What to serve with the best wines of 2009? Sunset wine editor Sara Schneider has the matches
White Steal of the Year (San Luis Obispo County; $13)
Perfect pairing: Golden Spiced Squash With Sautéed Shrimp
Why it works: With a core of sweet fruit, this great-value Chardonna is a good match for both winter squash and sweet shrimp.
Apple flavors in the wine are laced with baking spices (common in Chardonnay with a little oak on it) that link up with the cardamom and ginger in the squash. A creamy lemon edge keeps the match lively.
Good Value White of the Year (Russian River Valley; $21)
Perfect pairing: Fennel-crusted Trout with Lemon-Ginger Vinaigrette
Why it works: Sauvignon Blanc has an underpinning of herbs and flintiness that fennel has a special link to.
On top of that, though, this Sauvignon Blanc has an exotic layer of gooseberry and litchi fruit that we’ve matched here with ginger and raisins, and enough beautiful, lemony acidity to stand up to the wine challenge of a vinaiger-based sauce.
Red Steal of the Year (Central Coast; $10)
Perfect pairing: Spanish-style Lamb Stew with Roasted Red Peppers
Why it works: Syrah is a wine with layers of texture and, in California, generally hearty red fruit often edged with hints of game, herbs, black olive, even smoky tobacco or espresso.
All of that needs a rustic food partner, like this Spanish-style stew. The lamb echoes the gamey notes in the wine, while the sweet peppers meld with the fruit and the briny topping creates a buzz with the wine’s herbal side.
Good Value Red of the Year (Central Coast; $16)
Perfect pairing: Teriyaki Tri-Tip
Why it works: This blend of all of the traditional Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec) is on the dark and brooding side, pushing it toward hearty cuts of meat.
A marinade heavy on soy sauce and some charring from the grill helps that pairing along too.
Over the wine’s heart of darkness, though, is a layer of lush fruit that doesn’t mind that the marinade has a touch of sweetness.
Special Occasion White of the Year (North Coast; $36)
Perfect pairing: Mendo Crab Cakes with Tarragon Aioli and Champagne Cabbage Salad
Why it works: Because a blanc de blancs is made out of 100 percent Chardonnay, it carries all of the wine’s typical tart apple and toast and, in the Schramsberg case, a lovely honeyed lemon quality.
In the form of a sparkler, Chard has low alcohol and high acidity levels, plus those furious little bubbles that refresh and make you want to keep eating and sipping.
You can’t go wrong with crab and Chardonnay, and this blanc de blancs sparkles with our all-time favorite cakes. To clinch the pairing, the vinegar in the salad is made out of bubbly.
Special Occasion Red of the Year (Columbia Valley, $43; available to winery mailing list)
Perfect pairing: Salt- and Herb-crusted Prime Rib with Fresh Horseradish Sauce
Why it works: The firm structure of a great Walla Walla Cabernet thrives in partnership with a well-marbled cut of beef to cushion the tannins just a little. Think of it as a feathertop on a firm mattress.
We’ve added earthy herbs to this beef to lock into Cabernet’s foresty quality. And fresh horseradish punches up its mint factor. Christmas menu solved.
Deep Pocket White of the Year (Santa Cruz Mountains; $60)
Perfect pairing: Nut-crusted Sole with Citrus Salsa
Why it works: Chardonnay has a special affinity for sweet nuts like cashews, so wrapping a piece of fish in them and pan-browning the packet, to add some toasty notes, makes a shoo-in pairing.
The Ridge Chardonnay, from the Monte Bello Vineyard on the Silicon Valley side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has a great, bright edge of citrus that we shamelessly loop into here with a salsa loaded with all the kinds of winter citrus you can find in the market.
Deep Pocket Red of the Year (Napa Valley; $134)
Perfect pairing: Multicolored-pepper Steaks with Balsamic Onions
Why it works: A new wine made by Robert Mondavi’s son Tim, Continuum is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. It’s as layered and complex as the best wines in the world and needs a simple food partner that won’t cover it up.
Well-marbled New York strip or rib-eye steaks have the texture to match the wine’s ultra-plush tannins. We’ve coated these with multicolored peppercorns to pull out the haunting Eastern spices and licorice in the wine, which also has gorgeous blackberry fruit that likes the sweet onions dressed in balsamic.
Our unusual chicken salad (huge yum factor) loops in tropical flavors with hits of ginger, jalapeño, and cilantro. The final
touch is cashews. Paired with a Chardonnay, this makes for a perfect meal.
Recipe: Lemon Cashew Chicken Salad
Critics' Choice Red (Eola-Amity Hills; $20)
Perfect pairings: Ojai Roast Turkey with Rosemary, Lemon, and Garlic and Cranberry Port Sauce
Why they work: The cornerstone grape of Beaujolais, France, Gamay Noir makes a light-bodied, lively wine. Evening Land’s “Celebration” ― one of the few versions of it on the West Coast ―is earthy and peppery, with beautiful dried cherry flavors and whiffs of flowers.
Fresh and aromatic, it’s the perfect Thanksgiving wine, for a match across the board with herby turkey and gravy all the way to tangy cranberry sauce.