Perfect Winter Pairs

Winter is the season when we are mostly indoors and naturally spend a lot of time gathering around the table, not only because of the holidays.

Simply the time is right to surround yourself with family and friends, relax, eat and build up your body fat. As always, where there is good food, there should also be good drinks. And when drinks match and complement carefully prepared dishes, the experience is full and our palates are taken to a whole new level of happiness. So let's try and find the appropiate companions for some of the most common and favourite seasonal dishes, but bear in mind these are only humble suggestions, not rules carved in a stone. Here come my top five perfect winter pairs...

Roast duck with mlinci gets a new dimension when paired with local Pinot noir. Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Roast turkey with mlinci pasta (purica s mlincima) is surely the king of Christmas table in Zagreb, the iconic dish that used to be and still is reserved for special days, even though you can also see it served on not so festive occasions. A medium-bodied, slightly acidic and fruity Frankovka red will wash down this meal nicely. If you replace the turkey with a duck or goose, go for a Pinot noir. Luckily, you don't have to look far, because in Plešivica wine region, the nearest one to Zagreb, this elegant grape variety really thrives.

Blood sausages with sauerkraut will warm you in the winter, especially if washed down with Portugizac or Frankovka. Image credit: Taste of Croatia

You can't be indifferent to krvavice, or blood sausages. You either love them or hate them. True krvavice aficionados will always go an extra mile to find the best ones. Containing only meat or meat mixed with barley or buckwheat, it doesn't matter, but they have to be top quality. If you are a member of the krvavice fan club, you will not be able to refuse a nicely roasted sausage with sauerkraut and some potatoes on the side. Hearty and filling, this meal calls for a rich aged Portugizac, again to be found in Plešivica. The pioneer of the new trend of oak aging this young wine is Krešimir Ivančić with his Griffin Darkside Barrique.

Korak is one of Plešivica wine producers with a portfolio to match many traditional winter recipes. Image credit: Taste of Croatia

The legendary sarma is by far the most popular winter dish in whole Croatia, not only in Zagreb. You need to confront the fattiness of the meat mixture and the sourness of cabbage wisely, with a dry wine that's fresh and crisp, but also with a kick of sweetness on the palate.  And this is where the beauty and complexity of a Riesling comes to the rescue. The most typical and well-balanced specimens come from – take a wild guess – the tiny yet very dynamic Plešivica.

Riesling really rises to the challenge of pairing sarma with wine. Image credit: Taste of Croatia

You're not a wine person? No problem, food and drink pairing is not all about wine. Even though Croatia has loads of apples but absolutely no cider tradition, since recently we have an excellent craft cider coming from Međimurje, the northernmost Croatian region, not that far from Zagreb. Buzdovan is a great company to orehnjača, our traditional walnut roll, often served in winter. Naturally, it also goes well with apple pies and strudels, but ones that are not too sweet.

Go off the beaten path in Croatia and have an orehnjača with cider. Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Many people are bedazzled with the suggestion to pair the dessert with beer, but some of these combinations are amazing. Give it a try and you'll be turned into a believer. Winter is the season when craft breweries are sending out their finest stouts and porters, destined to be enjoyed with heavy chocolate desserts. From a simple brownie to a rich and creamy cake, these dark beers will enhance the experience with their roasty-toasty, chocolaty and caramelly aromas. Some fine examples come from Zagreb-based Garden Brewery, Pulfer, Mlinarica or Varionica.

Rich chocolate coffee cake and coffee porter – a match made in heaven.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia & Mlinarica

Same as with everything in life, balancing is the key in the kitchen, too. The pairing game is not always easy, the learning process involves a lot of trial and error, but it's good to keep all options open. And it's good to know that Zagreb's winter menu offers a lot of possibilities and combinations to play with.

Header image credit: Zlatko Gall

 Author: Taste of Croatia / Morana Zibar