By Lana Bortolot

Hooray for the holidays! They’re not only a time of good cheer, but also a perfect reason to say “cheers” with wines that complement the season’s rich table.

One of the season’s best-loved traditions is the Christmas Eve “Feast of Seven Fishes” (festa dei sette pesci). Originating in southern Italy, the meal was popular for observant Roman Catholics who refrained from eating meat on holy days. The seven, some say, relates to the number of sacraments in the church.

But the popularity of this banquet has transcended ethnic and religious boundaries and all across the world, people look to the seafood banquet as a delicious way to celebrate the season, and experiment with new flavors in food and wine.

Typical festa dishes include baccala, cod balls in tomato sauce, calamari, marinated eel, and octopus salad, all of which we’d pair with Los Galanes Airén (2010), a fresh bracing wine that’s tailor-made made for seafood. Widely grown in Spain and usually used for brandy, the grape shows soft fruit and good minerality in this single-varietal wine. Which means it’s a versatile match with the many different marinades and spices in these dishes.

Keeping with the “seven theme,” we stumbled across a recipe for Seven-Hour Lamb, slow-cooked with wine, savory herbs and white beans. The wine we like for this French-inspired dish is La Villa Real, a 2008 Crianza, a Bordeaux blend with a slightly astringent nose and still-fresh red fruits—bing cherry and black raspberry. There’s enough acidity to cut through the lamb, a terrific earthiness and some creaminess, thanks to the oak, that would slide up next to the white beans in this dish.

Besana Crianza (2007) is a sensory match for robust roasts. It’s 100 percent Tempranillo with dark fruits—this time, blackberry and plum—and leather on the nose.  The oakiness follows through richly in your mouth. It’s a wine that plays well with spice layers in complex dishes. It’s deliciously smoky and meaty, so think about a highly flavored meat—rack of venison with sour cherry sauce or a rosemary-rubbed tenderloin.

If you’re celebrating Hanukkah and keeping kosher, you’ll want wines that stand up to the foods of the season, which are traditionally fried or baked in oil. Bodegas Juan Ramón Lozano from Villarrobledo produces modern, clean wines that help counter balance the rich dishes. Also look for kosher wines from Cooperativa Virgen de las Viñas from Tomelloso.

Delicious holidays to you!

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