It’s time to plan menus for the rest of the holiday season. This week we’ll give an overview of some of the many courses you might want to consider. Seven courses might be too many for some dinners (maybe too few for others!), so pick and choose what’s in and what’s out for your special meal.
Try a new wine this week!
Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, it’s time for many of us to consider menus for the rest of the upcoming holiday season. Holiday menus are special, and sometimes more elaborate than meals we plan other parts of the year. Always stipulating that “anything’s good if you like it,” here are some ideas and observations that might be helpful as we consider what to serve our guests for a special holiday dinner.
The first question is how many courses. Here’s a list of traditional courses, more or less in the order in which they are traditionally served. You may want to choose only a few of these options, though many a menu has included all of them, and in earlier, more formal times, many more …
Hors d’hoeuvres are oftentimes served before guests are seated. They should be small, but may be as intricate as you like, and are great served with a dry sparkling wine (which tastes good with just about anything), or another aperitif (“ah PAIR i teef”).
The Soup Course is my favorite way to begin a meal. Whether clear or cream or something else, they can be very wine friendly, especially for the lighter, drier white wines that show best early in the meal.
Appetizers, called the Entrée Course until recent years, are often the first course served once guests are seated. Certainly there’s a lot of latitude here, but if you consider the sequence of wines being served, you might opt for something that pairs well with a white wine, since whites tend to taste better before reds. A longer menu might include two, served one before the other with a lighter dish and lighter wine preceding something richer and fuller (a sauce can make a real difference here).
The Main Course, commonly called the entrée in the U.S. today, is a great time to show off some great wines, especially reds. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that, since the main course tends to last longer you’ll likely need to top off everyone’s glass of red wine. Or, even more fun, pour two wines. I like to pour a more elegant red before the main course arrives and a fuller, more flavorful red about halfway through the main course. Timing is important here.
The Cheese Course is sometimes misunderstood, even by restaurants. Ideally it consists of very small slices of two to four cheeses of differing flavors and textures. I say very small slices because, coming after the main course your guests shouldn’t be very hungry. The main original purpose of the cheese course is to have something to nibble while you finish your red wine from the main course. Pace is important here.
The Salad Course, traditionally, follows the main course as well. The idea here is that most salad dressings contain vinegar. That’s acetic acid, in winespeak called volatile acidity. In any speak it’s a wine killer. Again, something light, as your guests at this point aren’t that hungry. It provides a nice lull, a transitional time between the main course and dessert.
Desserts can vary about as much as other courses can. I like late harvest riesling with many fruit desserts, maybe a late harvest sauvignon blanc with a flan or a custard-based dessert. Moscato can fill in adequately for either. The main thing to remember, in my experience, is for the dessert wine to be sweeter than the dessert itself. Otherwise the wine can taste bitter.
These seven options can be overkill, or just the beginning of a far more ambitious menu. A sense of timing and pace are important for your guests enjoyment, and can also help out the chef. If that chef is you, you might find that dishes that can be prepared at least in part ahead of time, will give you more time with your friends and less time in the kitchen.
Unless they’re good friends, in which case you might find everyone in the kitchen with you!
California Karma Chardonnay is from Monterey County, where cool ocean breezes allow grapes to retain their crisp, palate-cleansing acidity. This style works well with appetizers, soups and other dishes that call for a balance between elegance and intensity.