Those gorgeous holiday dinners, complete with baked hams and other clichés, often exist only in the idyllic, two-dimensional worlds of the Hallmark Channel and made-for-Lifetime movies. Sometimes a cooking disaster means you end up at the only restaurant in town that’s open, or maybe you're eating pizza on Christmas Day because it's exactly what you want. Sometimes films give us a more realistic look at the holidays, so let’s take a look at some of Hollywood’s most famous unconventional dinners and see what they can teach us about holiday wine drinking.
Tradition gone wrong from “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation” If you're old enough to be the Weeknd's parents, you might remember the scene where Chevy Chase carves into film’s most notoriously dry turkey — even the dog pukes up the bones near Randy Quaid's feet — just before half the table says the Pledge of Allegiance. If you're hedging your bets on mom and pop getting the turkey right, get yourself some Beaujolais Nouveau. It's inexpensive ($10-13) fruity fun that can take your mind off an overcooked bird.
Beaujolais Nouveau is released the same year that the grapes are harvested, which can make for a clumsy wine. If the grapes are picked in the first week of September, how do you make a great wine by November? You don't. But you can still make a fun wine, and that's all that matters. Unfortunately, this was a crap year for Beaujolais. Hail rocked much of the French region in April. But there are a few bright spots. Albert Bichot's 2016 release, for example, is fun and delicious for just $10. It's a light bodied, tart red that is a tasty turkey foil, with notes of cranberry, raspberry and cola nut.
Kevin McCallister's cheese pizza in “Home Alone”
Do not be ashamed at your food choices. I'm serious. Go ahead and get two pizzas to go on Christmas Eve. Because everyone likes pizza, and pizza likes you.
So what do you drink with cheese pizza? If you're a child unencumbered by the sting of aftershave, you drink Pepsi from a Solo cup. But what if you're a grown adult reliving your youth with a movie featuring burglars with poor motor skills?
Sparkling wine. That's it. End of discussion. The bubbles and the cheese play together in a pruriently decadent way. In this situation, go cheap or go home. You can find 49M Crémant de Loire for about $15, and you’ll be rewarded with a super fun, fruity wine with bubbles that will satisfy your needs. It's a sparkler made from chenin blanc, chardonnay, and cabernet franc grapes, giving it big fresh apple, pear and white peach flavors. This wine is dry, which is perfect for pizza, because pizza is the star. Kevin McCallister knew that.
This is an important life lesson, a rule so steadfast that it's worth belaboring. Macaulay Culkin's character hits his sweet spot the moment he gets his own cheese pizza. The family has left, and here he is, ready to eat the food he craves. Kevin is the American everyman, just looking for a place to call his own in the world, one pizza at a time. This feeling never stops, ladies and gentlemen, so be prepared.
The duck in “A Christmas Story”
Much has been made about the political incorrectness of the Chinese restaurant scene. But know this: When a server cuts a duck head off at your table, get your knife and fork ready, because that restaurant is legit.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of this scene is that it’s difficult what the Parker family thinks of the duck decapitation. Their faces register somewhere between shocked, playful, hungry and immature. And that sums up the holiday experience for most families.
Are you feeling inspired? Are you going to be that girl that brings a nice duck home for Christmas dinner?
Do your family a favor and bring some Barolo with your fowl. Barolo, a little tiny place located just outside of the Italian city of Torino, makes some of the world’s most savory, full-bodied wines. Barolo winemakers use the nebbiolo grape. It’s worth holding on to bottles of Barolo for many years, but if you give the wines some oxygen in their youth, you are halfway to holiday magic.
The trouble with Barolo wines is that most of them are between $60 and $150. But this is not so with one of the current releases from Costa di Bussia. This release from the vineyard’s 2011 harvest is herbal, earthy and compelling in its youth. It features notes of molasses, hens of the woods mushrooms, dry rose petals and American Spirits cigarettes. That is to say, it’s already complex, and it can match any duck you throw at it. You can expect to pay about $45 a bottle, but that’s one of the best value northern Italian wines you’ll see this year.
These are only suggestions, friends. But they will make stomachs happy whether you’re cooking for your extended family or squirreling away with your personal cheese pizza.
Justin King is a certified sommelier and owner/general manager of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktail-focused restaurant in DeWitt, whose staff will probably watch Christmas movies and eat cheese pizza for their Christmas party.