Natural and Biodynamic Wine Pairings for Your Holiday Celebration
From the beautiful hills of central Vermont, organic farmer, winemaker and restaurateur, Deirdre Heekin is gaining a nationwide following for her biodynamic alpine wines and her knowledge of the industry. Here, Heekin shares her thoughts on natural wine pairings for your holiday fête.
“For the holidays, the desire for celebration is always front and center, so having a few different sparkling wines at your finger tips makes those impromtu toasts or dinners for eight easy. A classic grower Champagne (Champagnes made by the farmers themselves rather than by the large Champagne houses who buy fruit from several different growers) from producers like Pierre Gimmonet, Gaston Chiquet, or L. Aubry Fils are always lovely, but there are many other options for sparkling wine that are less well known yet no less delicious.
One of my favorite producers is Ca’ dei Zago from the Veneto in Italy. This family makes one thing, and one thing very well, an ancestral-style biodynamically farmed prosecco where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle and the wine is never disgorged off its yeasty lees. It’s distinctive, real, and very well-priced.
Another well-priced idea is Podere Saliceto’s L’Albone. If you want to surprise and cause a little bit of stir, the L’Albone is your number. It’s a dark and savory, dry red Lambrusco from the outskirts of Modena in the Emilia Romagna. Two brothers-in-law joined forces to make a handful of true lambruschi, relying on organic agriculture and fermentations in bottle to illustrate the gently rolling hills of their region and to pair with traditional Modenese dishes like good, fatty cured meats and stuffed agnelotti in broth.
For a splurge, any of the Furlani wines will please. These are true alpine wines from high in the Dolomites above Trento in northern Italy. Matteo Furlani, fourth generation winegrower who caretakes their small parcels, makes sparkling wines in the Metodo Interrotto, or what could be likened to an unfinished Champagne method as the wine is bottle refermented in the spring with grape must conserved from the harvest and never disgorged. There is a very dry Brut Natur and a stunning sparkling rose. They make me think of snow and sitting by the fire.
All these sparkling wines will work at any point during an evening or a holiday meal as they are very versatile in their ability to accompany food. Sparkling wines are always a little higher in acidity which makes them great companions for all kinds of dishes, anything from raw oysters to roasted root vegetables beneath a golden roast goose.
For the holidays, I tend to gravitate toward skin contact whites and lighter or medium red wines to have with classic dishes like baked ham, roast fish, roast turkey, and beef tenderloin. Many tables focus on seafood for much of the December season and lighter reds make a great alternative to white and often have a beguiling salinity that matches well to fish.
For white wines, I will be stocking wines from friends. For a lighter and intriguing offering that will pair well with all kinds of appetizers and starters made from vegetables, smoked fish, shell fish, or salty cured meats because of the honeyed white flowers and the citrus and stone fruit present in the nose and palate, the best value is Meinklang’s Somlo White from the Pannonian plain in northern Hungary, biodynamically grown in a plateau formation of volcanic rock that rises from the land like a mirage. A blend of 4 rather obscure Hungarian grapes (Olatzriesling, Furmint, Jufahrk, and Harslevelu), the wine tells well the story of the landscape there.
For a medium-bodied white, Domaine Guillot-Broux, one of the oldest certified organic vineyards in France, from southern Burgundy makes a lovely Macon-Villages from their Chardonnay that is Burgundian to the core, all quince and cream, refined with just enough texture to make it a cozier white. Elegant at the start of a meal and just enough for the main course, even that beef tenderloin.
For a rich and stunning whites, or really orange wines, I’ll reach for the Tanganelli family’s Anatrino or Anatraso. From the outskirts of Castiglion Fiorentino where Caleb and I used to live in eastern Tuscany, Marco Tanganelli is the custodian of the oldest Trebbiano and Malvasia vines in all of Tuscany. These two wines, one aged longer than the other but both in old wood, come from vines more than 110 years old and their character is resplendent in a deep amber, or orange color and flavors due to long maceration on the skins of the grapes. Because of the color, aroma, texture, and tannins these wines are the epitome of versatile, working effortlessly with oysters to aged cheeses.
The red wines that beckon to me during all these celebratory meals are ones that will not weigh me down. Since holiday food is often rich, I like a little counterpoint in the wine. My go-to bottles again exhibit that flexibility which allows them to go with so many different foods. Top of my list is the Montemelino Rosso, a cunning and silky blend of Sangiovese and Gamay (though not Gamay from France, but rather an Italian dialectical name for Grenache by way of Sardegna) that’s grown on the shores of the Umbrian Lago di Trasimeno. Margret and Guido Cantarelli run this tiny farm and the wines are naturally fermented and aged in old oak barrels that sleep under the farmhouse and in the little chapel on the property.
Paterna Rosso is another medium-bodied to lighter red from outside Arezzo in Tuscany. Paterna is a commune-collective-coop winery and fully operating organic farm run by three young couples that tend the vines, the vegetables crops and the animal husbandry, and then at the end of the season make the wine which ferments quite rustically, mostly outside in traditional cement vats with no temperature control. The wine shimmers with flowers and fruit and a little earth and likes vegetables, meat, and fish. Think pork shoulder, or roasted trout.
For a slightly brambly wine, though still very feminine, the biodynamically farmed San Fereolo Dolcetto from Nicoletta Bocca in the Piemonte always inspires me. Crushed cranberries, woodland fruit, slate and ink come to mind in winespeak, but the reality is the wine transports you to the edge of the forest where you might encounter a wild berry bush not far from a brook babbling over gray stones, a herd of deer on the other side in an open field. The wine makes me think of venison, juniper, clove, orange, roast fowl. It makes me think of celebrations around the table, and raising glasses at the new year.”
In Heekin’s new book, An Unlikely Vineyard, (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014) she tells the story of the evolution of her farm from overgrown fields to a fertile, productive, and beautiful landscape that melds with its natural environment.