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Taste ‘Buds’

When I started to think about this year’s holiday gatherings, even before food, the first thing that came to mind was, “What will we drink?”

The drinks we choose for our meals often tie together great flavours as well as conversation.

A lot of my family and friends prefer beer to wine. When I thought about it, I understood why. After all, there are more than 2,100 breweries in the US with a majority of them in the Midwest where I live.

The truth is, I prefer wine myself. I am steadily becoming an appreciator of a fine brew; but my heart lies with wine.

The more I expose myself to the process and tasting fundamentals of beer, the more I have come to identify times when a nice, cold beer will hit the spot. I quickly realised I could do the same for my beer-loving friends that they did for me. And so, I decided that this year I’d only serve wines at my holiday parties. But, I would create a group of wines that would compare to the beer styles they prefer.

The first person I have to please is probably the most difficult: my dad. He grew up drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and, even at 65, loves the light flavours (and probably the price as well). He has evolved a little over the past couple of years and will drink a Stella Artois every now and then.

For him, there is nothing better than relaxing in his easy chair and sipping the golden bubbles from the red, white, and blue can. So, for my dad and other lager fans who may be invited to my home this Christmas, I wanted to offer them a similarly crisp, clean, and sparkling alternative. With light toasty notes that will pair well with almost everything, I will serve the Bollinger “Special Cuvée” Brut Champagne. If you’re worried that you’ll spend $60 on a bottle only to find your friends are putting orange juice in the glass; a great alternative would be Kila Cava or Freixenet Brut at a price point 80% less than the Bollinger.

One happy party-goer down, two to go. My girlfriend, Debra is as spicy as the dry-hopped Pale Ales she enjoys most. Her favourite microbrew is the APA from St Louis, Missouri craft brewer Schlafly. I know the only way I can get her to drink wine over the “caramel nectar of the gods”, as she says, will be for me to find a bottle that will be equally impressive with spice and flavours. After all, IPA beers have a lot going on.

Debra is going to enjoy a 2009 Syrah. I know I’ll get her hooked when she sees the deep red violet colour in her glass and smells the black pepper, cloves and thyme.

I’ll win her over completely when she tastes how well the blackberries, toast and cedar flavours play their part in the marriage of fruit and herbs. Winemaker Adam Lee can do amazing things with grapes and his 2009 Novy Gary’s Vineyard Syrah is no exception. I believe I’ll have a convert after one glass.

“It smells like church wine.” And thus began my quest to find my husband a Cabernet he’d approve of so he would put down his Sierra Nevada Porter. I racked my brain to come up with a wine that would play off the reasons he is loyal to micro-breweries like Sierra Nevada, Schlafly and Stone Brewing Co.

When Josh tries a new stout or porter, he’s looking for the aromas of freshly brewed espresso and the smooth flavours reminiscent of a square of dark chocolate enjoyed at the Grand Place in Brussels. He wants an in-your-face punch of flavours that will stand up to the juiciest steak.

Armed with this knowledge, and missing Europe a bit, I was prepared to recommend the 2009 “Gun Metal” by Guardian Cellars. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blend that more than meets all of Josh’s requirements. Luckily, I already had Gun Metal on my wine rack since it’s sold out from Guardian (less than 500 cases produced annually). A close second is 2009 “The Alibi”, also by Guardian. They only produced 300 cases of this vintage, so best snatch it up quickly.

Will I succeed in my quest? Well, I’ll find out in a few weeks. But, through this experience I’ve been reminded of a very important fact. Everyone likes beer or wine for different reasons. But, when you understand why one drink clicks with your taste buds; it’s a lot easier to think outside the bottle and try something new.

Follow Ashley on Twitter: @hollyhavok

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