12/08/2012 03:45:00 PM

Winter Wines: Holiday Picks From USHG's Wine Director

John Ragan
As Union Square Hospitality Group’s wine director, John Ragan oversees the wine programs at restaurants including Union Square Cafe, The Modern and Gramercy Tavern. A true expert in his field, Ragan is both a Master Sommelier (only 197 members worldwide - check out the trailer for Somm to get an idea of the competitiveness) and holds a James Beard Outstanding Wine Service award for his work as wine director at Eleven Madison Park.

In between finding vino that works with Blue Smoke’s barbecue and curating Maialino’s all-Italian wine list, the guru sat down with us to give his wine picks for holiday entertaining, and answered some questions you submitted over social media. Spoiler alert: winter isn’t just about the reds.

First Course: Sparkling Wine

“It’s a festive time of year, and people think of sparkling wine as being festive,” says Ragan. But beyond that, he also notes that bubbles provide a crisp, refreshing foil to winter’s rich, hearty foods. If you’re looking to serve authentic Champagne (produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France) but also want value, look to the appellation’s small “grower” producers, which tend to be less expensive than the more recognizable “grandes marques.”

Or go for a sparkling wine made outside of Champagne but still in France. Ragan recommends a Cremant de Bourgogne, which can be inexpensive yet close to the genuine Champagne experience.

Wines to Try: Pierre Moncuit Champagne, Grand Cru Cuvee (67 Wine; $40). Clotilde Davenne Cremant de Bourgogne, Brut Extra (Astor Wines & Spirits; $22).

Pair with: Seafood hors d'oeuvres, such as crab or shrimp in a rich, creamy sauce.

Wine at Maialino

Second Course: Rich, Full-bodied Whites

“Don’t be afraid of wines with a little bit of sweetness,” says Ragan. “When you consider all of the spices and sweeter elements of a lot of holiday dishes, whether it be sweet potatoes or cranberries, quite often wines with just a little bit of sweetness really go well with those dishes.” Ragan recommends a demi-sec Vouvray or an Alsatian Riesling.

Wines to Try: Domaine Huet Demi-Sec Vouvray, Haut Lieu 2007 (Sussex Wines & Spirits; $40). Dirler-Cade Riesling, Alsace 2010 (Slope Cellars; $22).

Pair with: Honey-glazed ham.

Question submitted on our Google+ Page: “What wine goes with a fish cooked in soy sauce or teriyaki?”

Ragan admits this is a tough pairing, but recommends a soft, really fruity red. “With all of that flavor going on with the sauce, a really elegant Pinot Noir or Gamay would be great.” If you prefer a white wine, look for something dry and fruit-focused from Austria, such as a Riesling or Grüner Veltliner. “These will really balance out things that have that sweet and sour element to them.”

Wines to Try: Sean Minor Pinot Noir, Carneros 2010 (Chambers Street Wines; $16). Leth Grüner Veltliner, Steinagrund 2011 (Chelsea Wine Vault; $17)

What To Sip When You Go Out

If you prefer someone else do the holiday entertaining, Ragan recommends watching out for these unique wines at USHG’s restaurants. Gramercy Tavern has a rare collection of cellared and aged Rieslings; try the Josef Fries Spätlese, Bernkasteler Schlossberg 1988 ($115).

Maialino’s wine list covers all of Italy, but there’s currently a focus on the more rare Nebbiolos of Piedmont -patrons can enjoy about 20 of these varietals by the glass. If you’re going for a bottle, Ragan suggests the Massimo Clerico, Lessona 2006 ($90).

The Modern has arguably one of the best collections of Alsatian wines - of course there are Rieslings, but also some lesser known varietals. Watch for the Schoffit Chasselas, Vieilles Vignes 2010 ($52).

Union Square Cafe is the place to go for aged wines, including many vintages from famed and recently deceased wine producer Giuseppe Quintarelli, such as the Valpolicella Classico 2000 ($118).


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