Compiled by Susan K. McCann
Whether you fancy red, white or bubbly, pairing Connecticut wines with a holiday meal adds sparkle to the occasion. Local wine experts from vineyards along the the CT Wine Trail celebrate the season by offering recommendations that complement holiday dishes. From different winemaking methods and artistry, to the varying terroir across the state, each CT Wine Trail winery crafts an unexpected taste that you and your guests are sure to enjoy.
While turkey is still the mainstay of many traditional Thanksgiving dinners, ham, roasts and seafood can surely be a substitute for a holiday meals’ main course.
Margaret Ruggiero-Mena, owner of Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery in Wallingford, suggests their Washington Trail White to pair with turkey. “It’s a fruit-forward, medium-bodied wine with apple and citrus flavors to the taste, followed by nice, soft fruit nuances on the palate, coupled with a lingering finish.”
Paradise Hills Washington Trail Red, “a medium-bodied dry red wine with light berry aromas coupled with a touch of dark cherry,” is a great option to pair with a roast, due to its lively and zesty finish. Paradise Hills’ wines bring a touch of history to the holiday table as well. Washington Trail is prominently named because the location of the vineyard, “In 1775, George Washington came through our piece of property [in Wallingford] when he was looking for provisions for his troops,” says Ruggiero-Mena.
Ebbie Young, the tasting room manager and event coordinator of Stonington Vineyards in Stonington, suggests adding a little color to the table with Stonington Vineyards Triad Rosé. She describes the wine as “full-bodied, spicy and versatile.” It pairs well with either turkey or ham and appeals to a variety of palates.
For a refreshing wine that helps balance holiday flavors, Chris Chichester, the retail manager of Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen, recommends their Cayuga White. He characterizes it as a crisp, citrusy white that is similar to a Sauvignon Blanc. “It’s great to pair with turkey and heavier gravies. It helps to keep the palate fresh and help balance the salt with the acidity of the wine.”
Chichester adds Sunset Meadow Vineyards (SMV) Chardonnay as an option with a citrus-forward wine with a very soft oak finish. “This is perfect with many types of fish, such as salmon, tuna, or with shrimp cocktail. With all the delicate flavors that fish provides, not overpowering those flavors or covering them up with something that is too oaky or buttery is important.”
Young’s husband, a chef, likes to serve Stonington Vineyards Sheer Chardonnay with his seafood dishes. Just to make your mouth water, he pairs the Chardonnay with locally-sourced Noank oysters with shallot mignonette and another one of his holiday favorites, seared scallops with fresh ricotta, roasted pumpkin and olive oil.
Other options for great Connecticut-grown whites include Priam Vineyards Barrel Select Chardonnay (Colchester), Chamard Vineyards (Clinton) Estate Reserve Chardonnay, and Sharpe Hill Vineyard’s infamous Ballet of Angels.
A lighter-bodied and easy-drinking Connecticut Red also pairs beautifully with main courses. Highlighting the seasonal flavor profiles, Jonathan Edwards (North Stonington) estate-grown Cabernet Franc is a warm, woodsy vintage with cedar aromas and notes of cranberry and nutmeg on the nose.
Chichester notes that Connecticut wines make great pairings with savory dishes because the terroir produces some wonderful citrusy flavors. “When salt is prevalent, citrus flavors are a great way to balance those flavors and really accentuate the meal.”
Chichester adds that there’s a lot of room for creativity given the variety of dishes at the table. “With so many different foods that are served at the same time, this is a great opportunity to try different styles of wine. Light reds and crisp whites make for a great balance to the heavy and filling foods.” It really all depends on your taste; he suggests serving two or three wines in different styles to give guests a variety of choices.
If your table likes red wine, Sunset Meadow Vineyards has two great offerings. SMV Twisted Red is a medium- to full-bodied red Cabernet blend. “This heavier style of wine pairs very well with holiday roasts and many of the heavier sides like roasted root vegetables and asparagus. SMV New Dawn is an estate-grown, light-bodied red blend that pairs well with “all the sides you find at a New England-style Thanksgiving, such as stuffing and cranberry sauces,” he says.
Speaking of cranberry sauces, Haight-Brown Vineyards (Litchfield) Apple Crannie is a forty-plus year tradition, and goes great with turkey and cranberry relish, too. Taylor Brooke Winery (Woodstock) Cranberry Riesling, made from organic cranberries added into the wine fermentation process, is their most popular limited vintage – slightly tart on the front and dry on the finish.
Young suggests Stonington Vineyards Cabernet Franc to pair with heavier fare or appetizers such as goat cheese, olives or fresh vegetables. “It has a little bit of tartness, which complements the palate.”
Dessert gets its own set of wines – known as dessert wines or ice wines – according to the experts. Ice wines are sweeter and more concentrated or syrupy, made from grapes that have frozen while still on the vine.
Ruggiero-Mena serves Paradise Hills Vino Bianco del Paradiso, a complex blend of grapes grown in their vineyards. “This semi-sweet wine is full of fruit flavors with hints of citrus throughout that will bring out some amazing flavors when paired with pumpkin or apple pie.”
Fruit also takes center stage as a dessert at Young’s dinner table, where her husband serves poached pear tarts with vanilla shortbread crust with crème anglaise. She recommends pairing fruit desserts with Stonington Vineyards Riesling. Young notes that the Riesling goes well with spicy foods, too. “It has a low residual sugar that is very well-balanced and versatile. It will transcend dinner to dessert.”
Chichester serves SMV Enchanted Apple, which he characterizes as an ideal wine to pair with desserts. “It’s not too sweet with lots of crisp apple and touches of honey and spice, which makes it go well with pumpkin, apple, or other fruit pies.”
For dessert, Chichester also suggests SMV Pyrrah’s Passion, which is a port-style dessert wine. “This can be a great substitute for dessert. Lots of fruit flavors come through on the front, and it has a sweet caramel finish. It is like dessert in a glass.”
Wallingford’s second winery, Gouveia Vineyards, offers Epiphany, a rich and velvety dessert wine that brings sweet fruit to the forefront, containing the residual sugar necessary to be the perfect complement to the richness of a pecan pie.
Looking for a fruit wine or cider? Holmberg Orchards & Winery (Gales Ferry), Bishops Orchards Winery (Guilford), Jones Winery (Shelton), and White Silo Winery (Sherman) have options made from estate-grown apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, blueberries and more. Land of Nod in East Canaan also has a delicious Winter Pear Wine that pairs well with pie.
A Toast to Long Life and a Merry One
Whether you’re toasting to good health and happiness, expressing thanks for your food and good company, or welcoming a new year, the CT Wine Trail has vintages and luxurious sparkling wines for the occasion.
Hopkins Vineyard in Warren is the only Connecticut vineyard that offers traditional French-style Champagne. They offer a Silver Label and Gold Label, ranging in price from $29 to $35 per bottle.
Across the state, “there are many sparkling wines that can be fun as well,” says Chichester. SMV Shades of Risqué is a “great alternative with a light, fun effervescence followed by pomegranate and raspberry flavors. It is a party in a glass.” And the SMV St. Croix is “great for people celebrating with a good cigar. It’s light bodied with a smokey nose and hints of black pepper, which will bring out any flavors of light or heavy cigars.”
Give a Gift to Remember!
In Connecticut, more wine is sold for Thanksgiving and the holidays than any other time of year.
Sold to pair with holiday dishes or to give as host or hostess gifts, local wines are always a hit!
From wine-tasting certificates to gift baskets, each winery has something unique to make the perfect holiday gift.
Please call-ahead to see where you can purchase bottles of CT wine during the holiday season, or view tasting hours here. Various wineries offer extended holiday hours. A number of limited and seasonal vintages are available by the bottle, but not as part of a tasting. Rest assured, the friendly tasting room staff at vineyards across Connecticut will help you pick the right wine for your special occasion this holiday season.