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Holiday Cheer

How to bring out the flavor of both your goose and your wine

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You have to completely recalibrate your food and wine parings between the two holidays. The turkey is a mild flavor, while the goose is a flavor dynamo. Ham is smoky and sweet, while beef is full and dense. In food and wine pairing there aren't many wrong choices, just lots of better choices. The goal is to bring out more of the flavor of both your food and your wine.

For goose stuffed with sausage and prunes, for example, you'll need wines to match the loads of flavor, wines like Argentina's Bodega Norton Malbec, Mendoza, 2000, $10. Malbec, one of the main Bordeaux red grapes does well in Argentina. It works well with the flavor of the goose and doesn't cost a lot of money.

The Hill of Content Grenache/ Shiraz "Old Vines", Clare Valley, 2000, $16 is an old-style Australian red that tastes just like a Rhone. It's as meaty as the goose itself and has an additional earthy flavor to match the sausage.

As the year ends, you don't forget those 1997 Chiantis. They are almost gone forever from the market. The Dievole Chianti Classico "Novacento" Reserva, 1997, $30, is a 1st rate example. The grapes were picked very late or, in the words of owner/philosopher Mario Dievole, "that certain moment of uncertainty that lies between a hazard and an opportunity." This wine is an essay in structure and finesse; the goose never had it quite so good.

Rabbit meat has a fabulously wild flavor that works very well with a pinot noir like the Alamos Pinot Noir, Mendoza, 2001, $10. While this wine is not the absolute definition of pinot noir, it really works with the rabbit. It brings a healthy dose of earthiness to the table.

The King Estate Pinot Noir, Oregon, 1999, $20, offers bright cherry fruit to contrast with the rabbit. The wine tastes like a garnish, and a fine garnish at that. One of the highlights of food and wine pairing is the discovery of flavors that you didn't know existed.

For more of a like pairing, the Bur-gundian pinot Maytroy Santenay "La Comme", 1999, $25, tastes more like the rabbit than the rabbit itself.

Moving from the wild to the tame brings us to beef Wellington, a classic holiday dish. Two major wine events have occurred this year involving wines that are perfect with this dish. The first is the burst of popularity of Australian wines. And for good reason; they provide something of interest for virtually every wine drinker. A good example is Wolf Blass' Presidents Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, S. Australia, 2000, $20. Big, big fruit with the softest of tannins. This is a thoroughly modern cabernet with an appeal that cuts through all levels of taste and experience. Even the merlot lover in your family will go wild over this one.

At the other end of the Australian spectrum is Punters Corner Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonnawara, 1999, $25. This is like crushed cabernet DNA in your glass. The serious cabernet enthusiast will sit back with a wonderfully wicked smile.

The second major event this year surrounding a wine that pairs well with beef Wellington was the release of the heralded 1999 California cabernet sauvignons. The Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights valley, 1999, $30, with its bright cabernet fruit and hint of blackberry, is perfect with this dish. This large cabernet vineyard located 17 miles from the winery has been the source of quality fruit for decades.

The Robert Mondavi winery summed it all up when they were quoted as saying, "It was the coolest vintage on record ... until it wasn't." All of this additional ripening turned the grapes into bearers of more complex flavors. The Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 1999, $30, is a wine of both strength and nuance, the perfect wine with beef Wellington.

There is something about perfectly cooked beef and cabernet. But if you are a white-wine drinker, there are also several options that will work. A chardonnay with some noticeable oak in its flavor, like Meridian and Belvedere, will stand up to beef. A sauvignon blanc with an abundance of flavor will do as well. The Honig and the Ch. St Jean "Petite Etoile" are excellent examples.

Or just do your own little duck a l'Orange with a glass of Barboursville Traminer Aromatico. After all, this is Christmas dinner and you may enjoy what you wish. s

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