By Kevin Brown of R&B Cellars
Published in Oakland Chamber of Commerce Holiday Newsletter.
The holidays are here and thoughts turn to family, friends, good food and good cheer. But what about the wine? Like the Wizard of OZ, wine has been mystified and made intimidating when in fact, just as the wizard was an ordinary man, wine is just another beverage choice. But what a choice!
While we have been told that there are correct and incorrect matches of food and wine, in reality, there are no right or wrong answers. Wine is personal and subjective, just like the music that you like, the art you love, the books you read. You like Beethoven, Grandma likes Mozart, Aunt Millie loves Bach, and Uncle Bob loves AC/DC (I know, Uncle Bob always was a little weird). Who is right and who is wrong? No one, it is just what they like. The same is true of wine. But this holiday, make your wine choices an adventure that adds excitement and variety to your celebrations.
Your choices of wines are as varied as the colors of the rainbow. Explore those colors and try things you have never tried before. If you really like a particular varietal, say Cabernet Sauvignon, try examples from different producers, preferably ones you have never tried before. You never know when you are going to discover the next Picasso and remember, the only one who has to think it is Picasso is you.
Most people do not know or realize that the bay area has become wine country in a very big way. There are now thirty plus wineries in the greater bay area. All relatively small, boutique producers who make a vast array of wonderful wines. They source fruit from some of the best vineyards in California, bring them to their respective wineries and lovingly craft wines that are world class in quality and very good values. There are 21 members of the East Bay Vintners Alliance that make wines from over 20 different varietals. All are located in the East Bay within minutes of downtown Oakland and most have tasting rooms where you can go and sample their wares. Alameda has 9 wineries at Alameda Point Vintners. Alameda Point Vintners is located at Rockwall Wine Co. on the old Alameda Naval Air Station. They have a great tasting room where you can samples selections from 7 of the wineries. Holiday shopping has never been such fun!
So as you plan your holiday meals consider your options. If turkey is your thing, a white wine is the traditional choice but there is so much more than Chardonnay to tempt your palate. A crisp and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc would be a great match as would a Torrontes (bracing acid and tart apple tones), or Chenin Blanc. If you like your food rich, consider going towards a crisper and higher acid white wine to cut through the richness and keep your palate fresh and lively. But white wine is hardly the only answer. One of the best matches with turkey that I have found is Zinfandel. America’s heritage grape compliments turkey and all the trimmings unlike any other wine. The fun thing about Zinfandel is that it comes in so many shapes and sizes. Soft hints of strawberry and cherries with no oak at all to the big, jammy monster that can almost be a meal in itself. Your taste preference should be the guide. I personally like a more medium bodied Zinfandel with turkey. The wineries in the bay area will offer at least 20 different choices of Zinfandel alone.
If Prime rib or roast beef is your holiday staple you can of course go with a wonderful rich Cabernet Sauvignon (at least 15 great choices in the east bay alone) but why not consider a rich and unctuous Petite Sirah with hints of blueberries and dark blackberries, or a Tannat (dark and rich with lots of grip) or maybe Cabernet Sauvignon’s cousin, Cabernet Franc, the richness and intensity of Cabernet Sauvignon with more spice and tannic structure. All wonderful choices and all available from your east bay wineries.
For the pure traditionalists who lean toward Christmas goose, Pinot Noir is always a reliable choice but how about Sangiovese with its vibrant cherries and bracing acid, or maybe a Syrah with its bold dark fruit and hints of currants and blackberry. Makes you long for that giblet gravy, doesn’t it?
For the ultimate experience, make it a smorgasbord of choices. Pick several choices of wines to match with your meal and see which your guests prefer the most. It will make for fun dinner conversation and a meal and celebration that will be long remembered. This year, make it an East Bay holiday. Not only will you be supporting local businesses, but you will be discovering the wonderful wineries that are part of the wine country that is in your back yard.