Each family may have its own favorite holiday cookies and other sweet traditions, but there are a few elements—chestnuts, chocolate, gingerbread—that truly define the sweet tastes of the holiday. Below, we've put together some information and recipes that will help you make the most of each classic taste. Plus, inspired by Wine Spectator editor at large Harvey Steiman and his experiment with matching chocolate and wine, we have also provided a great list of red wines whose characteristics make them a good match for chocolate.
Chestnuts: The late Nat King Cole has toasted (and roasted) chestnuts for decades in the opening lines of "The Christmas Song," and although they are challenging to peel when fresh, that unmistakable flavor is also available as a flour, a paste or as a sweet candied delight known as marron glace. Contributing editor Sam Gugino has spoken with top chefs from around the country to get their advice, thoughts and recipe ideas using chestnuts, and Michael Laiskonis, executive pastry chef at New York's Le Bernardin, has shared his recipe for spiced chestnut cake, which would make a great addition to a dessert buffet.
Gingerbread: It's safe to say that far more gingerbread is baked than consumed each year, as would-be architects delight in fashioning houses from crisp, thin planes of the stuff to decorate holiday tables. Fortunately, ginger root has been shown to have powerful anti-microbial and anti-oxidant qualities, which means that gingerbread doesn't go "bad" as quickly as other confections might, thereby making it a good choice for house-building. Check out our easy recipe for pumpkin gingerbread, just the thing to have on hand for unexpected guests or a late-afternoon snack.
Chocolate: Gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins for Hanukkah, Advent calendars that help children count down the days till Christmas, a batch of fudge or brownies from the neighbors—this season is chock-full of opportunities to enjoy chocolate in all its wondrous forms. You'll want to try our recipes for classic hot chocolate and chocolate waffles with bittersweet chocolate ice cream, and if you want to learn more about this very special ingredient, Wine Spectator features editor Owen Dugan has written extensively on the subject, in the following columns:
• "The First Taste of Greatness," in which Dugan remembers his first Belgian truffle
• "The Milky Way," in which Dugan overcomes his prejudice against milk chocolate
• "Doing Good, Tasting Good," about organic chocolate
• "I Scream," in which Dugan convenes a panel of children to blind-taste different brands of chocolate ice cream
• "Two Italian Champions," a look at two of Italy's top chocolate producers
• "What's Weird?" in which Dugan ponders whether bacon, Taleggio or ylang-ylang were ever meant to be paired with chocolate
And, as promised, here are a handful of fruity young red wines that should match with dark chocolate. Have a sweet and happy holiday!
|THORN-CLARKE Shotfire Cuvée Barossa 2005||91||$22|
|Elegant, expressive and appealing for its range of fruit flavors, offering plum, fresh currant and vibrant mulberry notes that mingle with hints of cream and sweet spices on the long, refined finish. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Drink now through 2013. 8,000 cases made.
|CASA LAPOSTOLLE Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley Cuvée Alexandre Apalta Vineyard 2005||90||$23|
|Rich and polished, with a solid core of blackberry and black currant fruit layered with mocha, sweet spice and briar notes. Shows more purity and freshness, with less toast, than previous vintages. The finish is long and juicy. Drink now through 2008. 16,000 cases made.
|JIP JIP ROCKS Shiraz Limestone Coast 2006||89||$15|
|Bright and jazzy, with lively raspberry and cherry fruit, lifted with juicy acidity that lets the fruit and cream notes mingle nicely on the extended finish. Drink now through 2013. 15,000 cases made.
|WATERBROOK Mélange Columbia Valley 2005||89||$15|
|A smooth, velvety style offers a core of cherry fruit surrounded by hints of cinnamon, pepper, autumn leaves and mineral notes. The finish doesn't quit easily, but this doesn't come off as a big wine. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Best from 2008 through 2014. 16,522 cases made.
|VIÑEDOS EMILIANA Carmenère Colchagua Valley Natura 2005||88||$10|
|Lots of dark juicy plum, blackberry and cherry fruit is layered with sweet toast and hints of tobacco, vanilla and mineral on the finish. Very tasty. Drink now through 2008. 14,000 cases made.
|ODFJELL Carmenère Maule-Maipo Valleys Armador 2005||87||$12|
|This shows nice ripeness, with plum and black cherry fruit leading the way, followed by hints of cocoa and tobacco on the fleshy finish. Drink now. 5,800 cases made.