Gras!