Everyone knows that you sip eggnog at Christmas parties and toast in the New Year with champagne, but there are plenty of other options for bringing cheer to your holiday gatherings. The Root turned to four African-American experts — leading winemakers Mac McDonald and Andre Hueston Mack, and expert brewmasters Garrett Oliver and Celeste Beatty — to find out what they are serving with their holiday meals.
Mac McDonald, Vision Cellars
"You want a little sweetness in the wine."
The son of a Texas moonshiner, Mac McDonald fell in love with wine more than 50 years ago when he first tasted burgundy. As a young adult, he moved to northern California wine country, but he made wine only for his family and friends. Then, in 1995, he founded Vision Cellars, and it has since become one of the most respected vineyards in California, specializing in a small-production pinot noir. He has also worked tirelessly to increase interest in fine wine within the African-American community.
"Oh, that's a challenge," he bellowed warmly, when I asked him about the best wines to serve with the holiday meal. "At my table, there are so many different flavors, different meats, stuffing, corn bread, it's hard to pick a single wine to match everything, but I like a dry rosé." He went on to note how a dry rosé will also appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers, from novices to enthusiasts. That same criterion led him to suggest dry rieslings. "Get them from a cool-weather setting where the fruit stays on the vine longer," he recommended.
Oregonian pinot gris is another style that McDonald favors for the holidays. "There's just a little sweetness, hints of passion fruit," he said. "You want a little sweetness in a wine with food," he counseled, "but not too much."
Andre Hueston Mack, Mouton Noir
"Go for tangy, refreshing tartness."
Andre Hueston Mack spent a few years working in finance before pursuing his real passion: wine. Once he got into it, he quickly found the fast track. He was the first African American to be named best young sommelier by international gastronomic society Chaine des Rotisseurs (a sommelier is a trained wine steward). He was also the head sommelier for Thomas Keller's renowned New York restaurant Per Se before starting his own wine company, Mouton Noir.
Mack suggests the 2008 Luli Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands for holiday meals. "This is a lot of wine for the price," he said. "It is medium-bodied, with a nice balancing act between oak and apple and pear overtones."
He also recommends one of his own, the 2009 Mouton Noir "Other People's Pinot" from Willamette Valley in Oregon. "This has the best of both worlds: New World fruit and old-school earthiness," he said.
"In the same way that the cranberry sauce, with its tangy, refreshing tartness, does wonders for Thanksgiving by offering a break from starchy dishes, this wine has a parallel effect."
"Try a beer that 'just grabs onto the bird.' "
In the early '80s, Garrett Oliver went to Europe and drank some of the great beers of England, Belgium and Germany. When he came back to the U.S., he set about finding ways to make high-quality beer here. He's now brewmaster for Brooklyn Brewery, one of the leading imprints in a fast-growing sector of the beer industry. For Thanksgiving he recommends two imported beers and one of his own.
"I like the Spaten Optimator for the holiday table," he said. "It smells and tastes like toffee and baking bread, and it just grabs onto the bird, the gravy, the stuffing — everything."
Another holiday favorite of Oliver's is Jenlain Amber, a French farmhouse ale highlighted by flavors of caramel and anise. "It fits perfectly with everything at the table," he said, "especially the turkey and the root vegetables."
Asked which of his own Brooklyn beers he will serve on Thursday, Oliver picked the limited-production Local 2. "It's a take on the Belgian dark abbey style, showing raisin-y caramel and complex spice flavors on an elegantly dry frame," he said.
"Anyone for sweet potato beer?"
Celeste Beatty of the Harlem Brewing Co. began brewing because she liked to cook with beer. She then traveled all over the world to experience global brewing traditions before she started brewing beer in her Harlem, N.Y., home. Her Sugar Hill Golden Ale is one of the fastest-growing microbrews in the Northeast.
True to her home-brewing roots, she's brewing her own beer for Thanksgiving; it will have loganberries in it. If she were not brewing her own, she said, she'd probably serve her guests Kelso Nut Brown Lager. "There are a lot of spicy, hoppy flavors to it that go well with holiday dishes," she said. She also praised the chocolate stouts from Brooklyn Brewery and Rogue Brewery.
"Pumpkin beers are always big this time of year," Beatty added. She mentioned the Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale as one that she particularly favors. "There's a nice body and intensity to it," she said. The success of the pumpkin-beer trend has motivated one of her next moves: a sweet potato beer. She hopes to have it on the market for next Thanksgiving. She said, "I always liked sweet potato more than pumpkin."
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.