In my book, the weekend after Thanksgiving is just too soon to head out and snap up a Christmas tree. (It’s also too soon to queue up for Black Friday or get the jump on Cyber Monday, but that’s another rant.) The weekend after that, though (meaning this weekend), is perfect. It’s December, and Christmas music in the mall makes you smile instead of snarl. The mood is right. Whether you pile into the SUV and head into the hills to cut your own or trek across town to the Christmas tree lot and buy a handsome Douglas, the prospect of an evening of pulling out the memory-laden ornaments to launch the holidays in the house is welcome.
It’s also an excuse to commence heavy holiday wine drinking. But to be clear, that doesn’t mean indiscriminate holiday wine drinking. For the tree-trimming party, it’s all about matching your menu of choice. In my house, the main dish that night is always a long-braised pork or beef stew—something that you can assemble in a dutch oven early in the day and let bubble away slowly on the stove or in the oven while you tend to tree acquisition.
This year, it’s going to be one of my favorite Sunset recipes for Mexican-style red chile stew: Colorado Fandango, a dish we got from Chef Christine Keff, of the former restaurant Fandango in Seattle. Beef and pork are combined in a supremely easy sauce of New Mexico chiles, onion, and garlic, and simmered to fork tenderness.
All of this, of course, is preamble to What should you drink with this?! The warm spice of the chiles pushes your wine choice toward a rich and generously fruity red. One with layers of spice to keep up with the stew, but one that goes easy on the alcohol level, because high alcohol punches up the heat of the chiles and can start fires on your palate.
There are a ton of rich blends out there, made up of a dizzying array of grape varieties, from Syrah and Merlot to Petit Verdot and Malbec. (The red blend category is the fastest-growing category in the U.S. market—just check the shelves at your local grocery store!) To my taste, though, the blends that work best with my beloved Chile Colorado are those that have a hefty splash of Zinfandel in them. There’s a time-honored tradition here: Zin is the most historic grape we have on the West Coast (California particularly), and most of the generic red blends produced after we put Prohibition behind us were based on the variety (think jugs of “Heary Burgundy”). Today, Zinfandel blends are getting better than ever. Here are some terrific ones: